MEREDITH — A Lakes Region woman who works for a humanitarian organization witnessed firsthand the civil unrest and violence in Haiti, and says the crisis is making it more difficult for aid workers to help the island nation’s inhabitants.
Hayley Fallon, of Meredith, began working for the Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti (CNP) in January before the nonprofit evacuated its American staff in late February after the U.S. State Department urged its citizens to leave the country.
Despite the current crisis, Fallon said, she looks forward to returning to Haiti and her work with CNP, which was founded to fight malnutrition and create Haitian-led sustainable solutions to address poverty.
“Every day I worked there I was able to see what amazing work they’re doing in the Leogane region of Haiti. Our community health workers are the only bridge between remote communities in the area and healthcare,” she said.
“I really like the community development aspect of the organization: the fact that the approach emphasizes empowerment, not charity, through Haitians helping Haitians.”
While back in her native New Hampshire, Fallon said, she’s hoping to use her time to spread the message about the vital work CNP is doing in Haiti, where two out of three people live on less than $2 a day, and to encourage people to donate.
Taking a job in Haiti was a natural for Fallon, who graduated from the College of William & Mary with a bachelor’s degree in French and sociology. She previously taught English in France, led tours of the USA’s West Coast for French high school students, and more recently worked in the Education Department at the French Cultural Center/Alliance Francaise of Boston.
Violence has broken out in Haiti as opposition political parties have been staging street demonstrations in support of their calls for President Jovenel Moise to step down over a scandal centered on the PetroCaribe fund, under which Venezuela sold oil to 12 Caribbean countries at 60 percent of the market rate, with the remaining 40 percent paid for by long-term, low-interest loans. Demonstrators are also demanding fresh elections and jobs.
“The PetroCaribe loans were meant to be used to stimulate humanitarian projects and create jobs. That’s why people are so upset,” Fallon said. This past weekend was carnival in Haiti, the most important event of the year, but the government canceled the celebration. According to Fallon, the festivities haven’t been cancelled since the early 2000s when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown.
The tensions have been further fueled by the nation’s worsening economy, which has suffered skyrocketing inflation, lackluster growth, slumping exports and a soaring budget deficit.
Fallon said that in some places young men have erected barricades and demand money for passage. Fallon recounted that, while in a car with fellow CNP workers, and despite their driver’s assertion that they were delivering medicine for sick children, he was still required to pay 50 gourde – about 60 cents — to be allowed to pass.
“I have friends who live in areas where gunfire has been frequent and people throw rocks at anyone passing by,” Fallon recounted. During her seven weeks there, she lived in a gated compound with armed security, but said she never felt endangered.
Known in Haiti as Kore Timoun, CNP was founded in 1998 by a Dr. Mitchell Mutter, a Tennessee cardiologist who participated in multiple medical missions to the country. During one of those trips, he and fellow physicians fought to save the life of a 3-year-old boy, who was so stunted by malnutrition that he appeared to be an infant. Despite their best efforts, the child died.
Long aware that extreme poverty and limited health care was causing deaths from conditions and situations that would have been preventable or minor in the developing world, Dr. Mutter set about developing a program to help raise a generation of healthy Haitian children, who in turn can raise the country from poverty.
Using a hand-up not hand-out approach, CNP staff, Fallon said, work with local communities to choose a community leader and health worker to lead initiatives and solutions for their community.
“The other great strength of the organization in my eyes is that CNP focuses as much on prevention as it does on treatment of malnutrition. They seem to be mastering the ol’ give a man a fish vs. teach a man to fish dynamic,” she said.
The CNP model uses health care educators or “monitrices” Haitian women who are taught to recognize the cycle of malnourishment within a family or community and help empower new mothers and their children on the path to health and wellness.
Often parents will fall back on antiquated health practices that have little or no effect on the child’s struggles. Many children simply die, because their parents don’t have access to basic medicine, newborn or prenatal care.
“The monitrices know the communities they help and the struggles they face. Many monitrices have been part of the operation for ten to 20 years,” Fallon said. While continuing her work with CNP, Fallon said, her personal goals are to gain experience in the public health field, to learn about nonprofit networks, how to navigate a new culture and to speak Kreyol fluently.
Since its founding, CNP’s programs have reduced acute childhood malnutrition in the Leogane region of Haiti from 25 percent to 3 percent among children ages 5 and under.
More information about CNP, including how to donate, can be found at cnphaiti.org or on facebook.