When attempting to bring twenty students to a country they have never been to before, you would be crazy if you didn’t have a little pre-trip anxiety, especially if the destination happens to be rural Haiti. Nonetheless, we swallowed our anxiety, grabbed our over-stuffed packs, and loaded the group of 23 onto a charter bus to begin our 10-day spring break trip.
Despite Haiti being the polar opposite of Sewanee, the students effortlessly adapted to the conditions and maintained a great attitude the entire time, never ceasing to ask questions about their surroundings. This is certainly not everyone’s initial reaction when coming Haiti, so we can’t say enough about how much the group’s collective positivity shaped the trip and allowed for it to be such a great success. After spending the first few days touring around Cange, when Monday morning came we were all eager to set out for our 3-day excursion to the village of Bois Jolie. Despite the ubiquitous Haitian heat, our group managed to hike the whole way in high spirits to arrive at one of the more developed schools within the village. It being our first day in the field, we planned to only complete one survival survey per three-person group. Accompanied by one Haitian agronomy student and one local farmer, two Sewanee students were led to their coffee fields in order to survey the seedlings that were distributed last summer. Each survey required locating all of the coffee and shade trees, sometimes over 200, and taking basic data such as the height, diameter, and current health status. I can assure you this was no small task, as these coffee and shade tree seedlings were often skewed amongst many banana and plantain trees. We understood the difficulty of these surveys, so when each group began to return with sheets full of data and residual smiles still visible, we couldn’t have been more excited.
That night, as we ate our beans, rice, and goat under the stars, we hashed out any confusion that arose during the surveys and prepared for the full day of work awaiting us on Tuesday. Fortunately, the hike up the mountain didn’t leave anyone too sore, and by 8 the next morning we were off in our groups again to knock out more surveys. Though some farmers couldn’t show us all of the coffee seedlings that we had originally distributed to them, many of us were able to find a surprising number of seedlings. Unfortunately, some of the plants had a disease like rust, scales, or miners; however, considering this was the end of the dry season, it was certainly not surprising. Despite these seedlings not all being healthy, though, we expect to see many begin to thrive as the rainy season sets in.
As research students, we can’t express how grateful we are to have been able to work with so many students and complete a survival survey for every farmer that received plants from the nursery. In many development projects, this follow-up never happens because of the daunting amount of work that it entails. However, by working with Sewanee Outreach and the twenty students that signed up to spend spring break in Haiti, every one of the 6,000 plants that could be found was flagged and recorded. With this incredible amount of data, we now know exactly how well our plants are doing in the ground, which will ultimately allow us to treat any that may have some type of disease. In addition, this verification of exactly how many plants are on each farm will allow us to offer the farmers a payment for ecosystem services (PES) that will help to ensure the continued growth and maintenance of all trees on their land. In May, several Sewanee students will return to Haiti to spend the summer treating these plants and continuing to gather additional data. The future of our project is looking bright, and we thank everyone that has given any support to help get us this far.