In a throng of over 600 participants at the Water and Health Conference in Chapel hill this year, made up mainly of northern academics, the most refreshing participants were two Haitian community workers, Jude Francois and his partner Marie Vincent. This truly dedicated couple have been working for the past five years, in a volunteer capacity building their community through Community Health Clubs in Haiti, and estimate they have already over 3000 graduated members to show for their efforts, which has been achieved without any external funding.
Marie and Vincent had been running what they call Eco Clubs in Haiti since 2005 sensitizing people to environmental issues, inspired by the method developed by Riccardo Bentolino from Argentina. They told me that they first heard of the CHC training being done in the Dominican Republic, and crossed the border from Haiti to attend the training at their own expense. In response to the 2010 earthquake which devastated Haiti, they started ‘Eco Eau et Jeunesse’, a local organisation to help young people reorganise themselves. In 2012 they heard about the Community Health Club approach from WHO and at their own expense travelled to the Dominican Republic to get the training.
The workshop was being run by Jason Rosenfeld, a senior lecturer at the University of Texas, who had spent three years working with Africa AHEAD in South Africa and Zimbabwe. He had developed training materials for an urban context and had successfully transferred the CHC model from Africa to suit the Caribbean. The pair of community workers quickly picked up the approach and transferred it back to Haiti, where it started to mushroom. In the first year they had six clubs, in 2014 another 17 were formed, and each year this increased as the demand grew. In 2016 they now have 118 CHCs operational with 81 facilitators trained, 60 committee members trained and 406 CHC members in total. All this without external support! In addition they have trained 113 CHC facilitators for Living Water International who have 147 members. They have also trained 16 facilitators for America Solidaria who have 6 CHCs with 35 members. It is a story of people to people development which nourished the soul in contrast to the overload of convoluted academic presentations!
Marie has written the following description of the work:
‘What is good in almost all the club is the team spirit, as the coordinators work together, in their supervision they advise to the clubs different activities that they can do, to keep the club alive after they finished the level II that is Reproductive health. The clubs learnt and created a plenty of activities by themselves with the facilitators and coordinators.
For example some of them learnt how to make white wine with corn by collecting money between members to buy ingredients, and after the committee and the facilitator in coordination to the supervisors went to clubs by clubs, sharing knowledge, experiences. From now almost of the clubs in the city know how to make wine, and some of them start a little business, because some of the members make wine to sell to others, as friends, family and so one when they have a specific party or when they celebrate an anniversary, etc.
Some others clubs make different activities else, like paints, liquids for washing, shower, or shampoo, they organize themselves to have everything they need too and then they showed to people, they sell for having some money and again to friends. They also make arts, as sandals, all of that in solidarity, the great of all is the Micro credit initiative, every time the clubs wanted to realize an activity, and money is the big issues, because those communities are vulnerable.
For example, in one of the most vulnerable neighborhoods created after the earthquake called “Canaan” we have a very strong club in Jerusalem Canaan, They start a micro credit program by collecting $2 per members who were capable to contribute, and now they have in institution that can serve many people living in the locality.
Those clubs are getting close to their mission, and we could say that they are in good way because between the clubs there is something magic that is the solidarity, they become a family, and they are applying their slogan by action “The business of the sheep is the business of the goat”.
We, Vincent and myself we can see how people have changed. Not one of them sees and thinks about themselves only, but they think and act as a team – they try to apply everything they have learned from the club in their own community.
We can also see the changes in their household, in their action, and they take pleasure into the clubs. They participate actively, and they are conscientious about their social situation and work hard to get out to poverty.
They are working to prevent diseases, epidemic by cleaning the community and teaching to other people about managing environment. They are conscientious that the government will not come to resolve their problem if they don’t put hand together and do their part. They understand that each one has to participate if they want to have a better live. Now they are confident that it is time to change their behavior, to show that they are capable to do the basic.
They believe that it is time show people what they can do. They know they are poor, they don’t have everything they are expecting, but now they are capable of taking care of their life by preventing diseases.
Sometimes, we feel we have failed in our mission as members of EcoCHCs, by seeing how some other people act and react concerning health care. For example, some people have in their mind that they supposed to be paid to join the Club. They think if ever they have to participate actively to the club they ought to receive something back that is clearly define “ Money” or a job, because they want to make money to take care of their family, and themselves. Also sometimes some of the facilitators don’t have time, or don’t really create time, to lead the sessions to the members, or members don’t show up anymore because their expectation is different than knowledge. Also in some localities when they join the clubs, people came and ask them to share money or to give them money. The think that if they are meeting together leading session is because they received money to do it otherwise they have to quit. That is a very big challenge. The members may want to do a clean up inside of the community but they can’t because the gangster don’t want, maybe the use to make money with the insalubrities we don’t know but in very, very poor barrios this is a political thing that everyone should pay attention about.
To conclude although all those issues, people still come to join the clubs and share their testimony according to what the clubs bring to their life, improve their vision for the future, and change completely their habits going out through bad to good and from the good to the great that is their biggest expectation.