MIAMI GARDENS — The devastating earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands and left even more homeless has overshadowed the need to help some of the desperately poor regions of Haiti.
That was the conclusion of a mission from St. Thomas University (stu) which identified three projects the school is supporting to promote economic advancement through self-help in the northwest region.
The projects are stars in Blooming Hope, a documentary made by a team from the university thatvisited the country.
The team toured some of the poorest communities, “places where people don’t have access to anything,” said Marcela Moyano, an assistant professor in the university’s Institute for Communication, Entertainment and Media. STU’s Center of Justice and Peace invited Moyano in 2008 to visit the region. She and a total of 30 students from STU’s Social Entrepreneurship class and 20 faculty members and staff have been to Haiti five times.
They visited different villages to hear residents’ ideas about projects they would like St. Thomas to support.
“As we were listening to the leaders in these communities, we decided that we wanted to support social change in sustainable ways,” Moyano said.
Projects identified for support are a coffee cooperative run by residents of different villages, a workshop that teaches women to paint and create craft works and solar energy development.
“Charity is not what we do,” Moyano said. “We had to find jobs (for the residents) because the solution lies in the emergence of longterm projects. These three projects are really transforming the communities.”
The leaders of the crafts workshop believe that women are among the most mistreated people in Haiti, Moyano said. “They use the workshop to, in a way, liberate them, create a way to promote economic stability for their families,” she said.
It was important to document the team’s experience on film, she said, because “people here in the United States don’t know that these rural, remote places exist and that we need to support these regions.”
The result was Blooming Hope, which documents the projects from conception to implementation. It depicts Elicoeur Beaubrum, a coffee farmer-leader from Ma Wouj; Tata Dumasie, an artisan craftswoman from Jean Rabel; and school children from Baie-de-Henne, site of the solar energy project.
St. Thomas provides grants to the coffee farmers in the Cocano cooperative to improve operations, helping them to purchase equipment such as scales, as well as sacks for the beans, Moyano said, and to pay for education sessions for coffee growers of the northwest region.
Also, the university buys coffee directly from the cooperative through its Panther Coffee operation, roasts and packages the beans and distributes the product in the U.S. The school recently bought 1,800 pounds of coffee from this year’s harvest, Moyano said. Eventually the cooperative will process, roast and package the coffee itself. Those wishing to order the coffee or become distributors may visit cafecocano.com.
In similar fashion, St. Thomas buys directly from the Women Artisan Cooperative, or Atelye Thevenet, which creates art works for export overseas, and sells it in the U.S.
The school has sold some $70,000 worth of crafts, Moyano said. Some of the imports are used for university purposes. The School of Law and the president’s office bought 1,075 tote bags for new-student orientation, Moyano said.
Those wishing to buy craftwork from the cooperative orwishing to become distributors may visit haitiartisancrafts.com.
For the solar energy project, STU worked out the logistics for installing a 12 kilowatt system comprising 50 solar panels for the roof of the Cathédrale Immaculée Conception (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) in Port-de-Paix, a 120-year-old building. Moyano said the university received help from Solar City and Food for the Poor to acquire the $97,000 system.
In partnership with Haiti Tech, a technical school based in Port-au-Prince, STU students and faculty rewired the building and are installing the panels at cost for $41,000.
“The community center of the cathedral will have power at night when children come to do homework and people from the town meet for social gatherings,” Moyano said.
Blooming Hope premiered at the Little Haiti Cultural Center and was also screened at the Miami International Film Festival, where it won the Best Short for the Florida Focus segment.
Its latest showing will take place during “A Night of Hope” on Saturday at St. Thomas’ School of Law Moot Court Room in Miami Gardens, presented by the Institute for Communication, Entertainment and Media, the Center for Justice and Peace and Kreyol Nation.
“It was also shown in the different villages in Haiti where it was filmed,” said Tiffany Norman, an STU graduate student who was among those making the trip to help with the filming. “It was the first time that the people in the film actually saw themselves on film.”
Proceeds from the screening will benefit the distribution of the film. “I did not have a lot of information or background prior to the trip. The way it’s presented on the news you think you are going to the end of the earth,” Norman said.
“Yes, it’s poor and has undergone devastation and some things in the film are hard to look at. But the people are strong and make the best of what they have and are really generous.”
Blooming Hope captures that spirit, Norman said. “We went there to teach them and they ended up teaching us,” she said.