Posted on 05/06/2013
By: Nathalie Liautaud
This year’s Interaction Forum in Washington D.C., included a significant number of workshops and conversations on disaster mitigation and risk reduction. I attended one that I really knew very little about, entitled Serious Fun: Promoting Disaster Risk Reduction through Participatory Games. How can talking about disaster risk reduction be fun? I wondered. But off I went to the workshop. Imagine my surprise when I found a workshop full of development professionals ready to get up and role play and discuss the impact of climate change on crops on a roll of a dice? Or determining purchasing power and capacity to diversify crop based on the number of beans on hand? Astonishment aside, this was a great session. Animated by Pablo Suarez, Associate Director for Research and Innovation at the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, the lively session really got the participants thinking about the types of decisions vulnerable communities must take in the face of natural disasters, but also, about the responses and programs that we, as practitioners, donors, humanitarian organizations, livelihood developers, and field implementers design to face these situations.
The participatory games developed help raise awareness within the communities of disaster risks, climate change and the complexities that stem from these risks in a creative, effective way, which promotes discovery and encourages community participants to engage in problem solving activities. The techniques and tools shared with the participants highlighted opportunities for us to integrate these types of participatory interaction in future programming and implementation actions, and to engage in a fun way partners and stakeholders on the very serious subjects of natural disasters and the mitigation and risk reduction activities that accompany it.
Posted on 04/18/2013
It took me a while to even get the word right, and even harder was when I had to say it in Portuguese: Meliponicultura. The management of stingless bees or meliponiculture is a literally sweet and less risky business than the more known beekeeping of African bees (with stings). In addition to easing their management by not having a sting, these native bees known as meliponini produce an excellent and tasty honey. Each beehive can produce from 1 to 6 liters of honey a year, in addition to other products such as pollen, wax, and a resinous-like material collected by the bees called propolis. Traditionally these products have been used as cure-it-all medicines. They are good for common coughs and colds, as calmative and sedative against insomnia, for wounds and burnings, skin cleaning and even anemia treatment.
As a source of income, these products are helping small farmers in the south of Brazil generate additional resources on top of other agricultural crops. Moreover, the little bees have a key role in conservation of biodiversity. As opposed to their African counterparts, meliponinis are native to Brazil, and as such they help pollinate native forest species that depend on this process for their survival.
PADF, with funding from Boeing, and through a local cooperative in Guaraqueçaba, in the state of Paraná, has supported the local association of native bees ACRIAPA. The cooperative is consolidating itself as a cost- effective alternative for small producers that live in or around almost extinct remnants of Atlantic Forest. Through meliponiculture, they are earning additional income while helping protect nature and conserve biodiversity. As I savor the tasty honey that I just brought back from my last trip to Brazil, I can’t really think of a sweeter deal.
Posted on 02/13/2013
By Mafe Polini
Last week, the In-Kind Donations program team allowed me to be part of one of its regular working days. An early start took us to the soon to be demolished Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C. to finish a long journey that this PADF team began last summer. Back in July 2012, they filled up the first of 13 containers full of medical equipment and other donations that were sent to many countries throughout the region. Many communities in Latin America and the Caribbean live without any medical care, and clinics and doctors are often hampered by a severe shortage of equipment and supplies. These factors lead them to seek support from international organizations like PADF that serve as a bridge to deliver assistance.
Although it is easy to write, it is not that simple to do.
The newly decommissioned Walter Reed Hospital is as big as three soccer fields, and was absolutely full of equipment in very good condition that could be used by communities in need around our continent. It took time to identify and organize these useful materials and tools, but it resulted in the delivery of a large quantity of much needed items. The list includes CT-scanners, surgical lights, surgical booms, stretchers, medical exam tables, side tables, dining tables, patient tables, wheelchairs, nurse’s stations, projection screens, and more. Countries like Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Haiti, Mexico and Uruguay were grateful to receive the containers with materials that currently worth no less than 2 and a half million dollars, and are a great help for many organizations to continue their work.
