Spotlight on a Community: Thomonde
By Bryan Schaaf on Thursday, October 18, 2007.
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At Haiti Innovation, we frequently discuss issues relating to health, community mobilization, and development. From time to time, we also like to focus on a particular province to illustrate that positive changes that are being made. In this way, when people ask you if there is hope for Haiti, we hope you will reply with a resounding yes.
Let's take a look at Thomonde. Thomonde is in the middle of the country on the Central Plateau. The Central Plateau is a bit like Haitian Appalachia in that most Haitians not from there will ever visit the Central Plateau. The road is extremely bad which makes transport difficult. Residents of the plateau have long been marginalized by central government after central government as they have a tradition of standing up for their rights and when warranted actively resisting oppression.
During the marine occupation of Haiti in the early 1900s (the longest U.S occupation of any country), the marines were forcing Haitians to work on roads for free. Slavery redux. The marines also collaborated with the Catholic church to burn Vodou related paraphenelia. Even if you dont agree with Vodou, this is theft and destruction of property on top of forced labor.
The Plateau is poor even by Haitian standards. Malnutrition is rampant and the health care system has traditionally been poor. When I began working in Thomonde as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 2000-2002, there were no (real) doctors or nurses for a provincial population of 50,000.
But Thomonde has changed. A lot. Through the work of Project Medishare, Partners in Health, the Haitian Ministry of Health, and a very active and engaged community, the health care system has been rehabilitated, expanded, and is in many ways a model.
There are now community based programs to treat community members living with HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. There are teams of community health workers who go house to house providing care and support and carrying out important education activities. The clinic, previously defunct, has been reconstructed with a fully functional laboratory. Ambulances were purchased. Previously, if you were to get sick late at night in Thomonde, you were in very serious trouble. This has been addressed.
Just as the people of Thomonde used to leave the province in search of health care, now neighboring communities come to Thomonde. For this reason, Project Medishare has been constructing a hospital in the town proper.
The Medical Complex will also have three nutrition related facilities: An Akamil Production Facility, the Childhood Nutrition Treatment Center and an education and training center. The Akamil Production Facility is particularly notworthy in that it will manufacture and distribute AKA1000, ( a mix of locally-grown products such as cereals and vegetables blended into powder. The finished product will be fortified with a mix of important vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, and Vitamin A. It is a locally and culturally appropriate tool for fighting malnutrition. As a bonus, all ingredients are purchased locally so it stimulates the economy. There are plans for eventual expansion to other parts of the country.
The Education and Training Center will be used to train health care providers in the central department (not just Thomonde) on proper treatment and management of malnutrition. It will also allow for volunteers to spend extended periods of time in Haiti, supporting exisiting programs, including surgeons, doctors, students, and consultants. For this person of the project, Project Medishare still needs $1.4 million. So spread the word.
There have been other changes as well. Thomonde has been deemed significant enough by the central government to warrant a delegate (my old neighbor) meaning that Thomonde now has a voice in political affairs.
There is now a Fonkoze local bank meaning that the Thomondoise no longer have to keep their money under their mattresses. Unlike the notoriously corrupt Caisse Populares, Fonkoze is reputable.
It no longer matters that the Teleco never, ever works. With Digicel having swept the country with their cell phones, people in Thomonde can stay in touch with friends, families, and business contacts in a way that they could not years ago.
So clearly, much progress has been made. There is much more to be done though. With the Plateau one of the few regions in the country to still be semi forested, every day the camion trucks come up from Port au Prince to purchase wood charcoal to take back to sprawling port au prince - a capitol that lacks reliable electricty.
I've been told the road is being improved and Thank God for that, as it truly is awful. I've almost gone over Mon Kabrit once or twice, so the improvement of the road (and some barriers) would facilitate the movement of both people and products. Should the road ever be improved from Hince to Cap Haitian (this will take a while), it would make the regional capitol of the Plateau (Hinche) a bustling commercial town. It could shave hours off a coast to coast trip.
It's a long haul to get there, but Thomonde is a great little town with fun, friendly people. Some of them I consider family. Its tough for many former Peace Corps Volunteers to be out of contact with their places of service, but I have been fortunate to have been back several times. I'm happy to tell you things are getting better. One community at a time.
How are things in your former town/city of service? Send a blog to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to post it for you.
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