By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
BETTENDORF — Setting the groundwork for sustainable development in Haiti is the goal of four men from St. John Vianney Parish’s Haiti Connection group.
The parish has a relationship with Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Jean Denis, Haiti. Each year the parish sponsors a medical mission trip to Our Lady. Medical missions will continue, but now a group is working to help people in the Jean Denis area start businesses that Haitians can operate and sustain.
St. John Vianney parishioners Dimy Doresca (originally from Haiti) and Mike Laas, Ken Miller and Jerry Stanger shared information about their May 24-29 trip with The Catholic Messenger. A presentation to the Haiti Connection was held later.
The Bettendorf group met with government officials upon arrival in Port au Prince, including Vladimir Laborde of the presidential advisory council for economic growth and investment.
“We were advised by Catholic Relief Services (ahead of time) to work with the government and not to go around the government,” Miller said. The Haitian government officials were very clear that they did not want aid —only trade.
“We let the people know we were there to invest in a full-stake project and to teach them business skills,” Doresca said.
When the St. John Vianney group arrived in Jean Denis, community leaders were identified to help the group with a prepared survey. They approached the parish and then the surrounding community and farmers for responses. How much land was available? What did the people want to grow and sell? “We wanted to know what they wanted to accomplish,” Laas said.
Throughout Haiti the people need jobs and growth, Miller said. Their harvests need to be bigger so they can sell to others. Laas added that the schools need to be stabilized so that Haitians can receive a good education.
Stanger noted that adult education, literacy classes and computers are available to help build a good foundation for the future.
While in Haiti, the group learned that rice is the primary staple grown there. Two big issues the farmers face: irrigation and flooding. The government decades ago built canals to control the water needed to flood or to drain fields. Some canals are in good condition. Others have mechanical issues or are overgrown, so the canals don’t work.
When the group met with Laborde again, he said the government could work to get the major canal cleaned and train farmers to take care of the side canals.
The Bettendorf group also met with agronomists and others to learn more about rice farming and irrigation, among other things. Doresca’s presence was especially helpful. “Dimy knows how to get information. They (government representatives) don’t tell us. But he can get us the answers,” Miller said.
Doresca said the group’s goal is to write a business plan, ask parishioners at St. John Vianney to invest and get a business or two off the ground in Haiti. “We are looking at sustainability. We want to make an impact and create jobs.”
So what’s next? The St. John Vianney group will get input from its parish and review the surveys. They are awaiting Haitian government reports and information about what partnerships will be needed.
The group hopes to pilot a program to increase rice production. Doresca said if rice production is increased and a buyer is committed, this program will create jobs, increase revenue for the area and boost the self-esteem of the people. There is a local market in Haiti for rice grown in Haiti; a very long-range goal would be to export rice from Haiti.
“We want to help restore balance” Miller said.
For more information on joining the committee or investing in the project, contact Ken and Cathy Miller at (563) 332-8404.