The people of Haiti have much to overcome. But long-term success can never be realized through handouts. Only by strengthening communities can the proud population of this island nation become self-reliant. The Lambi Fund is an organization dedicated to helping Haitians to develop democratic means of building and managing their own future.
Do you hear that sound? Reminiscent of a trumpet cry carried on the distant breeze, it’s the herald of announcement; a call to organization and action. It’s the sound of the lambi: a conch shell; the symbol of the Lambi Fund of Haiti.
The Lambi Fund was founded by concerned Haitians, Haitian-Americans and North Americans in 1994. Dedicated to nurturing a true Haitian democracy, the Lambi Fund focuses on teaching people how to manage for themselves, rather than handing out solutions. Its philosophy is that building up the nation from the grassroots will inherently strengthen the Haitian people to create their own future. For the poor, much of Haiti’s commerce lies in agriculture. The Lambi Fund uses agricultural terms as metaphors for the work it performs in Haiti. Director Josette Pirard explains, “We are a democracy-building organization. And we do it from the ground up. If you look at all the unrest that happens in Haiti, you realize that real change must come from beneath the surface. It must come from the poor majority, from the peasants. Not from the politicians. Not from the elite. And not from foreign governments. Sustainability happens when we open our hands, drop seeds into good soil, and provide what it needs to take root and grow.”
Many well-meaning aid societies come into a region, determine what the area needs, supply the need, and then depart. The region may be temporarily better for the gain, but the people themselves are only further trained for dependency. And the need provided may not have been the most urgent, nor even desired by the people. The Lambi Fund operates in a completely different manner; one that extends respect to the people it serves. Assistant Field Director Paul Rodney Henry points out that peasant communities approach the Lambi Fund only once a group is organized, has identified a need to be addressed, and is prepared to present a proposal for funding. This places the weight of responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the people, where it belongs. That responsibility blossoms into pride when, upon completion of a project, the people can declare, “Look at that: we made that happen.” Proposals are carefully reviewed by the Lambi Fund staff, but the consider ation process doesn’t stop there. Lambi Fund representatives go directly to the community to check out first-hand how prepared the people are to take on the proposed task. Factors assessed include the level of organization throughout the participating community, whether the community is organized democratically and whether it demonstrates the ability to carry through with the proposed plan. Those that pass this rigorous review process are recommended for approval by the Haitian Advisory Board, and then go on to seek funding through the U.S. Board. Communities that aren’t quite ready to step up to the plate won’t receive funding. Instead, the Lambi Fund offers to work with such groups, continuing to groom and advise them in order to bring them to a point where they can successfully reapply when they are ready.
The beauty of this method is that the local people are treated as partners in a business enterprise, rather than recipients of a charitable donation. Communities are not merely given tangible assets in order to solve immediate needs. Rather, they are armed with powerful tools to gird themselves up for guiding their enterprises and overcoming future conflicts: tools such as planning, management and negotiation skills; learning how to deal with disagreements and government policies; learning how to effectively work as a team. This engenders a sense of true ownership in the undertakings, which further engenders dedication and responsibility. All of these skills lay the strong foundation needed when a community is suddenly faced with obstacles such as natural disasters, uprisings or political unrest. Because of their personal investments in creating the ventures, the people develop a mindset of commitment thatensures ongoing success despite challenges along the way.
In this era of charities that famously spend more on their own organizations than on those they purport to assist, it’s no small feat that the Lambi Fund has been honoured with a four-star rating on Charity Navigator, America’s largest charity evaluator. The Lambi Fund has proven itself time and time again to be a winning partner in giving community members the necessary tools they need, along with the knowledge and experience to wield those tools effectively to achieve their goals. Projects assisted by the Lambi Fund have resulted in providing fresh drinking water so children can spend time learning instead of going to the doctor, teaching farmers how to better manage crops and livestock, and creating a seed bank to store and plant precious native Creole heirloom and organic seeds, yielding abundant crops without the shackles of dependency on foreign companies or nations. Less material gains may be the most valuable. Although Haitian women are called the “pillars of society,” they have long been treated as a lower caste. Empowering women to establish a local mill created not only economic freedom, but a sense of accomplishment and independence felt throughout entire communities. One Haitian woman confided, “Now that we are the providers, the men can’t exploit us. Now they must respect us.”
But all the nurturing of crops and stockpiling of food is useless if the land cannot withstand the ravages of natural disasters. Years of overharvesting trees for fuel and lumber have left Haiti with less than 1% of its lands forested. A major ongoing focus of the Lambi Fund is the reforesting of land. Much has been accomplished in this area, but with so much barren land, a great deal yet remains to be accomplished. Hundreds of thousands of people were already living in tent camps since the 2010 earthquake that rocked the region. Now, with the dire consequences of August’s tropical storm Issac still fresh in Haitian minds, thousands of those tent camps have been washed away by the onslaught of October’s hurricane Sandy. Over 50 lives have been lost in this recent disaster, with that number expected to rise as food shortages, contaminated water and disease takes additional tolls. The Lambi Fund is there to assist Haitians in managing this catastrophe, and will continue to work with Haitians in renewing the environment, enriching the land and restoring top soil structure such that future severe weather will have less of a negative impact on the region. Perhaps the Lambi Fund’s greatest contribution in this crisis is the wealth of knowledge and training imparted to the Haitian people so that they, themselves, ar e better equipped to face the challenges of this latest assault on their land.
The People of Lambi
All this is possible, thanks to individuals who don’t run the show, but who give others the keys to run their own show. People like Max Blanchet, Marie M. B. Racine, Ph.D., Freud Jean and France Buteau, on the Board of Directors; Advisory Council members Marguerite Joseph and Father William Smarth, and Honorary Council members Dr. Catherine Maternowska and Rev. John Vaughn; and those on the front line, like Executive Director Marie Marthe Saint Cyr, Field Director Ferry Pierre-Charles, Regional Monitor Joseph Dorsainvil and Grant Writer Kate Dill. They and others devote themselves to helping Haiti help itself. The lambi represents the Haitian people’s hope, strength and struggle for self-determination. And the Lambi Fund is there to help the Haitian people realize their own dreams.