Key Takeaway: Many Haitian women are struggling to make ends meet — but working together as the Church, we can equip them with tools and training to improve their lives through agriculture.
You’ve undoubtedly heard the following adage: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. While the origin of that memorable line has no direct link to the Bible, it certainly contains a truth consistent with Catholic doctrine and the teachings of Christ. By giving families the training and tools they need to become self-sufficient, you can increase their potential for prosperity and restore their hope.
For this reason, Cross Catholic Outreach has made it a priority to develop and fund a variety of programs that address this specific need. For example, our efforts to support women-owned farms in Haiti can provide both the food and the income that mothers and grandmothers need in order to improve their families’ lives.
According to the CIA World Factbook, more than 58% of Haiti’s population lives below the poverty level, and more than 40% of the country’s people are unemployed. These economic challenges are particularly hard on single women and wives with disabled husbands because they must financially support their households alone. Almost 42% of Haitian women over age 15 cannot read or write, and females are generally less likely to complete their formal education due to pressures to marry young or to remain at home and help with chores. As undereducated adults, many find it extremely difficult to access viable careers.
Beyond these challenges, women often grow up immersed in an agricultural lifestyle and remain in that world throughout their lives. In fact, two-fifths of all Haitians rely on agriculture — primarily subsistence farming (the practice of growing just enough food to feed their families) — to survive. This presents challenges because Haiti’s agriculture sector is adversely affected by natural disasters and by harmful practices such as slash-and-burn methods of farming that suppress the land’s productivity.
Fortunately, Haiti’s subsistence farmers can learn to protect their land and adopt methods that increase their harvests. All they need are proper tools and training — but often, these only become accessible when Catholic charities and generous donors step forward to provide such vital resources. When you support these special outreaches, you can transform the lives of impoverished women, empowering them to better provide for their families’ nutritional needs and to increase their household income.
Sixty-year-old Felicia Moise walks from her humble home in Haiti to an open field. What she finds there vividly illustrates the dramatic change taking place in her life. The field was once a barren plot of land. Now it is filled with beautiful green sprouts, promising a yield of valuable, life-sustaining vegetables.
What Moise has brought to the field is meaningful too. She has come with tools and newfound agricultural knowledge that will help her burgeoning crops thrive. These are important assets in her life because she depends on the food she is growing to survive.
Like other women in her community, Moise has struggled with poverty most of her life because her opportunities were limited. When her parish’s ministry team identified her as a candidate for its farming program, it opened a door to options she had never experienced before.
“I have been able to do things that I couldn’t have done before,” she rejoiced. “I see the future as very bright now.”
Touissant Carold of St. Andre Chapel knows what Moise is feeling inside, and she celebrates the grandmother’s progress with her farming. The Rural Women’s Farming program Carold leads has touched many lives in Maïssade, Haiti, and it delivers much more to its participants than just a greater yield of tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and okra.
“This program gives hope,” Carold says, knowing just how important that life-sustaining commodity can be to the poor in her country. In her area of Haiti, many single mothers and grandmothers face a daily struggle just to obtain their daily bread, and most worry about the impact their poverty is having on their sons and daughters — or in Moise’s case, her grandchildren.
Seeing how important the St. Andre Chapel farming program is to Haiti’s poorest women, the U.S.-based ministry Cross Catholic Outreach made a pledge to support its work and help women like Moise. According to Jim Cavnar, the president of our ministry, outreaches such as this one are very appealing to American Catholics interested in helping the poor.
“Many of the donors who support our work get excited when they can help people become more self-sufficient because they know programs like these have a long-term impact,” Cavnar explained. “The people we help grow crops or obtain livestock or start a small business are often able to use their profits for the other essentials their families need — food, medicines and education expenses, for example. So giving to a self-help effort can actually have a much broader impact. Once a small farm or business is set up and running efficiently, it can provide a family with income for many years to come.”
In remote, rural communities such as Maïssade, farming and animal husbandry are perfect projects to fund because the people there are familiar with that type of work and can quickly benefit from the resources they receive — seed and starter plants, tools, fertilizers and agricultural training.
“Our goal now is to get more American Catholics to support ministry efforts like this one. St. Andre Chapel can organize the outreach and monitor its fieldwork, but they will need our financial support to cover the costs of the seeds, plants, tools and other materials used in the program,” Cavnar said. “While we celebrate the way this program has blessed Felicia Moise in Maïssade, we know that there are many other women in that area who are still suffering — who still need a helping hand. We want to ensure they get an opportunity like this too.”
Cavnar explained that while many might be more familiar with Cross Catholic Outreach’s programs to feed the hungry, install clean water wells, build safe homes and provide urgently needed medical resources, it has always supported self-help programs as well.
“For example, we regularly fund microenterprise loans and help families establish farming initiatives, livestock projects and small businesses,” he shared. “There are hundreds of individuals and families that have lived in poverty for decades because they have had no way to supplement their income. All it takes to get them out of that position is a small investment to cover training, tools or the funds needed to get their small businesses up and running. You would be amazed by what an investment of just a few hundred dollars or a couple months of training can accomplish.”
If you’re interested in empowering Haitian women through agriculture and other microenterprise programs, please consider making a donation below. Your contribution will help struggling mothers and grandmothers build a stronger future for their families!