Living in a rented mud home with a tin roof on a small plot of farmland 24 miles north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the family of Sadrac Petit-Homme, his wife, Adelia, and four children struggle to survive. Like most Haitians, they are of African descent and speak Creole, a language based on French. Though a trained agricultural technician, Sadrac lost nearly everything in September 1998 when Hurricane Georges’s 175-mph winds and torrential rains hit. Sadrac’s plight is common in a country where nearly two decades of political and military strife have made economic progress nearly impossible.
Today, four-fifths of Haiti’s eight million people are unemployed, and most live in poverty. Though Sadrac desires his children to attend school, there is no national school in his area. The economic decline has left the country largely without money to pay teachers in rural areas. Sadrac is determined that his four children not grow up to become part of the 65 percent of the adult population who are illiterate.
Political, military, and economic struggles have left Haiti’s road and bridge infrastructure, electrical power, telephone lines, sewage treatment, and water treatment facilities spiraling into decay. As a result, traveling in rural areas can take two hours to go 10 miles or may in some cases be impossible. Sadrac’s family is affected by these conditions as are the 80 percent of Haitians who are farmers, or paysans. Malnutrition and disease, which are common throughout Haiti, have increased since the hurricane. In the mountain communities behind Sadrac’s home, 17 people died from starvation and water-borne disease. Most were children.
In his effort to survive, Sadrac formed an agricultural organization designed to help him and his fellow paysans. Others throughout the country have done the same in order to receive aid from one of more than 600 nonprofit organizations that are helping Haiti get back on its feet.
Since 6 January 1999, the Church’s humanitarian service program has begun to establish its own independent support initiatives in Haiti through the Church’s official nongovernmental organization: Latter-day Saint Charities. Prior to this, the contributions of the Church were made through existing nonprofit organizations. The Church still contributes to 14 nonprofit organizations in Haiti because its reach is better in some areas if they collaborate.
“Humanitarian contributions of the Church worldwide fall into two categories,” says Lloyd Pendleton, manager of field operations for Humanitarian Service. “First, immediate aid for relief from disaster by sending food or supplies and, second, development of self-reliance in countries with chronic suffering. This is done through programs designed to bring self-reliance in growing and storing food, developing literacy, and similar initiatives. Our efforts in Haiti fall primarily into this second category.”
Cooperative efforts have already begun to help farmers in areas surrounding Port-au-Prince where Church-sponsored projects provide cisterns, silos, pigs, tools, and seeds. The farmers provide raw materials and labor. Over time, the projects will be expanded. The result will be self-reliance for thousands of Haitian farmers.
Currently this humanitarian effort in Haiti is spearheaded by Ronald and Jacqueline Kouri of Quebec, Canada, who arrived on 6 January 1999 ready to serve a 24-month mission as country directors for Humanitarian Service. Eager to serve, Elder Kouri (a dentist), and Sister Kouri (a lawyer), are both fluent in English and French (see sidebar). They learned Haitian Creole at the Provo Missionary Training Center.
“At first, the devastating poverty and lack of the basics by the majority of Haitians shocked and overwhelmed us,” remembers Sister Kouri. “The heat, dust, and hazardous driving conditions created stress for us on a daily basis. But as we came to work with and love the Haitian people, we adjusted.”
During their first 12 weeks in Haiti, the Kouris met with many different organizations that were seeking aid. The majority were schools, orphanages, health clinics, and agricultural groups. Initially, the Kouris arranged for shipments of clothing and medical equipment from the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City to various groups in need. They also provided food and powdered milk to several orphanages.
“We could quickly see that there would be no end to food aid as long as the Haitians did not become self-reliant,” says Elder Kouri. “Food donations are now limited to orphanages and emergency relief, and we seek out projects where there would be meaningful participation on the part of the recipients.”
The Kouris searched for projects meeting the requirement of “meaningful participation” and eventually recommended Humanitarian Service support for three agricultural organizations in rural areas outside of Port-au-Prince. These organizations represent 81 subgroups of farmers. Living both on the plains and in the mountains, most of these groups have no access to roads, potable water, schools, or health clinics. They are hardworking people but lack the means to educate their children and buy seeds, tools, and livestock. Among them was Sadrac Petit-Homme.
After talking with these people, the Kouris soon realized the need for each family to have a pig. Traditionally, the sale of a pig would provide a family with sufficient income to pay for a child’s schooling for a year. Most Haitians lost their pigs in the early 1980s in an African swine fever epidemic. Since then other breeds of pigs have been imported to Haiti, but they require special, expensive feed.
“Pigs, or ‘walking banks’ as they are called, will restore hope, opportunity, and financial independence to these farmers,” says Sister Kouri. “Since we are not experts in agriculture, we sought local expertise—that has been an asset.” During this process of searching out the expertise of others, the Kouris used Sadrac Petit-Homme’s knowledge and advice. His small agricultural organization, which became known as ROADA (Rassemblement des Organizations Agricoles pour le Development L’Archaie), quickly grew to more than 40 subgroups representing about 3,000 people.
