Sarah, Marita, and I went to see a man about alternative fuels this morning! His name is Joe, so his business is called Kay Joe (Joe's House). He uses coconut shells to make charcoal, rather than just burning wood or cutting down trees to make "regular" charcoal - two very common practices in Haiti that are contributing to the HUGE problem of deforestation in this country. This charcoal is easy enough to make that it's either about the same price as wood charcoal or maybe cheaper (I wasn't quite clear on that point), but it burns for three times as long! This could not only be a tree/environment-saver, here in Haiti, but could also be a huge money-saver for many Haitians! Sarah and (especially) Marita are playing with the idea of making this into a project where communities of about 20 families could get set up with a coconut charcoal press, and then share the use of it. (One press, worked by 4 people, makes about 800 pieces a day, which would be enough for 20 families. They would share costs and collectively save a lot of money on charcoal.) It's hard for a business like Kay Joe to keep up with the demand - they're already falling behind demand - so if lots of smaller communities could get involved, it has the potential to make a big difference!
It was really fun to go see this place they have set up. They also make small clay pots that hold the charcoal as you burn it, so you can just set a pot or pan on top of the open clay pot as if it was any old stove. Haitian kitchens are outdoor in the yard, so this is completely compatible with what Haitians are used to. We got to see the charcoal, the press, the big pile of coconut shells they've collected... and a bucket of mold that is somehow involved in the making of these charcoal briquettes. Kay Joe also has a tree nursery, so we saw all the tiny little trees waiting to be sold and planted. In order to encourage tourism and help make ends meet, there are a few buildings on the property (it's a very cute little complex) that have rooms for travelers to stay in, right along a really beautiful bit of coastline. It seems like a great set-up! Joe is quite a character, too. :)
Since Marita came, she's been telling us all about her projects and inspiration and personal journey. It's fun to listen to her and Sarah because they're full of ideas and plans and energy to start new things here in Haiti. Marita is really into sustainability, earth ships (a building style that uses a lot of trash as material, is built in a shape to be more resistant to natural disasters, and saves/recycles water very efficiently), composting, and other cool save-the-world type projects (like the coconut charcoal). Sarah has the maternity center, of course, helps takes care of babies and kids when needed, teaches about many health issues including contraception and safe sex, and now is suddenly starting to help plan a potential orphanage for kids with HIV (regular orphanages aren't allowed to take HIV-positive kids; apparently they have to keep them separate, so HIV kids often don't have a place to go).
It's been really interesting hearing all their views on issues down here. Sarah actually has a problem with a lot of orphanages around Haiti because they are often full of a few orphans (who might have an aunt and uncle who could potentially care for them) and a lot of kids whose parents just think they'll have a better chance in the world if they put them in an orphanage that's run by white people. The resources being spent on this type of orphanage might be put to much better use if they were used to help educate people and prevent unwanted pregnancies. Sarah said that, while almost all of their clients in the clinic are warm, loving parents, easily less than half of the pregnancies were unplanned. She has a few stories of mothers not wanting to take their babies home with them (or even flat-out refusing to acknowledge that the baby was theirs), simply because they resources and hope.
There are so many (I repeat, SO MANY!!!) different avenues that can be taken, or need to be taken, when it comes to finding ways to help Haiti. It's a really incredible place, full of a lot of great people and a lot of potential, but there are so many missing links that it's hard to know where to start when choosing a project, or focus, or target population, or issue, or even just location... In fact, it's almost a relief to me that I went into this experience knowing that it would be more of a learning experience, or a beginning, and less of a make-as-much-of-a-difference-as-possible situation. Of course I want to help, but (as Marita, Sarah, Paul Farmer, and many others have said) you really need a deep understanding of Haiti's history and character before you can really know how to help. It seems like I'll be here just long enough to learn a ton and start to get to know Haiti...