Reviving Haiti Through Reforestation

As you may know, Haiti was terribly devastated by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in 2010. It is estimated that 200,000 people died and thousands more were injured. Homes, schools and businesses were lost. But, there’s something that’s barely mentioned as a main consequence of the disaster: loss of trees. Laura Livingston, our latest grant winner, is aware of this issue and is doing something about it. She joined the Vassar Haiti Project (VHP) in an effort to help contribute to the healing of Haiti and is now a part of the reforestation team. VHP uses art to fund projects, with the goal of making Haiti a better place through education, medical access, reforestation and water purification. Laura is part of a reforestation team for VHP. Along with her teammates; Ben Hoffman, Leah Peters, Charlene Ren and Charlotte Ong, she has helped sow two thousand trees and revive Haiti’s atmosphere! Who/what inspired you to take action around this issue?

Laura Livingston: My dedication to Vassar Haiti Project's reforestation initiative began while meeting with village leaders in Chermaitre in 2012. They were describing the trees that they had planted in the last year, and I was inspired by their dedication and pride in the project. In the US we often learn about Haiti as a sort of ecological fable where decades of poverty have led to severe deforestation. The time and labor that people in Chermaitre are investing in reforesting a hillside exemplify the first steps in improving Haiti's environment, while benefiting rural communities.

DS: What makes your project unique?

LL: The reforestation initiative is an opportunity for students in the U.S. to learn more about Haiti's environmental history. The reforestation initiative is about more than just putting trees in the ground; it is also about learning the whos, whats, whens, and whys of Haiti's deforestation and environmental conservation. VHP has been working with Chermaitre for twelve years, and the reforestation initiative works alongside education, medical, and water access initiatives. Students from the school in Chermaitre participate in tree planting and learn about the environment in their life science lessons. This overlap in learning and planting helps ensure that young people are committed to reforestation.

DS: What is one moment that stands out where you knew you were making a difference?

LL: VHP travels to Chermaitre every year to meet with village leaders and assess the progress of our initiatives. These trips are very important to building our relationship with people in Chermaitre. When we visited last year, we saw newly planted seedlings as well as seedlings waiting to be planted. When students visited the site this year, the seedlings were still there and growing. There are many challenges including pests and water to successfully planting seedlings; it's inspiring to see the seedlings growing tall and know that the people in Chermaitre are committed to this project.

DS: How is this grant money going to help you expand your project?

LL: During VHP's last two trips to Chermaitre, we have been asked whether it is possible to have tools that are dedicated to the reforestation initiative. During our first phase of tree planting, the people clearing the ground and planting the trees had to borrow tools, inconveniencing others and slowing the planting process. Dedicated tools will improve the planting efficiency for our next round of planting.  

DS: If you could have one superpower what would it be?

LL: The power to speed read. I would zoom through libraries like Road Runner escaping Wile E. Coyote.

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