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  • Writer's pictureReginald Turnier

Cultural Capital Haiti's First Year

Dear CCH Community,

On behalf of our board, our staff, and all the local stakeholders in our partner organizations, I’d like to thank our donors, especially those who have stepped up to help us from day one. The sense of accountability we feel toward your trust fuels and permeates everything we do. In particular, we would like to thank Ben and Megan Wyatt for funding the lease on AFL’s women’s center building, Aileen Jeffries for pledging to cover installation of a solar electrical system for AFL, and Jacqueline Joy and Joan Delilah Pepin for their support of our initial organization-building during our startup phase.

We would also like to announce our receipt of our first major grant, from the Zondervan Foundation, for funds to cover AFL’s operating expenses for the coming year. We are proud and grateful to be the recipient of a grant from this venerable foundation, and encouraged to have secured this critical benchmark toward broader institutional financing.

This past year, we’ve seen phenomenal successes from our partner organizations. At the same time, the scale of the problems facing Haiti has never seemed so daunting. In the midst of news about the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine, it is easy to lose track of the fact that Haiti has been without a functioning government for over five years now, that large swaths of the country are still controlled by gangs, that Haiti’s citizens are caught in an increasingly tight vice-grip of economic isolation due to port and border closures. Amid this landscape of crisis, the need for our work has never been clearer.

Because of support from people like you, we have been able to keep moving forward in Haiti when so many other aid organizations have fled the country. Our mission to fund and assist the grassroots, Haitian-led organizations that know best how to solve the problems of their own communities has allowed us to leverage local knowledge to create more positive change than even we had allowed ourselves to image. Every dollar we’ve raised has had this profound impact because it’s been multiplied by a factor equal to the latent cultural capital that exists among Haiti’s still-intact communities. This proof of concept of our mission, and the massive (if localized) successes of our partners, have been a welcome consolation against the backdrop of so much continued suffering throughout the country.

Here are just a few highlights from the past year.

Through our Women’s Empowerment Project, our partner organization the Women’s Association of Lafon (in Creole, Asosyasyon Fanm Lafon or AFL) has been able to secure a permanent facility –– a gorgeous two-story house that is one of the largest and most secure buildings in their community. This center is at once a women’s shelter, adult education center, activist hub, place of celebration, day care, athletic club, women's health clinic, and professional development office. We also like to think of it as both figuratively and literally a beacon in the night for the future of Haiti’s women.

One of AFL’s most promising programs has also grown in phenomenal ways: their self-financed micro-credit program for women called “Tipa” (literally, “Little Step”) which has allowed dozens of women to achieve financial independence, to improve their lives in manifestly concrete ways, to claw back dignity from poverty an inch at a time.

Meanwhile, our partner in our Food Forest Project, the Organization for the Betterment of Cap-Rouge (Organisation pour le Bien-Être de Cap-Rouge, or OBEC) has been busy improving their model farm and tree nursery in the midst of a once-in-a-generation drought. Harnessing the power of local knowledge, they were able to build a substantial and impressive 15,000 gallon cistern for catching seasonal rainfall and storing it through the increasingly lengthy dry periods –– using mostly materials sourced from the site itself, accomplishing the task at around 1/3 the originally estimated price.

Now they will be able to continually water their nursery, aimed at the free distribution of hearty fruit and forest tree seedlings to combat erosion, hunger, and further desertification of this previously thriving subtropical cloud forest –– but also to serve as a literal oasis and lifeline to their neighbors in the coming dry winter months.

Finally, the arts and technology education center Jakmel Ekspresyon, our partner in our Creative Coding Project, has overcome substantial hardship to bring their own major building project to near completion: an ambitious and neighborhood-revitalizing campus construction in the city of Jacmel. The campus will host a wide array of course offerings, ranging from fine arts to occupational training in trades such as electrical engineering and plumbing to software development for the global marketplace.

Perhaps even more remarkable, they have created a spark of hope among their cohort of young programming and robotics students, who have formed a team that has won a place in this year’s World Robot Olympiad in Panama, which will take place in November.

None of this has come easy. As a lot of you may know, Haiti’s situation remains dire and in many areas has grown unbelievably worse. Violence, inflation (especially aggravated by the recent Dominican border shutdown), internal displacement, and international flight have all been greatly exacerbated in the past year. It bears reflection that these hard-won victories have been made against such a backdrop. I think that our greatest ongoing achievement is the maintenance of the network of empathy, understanding, and emotional support that necessarily undergirds all the technical executions and little logistic wins that add up to progress.

Now, heading into 2024, we know that UN-designated intervention is upon us. My feelings are a mixture of hope and wariness. Hope that the mission does bring stability to the state. That government functions resume and create collaborative opportunities for our partners and new projects, which we will work diligently to realize. Hope that some of our young, educated talent and sincere friends of Haiti return to help rebuild. Hope that there is an easing of tensions and everyone can take a breath.

I feel wary of the potentially violent dramas that will unfold when the gangsters scatter from Port-au-Prince into the provinces. I feel wary of the foreign forces themselves, who despite everyone’s best wishes, will at times just be men with guns with appetites in an occupied land with some measure of impunity. And I’m wary of opportunistic political actors, foreign and domestic, whom I suspect are waiting in the wings.

Last October I was writing to you from Jacmel in the heat of conflict. This October finds me at the rectory of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church in bucolic Claremont, California as a guest of the Rev. Jessica Smith. I was grateful for a bit R&R before reentry into the fray and an opportunity to grow CCH’s network here in Los Angeles, but wasn’t expecting the gift of being at the heart of such a longstanding benevolent institution. The experience has grounded me deeper into the long game. Attending mass and gatherings of parishioners and vestry and seeing and hearing what a community like this means to people has strengthened my appreciation for the value that the mere presence and longevity of inclusive institutions provides.

I thank you all once again, the members of our community, for your past and coming support through the uncertainty of this coming year and beyond. Despite all of my concern about the future, I am confident that I will be writing to you next October with further progress to celebrate.

––Reginald Turnier

Executive Director, Cultural Capital Haiti


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