To me, it was a wonderful experience to spend a day walking around this huge building moving furniture around. Lots of memories will remain behind Walter Reed Hospital, and PADF beneficiaries and staff will always be grateful for the kindness of this institution and its people that enabled PADF to give a second life to the working equipment and other medical materials, and to continue to create an hemisphere of opportunity for all.
Posted on 02/11/2013
Last February 5, I participated as the opening keynote speaker at the Inter-American Defense College (IADC) Seminar on Large Scale Disasters and Complex Emergencies. The seminar was held at Fort McNair Washington, DC and examined the various phases of disaster management with special emphasis on the roles of national and international organizations, and the complexities of civil-military planning throughout the disaster management continuum.
There were 15 countries represented throughout the Western Hemisphere, including senior military and civil-military delegates who collectively studied the complexities of disaster management from implementing integrated risk management policies, ensuring adequate disaster preparation, coordinating disaster response and managing large scale disaster recovery efforts. Panel members included representatives from international organizations and civil defense offices from the region.
The presentation included multiple aspects of the disaster management spectrum, with a focus on global platforms and public-private alliances, combined with the evolving engagement of the business community in disaster preparedness, mitigation and risk reduction. Special attention was placed on the growing role of the business community and governments from various developing economies around the world, which represent a changing landscape with new practices and roles of these new actors in disaster management.
PADF continues to promote the principles and good practices associated with disaster preparedness, mitigation and risk reduction in all its work, especially through its Disaster Management Alliance (DMA), a unique regional platform established in 2004 that continues to serve as a vehicle to associate and focus the public and private sectors on disaster management issues, while promoting best practices throughout the region. In 2012, PADF highlighted the importance of this work and the principles behind it in countries such as Honduras, Jamaica, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica, at regional international conferences, at the American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America (AACCLA), and at other American Chambers of Commerce meetings held throughout the region.
PADF recently signed a new agreement with the Republic of China (Taiwan) to implement a Regional Disaster Assistance and Reconstruction program over five years in Latin America and the Caribbean. This new program will support disaster response needs, projects that focus on disaster mitigation and also continue to build on the platforms and alliances that PADF has established on disaster preparedness, mitigation and risk reduction.
Posted on 01/31/2013
Our work with the Government of Colombia continues to grow and expand. Yesterday, PADF signed a new agreement at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington D.C. that will help us support even further Colombia’s priority to prevent at-risk children and youth from being recruited by illegal armed groups.
The agreement called “Integral Program – Boy, Girls and Adolescents with Opportunities” (“Plan Integral para la Promoción de Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes con Oportunidades”) or “PiP + 20” for short, will support Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs strategy during 2013 – 2014 to help local groups establish 20 new locally run multi-service centers in 14 departments (states) to aid and counsel at-risk youth, similar to the Boys and Girls Clubs or YMCAs in the U.S. This is a new initiative that President Juan Manuel Santos is spearheading as part of his administration’s efforts to accelerate the peace process in Colombia, reintegrate ex-combatants, and combat recruitment by illegal armed groups and gangs.
This program is intended to nurture an environment that reduces the vulnerability of children and youth to illegal activities by using recreation and sports, art and culture, and educational strengthening and leisure activities. Our office in Colombia, which has already worked since 2011 in a pilot program on this same issue, is getting ready to begin this new phase.
During yesterday’s agreement signing ceremony at the OAS, Ambassador Albert Ramdin, OAS Assistant Secretary General and Vice Chairman of the PADF Board of Trustees said, “I want to thank the Government of Colombia for the trust and confidence in PADF through the OAS. It’s a great opportunity to see this funding being trusted to execute programs in Colombia that will provide new opportunities for young people.”
