By Nikhil Aziz
July 6th, 2005
Imagine that your family, descended from freed slaves, has been working the same plot of land where your ancestors once toiled in bondage for generations. Now imagine waking up one morning to find that your government has sold the land out from under you to foreign speculators. What would you do?
When it happened to Dona Maria de Jesus, or Dona DeJe as she is affectionately called, she knew she had only one choice: fight for her community and for her rights.
June 2nd, 2005
PARC is one of the largest NGOs in Palestine concerned with sustainable rural development and social change.
One of the most exciting parts of our work is traveling to visit our partners, getting to see for ourselves the amazing work that they are doing in the face of tremendous obstacles. We tried to give some impression of what our recent trips to Palestine and Haiti were like here on Grassroots Journal, and now we are happy to be able to share two new photo essays.
I'm switching the channel from Palestine back to Haiti. I had meant to file this massive missive while still in Haiti but lack of electricity thwarted my efforts and then soon thereafter a vicious bug that accompanied me home laid me flat in the hospital. Typing with IV tubes in your arm is harder than you might think.
It turns out it's actually not so very far from Palestine to Haiti. About a year ago, I reported from Palestine on these very pages. Now on this recent journey to Haiti, I was amazed to discover the similar challenges that both Haitians and Palestinians face — a highly militarized conflict, a weak to absent state, shaky water and land security and remarkable grassroots organizations working for social change - just to name a few.
The Gaza Strip is a difficult place to begin a trip. In Gaza, the full impact of the occupation hits you smack in the face the very second you reach Erez. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world...if not the most. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), one of GRI's partners, approximately 1.3 million people are living on 365 square kilometers of land. Nearly 900,000 residents are considered refugees, about half of whom are living in the 8 camps in Gaza. 61% of the population is under 19 years old and the average family size of 6.9. In a recent publication, B'tselem, an Israeli human rights group, reports that more than 77% of Gazans now live below the poverty line - almost double the number before the intifada -and that some 23 percent of Gazans are in "deep poverty," meaning that they do not reach the subsistence poverty line even after receiving aid from international agencies.
This morning we visited the community of Lawob, where, with a grant from the European Union, the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) has constructed a small dam to capture the water from an intermittent stream.
This deep into the drought there was not sign of the stream, anywhere. When we arrived at the site, we saw a small blue and black rowboat sitting under a mango tree in the middle of what looks like a desert. The lake was out of sight until we walked down a winding path, but before we got could even see the water, it was obvious that there was something special about this place.
Flitting through the air were half a dozen Antillean Palm Swifts, tiny little insect eaters with pointy wings. They are supposed to be ubiquitous in Haiti, and these were the first I had seen after three days of looking. Downstream from the small lake was a lush garden that was greener than anything we've seen since we arrived in Haiti. (Most of the plants we have seen are covered with a fine layer of dust.)
This morning we visited Kopa Koladè, the Koladè cooperative outside of Hinche. It was an amazing example of what a small group of people can accomplish if they work together.
The MPP is focusing its agricultural development work on three themes: agro-silvaculture (an integrated approach to farming, re-forestation and resource management), water and alternative energy. The three are all essential components of a sustainable rural development platform. Without trees, it is hard to capture rain water for crops or drinking and precious topsoil is washed away. Without water, you can't grow trees or crops. Without alternative energy, you can't prevent peasants from cutting down trees for fuel.
I am taking advantage of the few hours of electricity provided by the Peasant Movement of Papaye's (MPP) generator to post a few first impressions of our visit to Haiti.
We flew out of Port-au-Prince on a six-seater plane. The pilot actually leaned his head out the window and shouted what I guess was "Contact!" in French when he turned on the propeller.
Climbing over the hills surrounding the city, the devastating level of deforestation was obvious. There were sections where the topsoil had eroded down to the bare rocks. It looked like the bones of the mountains were poking through their skin. Haiti only has about 2% of its original forest cover left, but we still occasionally saw little columns of smoke rising where someone had set up a small charcoal kiln to try to turn a few of the remaining trees into charcoal in order to make a little cash. In addition to the chaotic political situation and the after-effects of the floods that hit Haiti last fall and spring, almost the entire country has been without rain for more than six months. Unable to plant their crops, many Haitians have no other way to make a living than mining the last of their country's trees for charcoal.
On the 24th of February I traveled to Gaza to meet with Grassroots International’s partners, the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC). The entrance into Gaza was not easy.