BRCC business group to lend a hand to Haiti

The Blue Ridge Community College Students in Free Enterprise Team will travel to LaGonave, Haiti Jan. 18-24. Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has been ravaged by four hurricanes this year that destroyed 60 percent of domestic crops and caused billions of dollars in damages.

This will be the second trip to Haiti for the students of the BRCC SIFE Team. In 2008 students assisted eight women in building and starting their own rabbit cooperative on an island that has no electricity, clean sources of drinking water, and lacks economic opportunity and infrastructure. With the average Haitian bringing home less that $1 a week in earnings, the rabbit cooperative provides economic opportunity to the entire village of Zabricot where the farm is located.

Five students and three faculty members will make the 22-hour journey this year to not only help teach the cooperative members techniques to strengthen animal production and business practices, but also to start three new programs. BRCC SIFE will assist 200 of the poorest families in starting garden plots. While this may seem to be a simple undertaking, the ground in the village where the plots will be located is limestone and does not support limited plant growth. Raised bed gardens will be built with soil brought in from mountain regions on the island to create a viable growing environment for crops.

The goal of this project is to not only provide sources of nutrition for those who struggle each day to locate food but also to provide a source of income as a portion of the crops can be sold to other island residents at market. BRCC SIFE has partnered with the Haiti Outreach Foundation and the Battaglia Foundation to provide the materials needed for the gardens, and with Mel Bartholomew, author of Square Foot Gardening, and his Global Gardening program, to teach the residents of LaGonave how to maximize crop production.

The second program will offer the island residents the opportunity to meet with BRCC SIFE students to discuss ideas for economic development on the island. The BRCC SIFE microfinance program will provide the poor of LaGonave the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty, providing opportunity through microfinance, small loans that help microentrepreneurs reap the rewards of their own labor. Funding for these new start-up entrepreneurs was largely provided by community donations and the Appleseeds Foundation.

The third new program will find the school children of the village of Pointe-a-Raquette starting their own greeting card factory as BRCC SIFE students and faculty teach the children how to use watercolor paints and pencils to create simple all occasion greeting cards. Upon return the United States cards will be produced featuring the children’s artwork and sold in packets. All proceeds from this project will benefit the school.

 

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