Posted on 01/23/2013
I remember the conversation with my colleagues about looking for someone to be PADF’s Ambassador for children’s rights, and I remember suggesting to them Jimmy Jean-Louis, a fellow Haitian who had gained popularity on a television show I had been following, named “Heroes”. My colleagues, intrigued by this, connected with Jimmy and the rest is history: Jimmy loved the idea, liked what we were trying to protect and came on- board as PADF’s Ambassador for Exploited Children, raising awareness of the issue and engaging people to respond and help end this situation. This was in early 2009. Then the earthquake hit Haiti a year later. And Jimmy answered our call once more, and continued in his role as PADF spokesperson, being the face of PADF, in its campaign to Help Heal Haiti. But as I got to know Jimmy in these difficult moments, I realized that his dedication to Haiti went beyond the call of duty—he was more than just a spokesperson. When his organization, Hollywood Unites for Haiti reached out to us about supporting the building a small school in an isolated village in the larger commune of Pétionville, we were able to provide a small grant to implement the detailed proposal that he had prepared, and our relationship with Jimmy evolved.
Last December, I was able to visit the remote school, which we had been supporting through this small grant, and to see firsthand how Jimmy and his organization were taking care of the children in the area. We accompanied Jimmy and a group of French doctors from organization that Jimmy also supports, which provides heart surgeries for young children. Learning about that organization and Jimmy’s involvement in it further reinforced what I had already discovered: that his dedication to Haiti knew no bounds and that he used his connections to bring needed support in a very quiet way, to those who needed. No fanfare, just heart.
About two hours from Pétionville, on some isolated and almost impracticable roads, behind a number of mountains, there stood the structure, in a small valley between several hills. A relatively green valley, the school grounds stood nestled in a shaded piece of land, not far from a small hamlet of homes, but with little else around it. And boy was I pleasantly surprised. Awed even.
The small grant we had provided, coupled with additional donations from the Hollywood Unites For Haiti group, funded the construction of two large structures, which housed the school rooms and small cafeteria; it brought much needed power through its solar panel system, and built two modern bathrooms close to the school rooms. But this is not what blew my mind. The more than 130 children and adolescents attending the school, the dedicated teachers travelling hours to get to these classrooms at times, and the sheer look of joy on these children’s faces is what touched me the most. Most of the children are under ten years old, with many of them younger than 5. But the school, with is small number of classrooms managed to give these children particular attention. Each child was attired in a blue and white checkered uniform. This was the last day of class before the Christmas holiday, but they were there, still in the class room. We arrived a little before noon, and caused a great deal of hoopla- the French doctors and health workers had come to spend some time with the children, and to bring them computers to be used in the next term. There was a lot of excitement in the air, and these young healthcare providers were a real treat for the students. But as I observed this excitement, I was still struck by the behavior of these little kids eagerly listening to these foreigners, taking in their excitement at having visitors. Some of the children were so shy that they stood apart from everything, and one little boy in particular touched my heart with his look of longing but his clear fright of all these tall people around. After a little coaxing he took my hand and with tentative steps, stopping for a while, then starting up again, he finally came into the courtyard where are all the kids were playing, never letting go of my hand, but so clearly happy to be included. Another little girl caught my attention, by her totally opposite reaction to the crowd of visitors: her curiosity awakened, she was asking a lot of questions and smiling and laughing… and being very affectionate with us all. And then it struck me: this kids were happy kids- with none of the desperation or sadness that one could read in the eyes of children in Port-au-Prince. They were healthy, and happy.
The lunch bell rang and all of a sudden, all the kids lined up, and got ready to walk to the cafeteria; when the teachers gave the signal, those in this lunch seating marched single file up to the building and entered the little hall where food had been set up for them: each of the children went to a table, with a plate, a fork, a glass full of water. They all prayed their thanks, and then sat down to eat, together, without incident. The older kids would eat later, in the second sitting.
I asked Jimmy and his school Headmaster if they provided food everyday—and they very proudly said yes: food for over 130 children on a daily basis. I toured the small cafeteria kitchen where three women from the neighborhood prepared the meals: clean, with a great gas stove system, and organized. A wonderful sight, given other canteens I had visited.
