This year the Sewanee team came to Haiti bearing gifts of a different kind: scientific conclusions. After four years of conducting survival surveys during Spring Break trips, the research team put together a poster for Scholarship Sewanee. The poster included graphs showing the growth and survival rates of different species of coffee and shade trees, and the conclusions we drew were very exciting. The graphs showed survival rates of most species exceeding 100%, in some cases reaching as high as 700%. The only reason this number is possible is because the farmers have begun to fully embrace tree planting behavior and have been planting trees besides the saplings provided by the Zanmi Kafe program.
We were excited to share this news with our agronomy partners in Haiti, as well as the posters we had printed for Scholarship Sewanee. When we unrolled the posters to show our Haitian research team, the gratification was immediate. They were ecstatic to see such official and tangible results from their hard work, and in the form of a pristine and colorful poster, complete with graphs, photos, and explanations of the research. In addition, we shared some products from a local bird survey they had worked on with Cal Oakley, one of last summers researchers. To them, it was validation and proof of their labor and dreams.
At Sewanee, I have never felt that my research with Zanmi Kafe was not worth doing. In the academic community, the purpose and potential of data is well understood and rarely questioned. However, the need for radical and immediate changes in Haiti makes the collection of data a less appreciated form of development. I believe that for our fellow Haitian researchers, the illustration of their data in poster form is a way to prove that their time has not been wasted. The conclusions we can draw from this data will inform much of the work we do going forward, so that our scarce resources can be more efficiently used, and for the greater benefit of the communities we work with.