Marc-Romyr Antoine started out as an intern at Tearfund and he now looks after the team in Haiti. His country faces challenges on many fronts, from poverty and corruption to food insecurity, Covid-19 and the threat of natural disasters. Against this backdrop, he reflects on his work, areas of potential in Haiti and how he is reaching young people via new digital technology.
How and why did you start working for Tearfund?
I studied Theology and International Development at graduate school where we did a case study on Tearfund and its development work from a Christian perspective. We studied Tearfund’s Project cycle management and I became very interested in the organisation. After graduating I was able to secure an internship with Tearfund in the Haiti office. This worked perfectly for me because I was a Haitian immigrant living in the United States but looking to return to Haiti. After four months I was asked to stay on and become the Advocacy Officer.
I wanted to work for Tearfund because I share its vision and mission. I believe that God’s plan for the world is the church. If we can strengthen this divine institution to be what God has called it to be and do what God has called it to do, we will really begin to see holistic transformation in our communities.
What are the key challenges you are facing in your country?
- Poverty: According to the World Bank: Haiti Overview, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. It has a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of 870 USD (9.6 billion USD total) and a Human Development Index ranking of 168 out of 189 countries in 2018. Fifty five per cent of the country’s 11.12 million people live in poverty, with 23 per cent living in extreme poverty.
- Corruption: Transparency International has ranked Haiti 161 out of 180 on its list of most corrupt countries in the world. Haiti scored 20 out of 100, 0 being the most corrupt and 100 being the least corrupt.
- Food insecurity: The IPC reports that 3.67 million people (35 per cent) are in need of urgent food assistance. The Hunger Index continues to say that Haiti is ranked 111 out of 117 countries with almost half of the population undernourished.
- Climate change: Haiti is number four on the Global Climate Risk Index of countries most affected by global warming.
- Natural disasters: Nearly the entire population – The World Bank estimates 96 per cent – is highly vulnerable to natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and earthquakes.
How has Covid-19 (new coronavirus disease) affected your work and what steps have you been taking to prevent it from spreading in Haiti?
The biggest impact on our projects has been the inability to meet with communities for training, gatherings and other functions. We have begun to draft alternative methods of working, new ways of doing activities within the government and health guidelines as well as looking at alternative methods of monitoring activities.
We have worked with partners to begin awareness-raising and WASH programming in communities. We are promoting the construction of tippy taps for households and have put together a ‘how-to’ video that will be shared widely with organisations and on social media. In a more medium-phase response we will look to support families with food security as Covid-19 has had a major impact on the income of people and on their ability to access food.
The best advice is to keep on physical distancing, handwashing, and remaining vigilant in the fight against the virus.
Can you tell us about a recent project running in your country that has encouraged you?
We have a lot of exciting work in Haiti but at the moment our waste management pilot has been showing great potential. This waste management project is a holistic response to complex poverty issues. The lack of waste management infrastructure, vulnerability to disasters, and high rates of unemployment work together to disempower communities. The project responds to these environmental and economic needs by training families to recycle so that they no longer dump waste in rivers or burn it in the streets. After training them in creation care and recycling, the project then partners with a local social business which collects the waste from the homes on a weekly basis. The business then transforms the plastic into paving tiles and the organic waste into compost. Both lines of business (waste collection and transformation) provide streams of income for young people who were previously unemployed. The project also curbs the amount of waste going into our rivers and oceans, decreases the health effects of open burning, and restores our environment. We have been piloting this on a small scale but now have an opportunity to scale up and we are excited at the prospect.
‘Haiti’s young people will be the agents of holistic change and will lead this nation towards a new horizon.’
How has integral mission motivated or guided the growth of this work?
Integral mission is foundational to all we do. We believe that the people we serve are integral beings and the problems they face are complex. The model we have received to respond to the ills of the world, through the example of Jesus, is an integral one. It tells us to both demonstrate God’s love through action and declare God’s love through our words. We seek to do this in all of our work towards manifesting God’s kingdom where the need is greatest.
What practical advice would you give to others who might just be starting out in this type of work?
- Read Matthew 25:34–40 and Luke 4:18–19
- Be led by the Spirit of God and be led by the community
- Be patient – real transformation takes time
- Use measurements – if it is not impacting real lives and if you can’t show evidence for it, why are you doing it?
- Teamwork makes the dream work
What areas of potential do you see in your work and country?
Seventy per cent of Haiti’s population is under the age of 35. We have massive potential in our youth and if we leverage that correctly, we can transform every part of this nation. I truly believe that there is an untapped power in our young people. I am excited to be part of an organisation which sees the value in young people and which is working towards helping them rise up and manifest that power. When we look around the world and back in history, transformation is often led by young people – Jesus and his disciples are a prime example! Haiti’s young people will be the agents of holistic change and will lead this nation towards a new horizon. At the moment we are putting together a national youth network which will work on integral mission and advocacy.
Does new technology have a role to play in your work?
We are piloting a new digital platform called Tearfund U this year, which is geared towards supporting young people and providing a new method of training, learning and equipping. Tearfund Learn has a vast library of online resources on a wide range of topics. Unfortunately, to train people takes time, staff, flights, money, space, etc. Tearfund U presents training in a digital format using mobile phones, computers and tablets. The content consists of interactive tools such as video, audio and pictures to train and equip young people without them having to travel.
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