Jimmy had asked the headmaster to convene the parents for a meeting- he wanted to ensure they were more engaged in the education of their children. I attended the meeting, and saw the interaction between the Parents, the teachers and Jimmy. They promised to help out more; the parent’s designated leader even agreed to help clean out the playground of rocks so that children could play safely. I was humbled to see that with so little around them, the parents, some with 7 children at the school, were grateful to Jimmy for the school, and willing to support however they could.
I asked Jimmy on the way back from the visit, why he had selected this area, and why he was committed to this school. He looked at me with a smile and said: “Because they needed it”. We talked about next steps, and connecting the Au Cadet school with the larger network of school supported by the state; we talked about his vision for the school ( more classrooms, more teachers, better spaces, access to water and other basic needs); we talked about how to continue to engage the parents. While there are needs galore in Port-au-Prince, and across the country, I realized something important. That one person can make a difference in the life of many, however little their resources may be, and however small the region affected. And sometimes, it takes one person to get the ball rolling. And Jimmy has pushed that ball.
Posted on 01/22/2013
For the first time ever, the Haitian government is able to properly supervise the border at the Belladere-Elias Pina border crossing. Up until 2009, the Haitian police, migration, and customs were in offices 2km from the border. They had no means of supervising the border or of controlling what entered the country. The Dominicans had their facilities right on the border, but had no contact with the Haitians that were 2km away. When the Dominicans would deport Haitians, their bus would pull up to the border and officials would walk the Haitians to the border crossing and leave them. No Haitian officials were present to supervise the process and ensure that the deportees were properly treated.
With funding from the Canadian government, PADF worked with the Haitian government to build a modern facility at the border. This was a complex of six buildings including offices for migration, customs, the police, and other border servies. PADF even built a dormatory to allow for a continual presence at the border. The facilities were completed to great fanfare in 2009, but the earthquake hit before the center could be fully equipped. With its priorities elsewhere, the Haitian government was unable to open the center until now.
Three weeks ago, the Haitian government assigned the last of the officials to Belladere. For the first time ever, there are now Migration, Customs, and Police present at the border. The Dominican authorities have already begun working with their Haitian counterparts and the Haitian government has been able to begin capturing a larger share of custom duties from the goods that pass through. The Haitian authorities should soon be able to properly supervise the deportations from the Dominican side.
Posted on 01/15/2013
Two years after awarding Amarylis Castillo the title of Hero of the Hemisphere, she has continued her fight to raise living standards of the poor farmers in the Dominican-Haitian borderlands. PADF met Amarylis at the site of her newly completed avocado processing facility.
“This has been a dream of mine for 10 year,” Amarylis explained. “I’ve been helping farmers to improve the production of lemon-avocados and we’ve dramatically increased production. However farmers were selling their crops to middlemen at low prices. With these washing and storage facilities, we can now bypass the middlemen and sell straight to the national buyers. The quotes that I am getting are twice as high as the middlemen used to pay us.” Luis Miniere, the mayor of Comendador, strongly supports Amarylis’ strategy.
“Our biggest problem in Comendador is that middlemen pay farmers too little. We need more of these storage facilities throughout the municipality for all of our crops. If we can bring our farmers together, we can help them to earn much more for their crops—this is our best route out of poverty. Based on the training that she had done with PADF and the relationships that she had built, Amarylis was able to obtain a $350,000 grant from the Americas Development Foundation. The land was donated by the municipality of Comendador. The building was inaugurated last week and the first avocados will be brought in at the end of the month.
“When PADF first started working with me nine years ago, I had a small foundation but didn’t know how to help my community.” Amarylis said. “PADF helped me to focus on the farmers’ needs. They opened doors for me and helped me to win my first grant. Other organizations have come and gone, but PADF has taken the time to understand our dreams and stayed with us to help us to realize them.”