This is how the program works. A government subsidy program helps purchase the original pigs: 20 three-month-old sows and 4 boars. The government agronomist gives a one-day seminar to those who are going to breed the pigs. The Church finances the building of a simple structure to serve as a piggery. The 20 sows are bred. Then most male piglets are fattened for sale. The female piglets are distributed to members of the 40 subgroups, who will in turn raise and breed the next generation of pigs. The third generation of female piglets go to family members. Each family agrees not to sell or eat their original female pig but to breed her and pass on two of the female piglets to other ROADA members. Eventually each family in the 40 subgroups will have their own pig-raising enterprise. This will give paysans another source of income besides their vegetable crops. This same program is in place in two other agricultural organizations.
“After two years, our initial donation of 48 pigs to three organizations will provide about 1,160 families with a female piglet every year without the Church having to invest further,” says Elder Kouri. “ROADA will be able to replace the sows and boars as needed; buy pig feed and seeds and fertilizers; fund other projects such as health clinics; and purchase school materials.”
The interest in the project has been overwhelming.
“The paysans can’t believe you are doing this for them,” says the mayor of Archaie. “We are very grateful.”
The Kouris are equally involved in other projects, all of which are approved by the Church. All use the principle of “meaningful participation” from recipients with a goal of self-reliance for the farmers and eventual independence for the projects.
In the cistern project, the Church supplied enough materials to mountain communities to build eight cisterns capable of capturing rain or spring water, thus providing safe drinking water. Members of the local community organizations provided the rocks, sand, and labor to build the cisterns.
In the tool project, the Church provided tools to agricultural community rural organizations who lost theirs during Hurricane Georges. These farmers return the tools after each harvest and pay a small fee toward repair or replacement of tools.
“For the leaders of these organizations, it is their first experience in managing finances,” says Elder Kouri. “We arranged for them to take a course on how to keep their books. It gave them training and confidence to manage their projects themselves.”
Sister Kouri notes that when they travel on remote mountain roads with the organizers, “they will point out a farmer with a machete or a hoe and say, ‘That is one of the tools you bought us.’ These paysans are very happy.”
In the seed project, seeds originally donated to the Church by an Oregon-based company were in turn donated to six organizations that represent about 12,500 people who live in extremely poor areas.
“We tried to help the most needy,” says Sister Kouri. “At one seed distribution, girls sang songs that had been specially prepared for us. When the groups received their seeds, they huddled around the boxes like children opening presents at Christmas.”
Then the thanks came. “Some of our women are going to have a communal market garden,” said one. “We will never forget you,” said another. “Your church gives to everyone. We know Jesus has sent you to help us.”
Life is changing for many in Haiti, including Sadrac Petit-Homme and his family, because of the Church’s humanitarian service.
“The confidence and growth we have seen in Sadrac and his family are fantastic,” says Elder Kouri. “With his newfound knowledge and our encouragement, Sadrac is working with us to help two other groups. He and his family have moved into the village so that his children can attend school. Before the pig-raising project, Sadrac was able to think only about surviving. Now he, his family, and his whole organization are dreaming and planning for the future. Hopelessness has turned to hope, thanks to the Church’s humanitarian service.”
Sometimes it is clear that the Lord has had a hand in preparing Church members for specific callings. Such is the case with Ronald and Jacqueline Kouri.
Sister Kouri moved to Quebec, Canada, from England in 1948. There she met and married Ronald Kouri of Sherbrooke, Quebec. Tracted out by missionaries, the Kouris joined the Church and attended the little French-speaking branch in Sherbrooke.
“We learned to love, teach, and work with those of another language, culture, and humble means,” says Sister Kouri. “As our branch grew, we grew with it, serving in most teaching and leadership positions through the years.”
Elder Kouri worked as a dentist for 39 years. Sister Kouri obtained a law degree after their three children were raised. “I became interested in family law and the use of mediation to settle problems in a nonconfrontational manner,” she recalls.
In 1998, the Kouris submitted their papers to serve a mission. “We felt it was time to show our gratitude to the Lord for all we had. We decided to leave our comfort zone, go out into the world, and serve our fellowman.”
So the Kouris sold their home, dental practice, and law practice, and moved into an apartment to await their call.
Meanwhile in Salt Lake City, Elder Ernest Weeks—a Church Service missionary in the Humanitarian Service division—was reviewing the files on Haiti when he came across a letter written by former mission president Harold W. Bodon poignantly describing the challenges. The letter brought tears to the eyes of Elder Weeks, and he firmly committed himself to help the Haitian people. Soon he was assigned to help prepare a preliminary plan to provide humanitarian aid there. Many were involved, including the Area Presidency over Haiti and employees of the Humanitarian Service division at Church headquarters. The plan continued to be revised and was finally approved by the Welfare Services Executive Committee. Among the list of needs was the request for a French-speaking missionary couple who could move to Haiti immediately.
“We were praying for help,” says Elder Weeks, “and we were thrilled that the Kouris were assigned here since they had hoped to provide humanitarian service outside of North America and could leave immediately. We were thrilled. The Lord had really answered our prayers.”
Like the Kouris, hundreds of couple missionaries can bear testimony of the Lord’s hand in their own mission preparation and assignment. Great blessings come from missionary work, both to those who serve and those who are served. A mission brings about involvement with other people of the world and is filled with rich intellectual, social, and spiritual experiences.
“Many times I smile as I see how my experience with family mediation and law have helped me to be persevering and innovative on my mission,” says Sister Kouri.
Elder Kouri adds, “Though it is hard for us to be away from our grandchildren, we consider it a small sacrifice when so much good is being accomplished.”