The students got their hands dirty for the first time today. We spent the morning touring the community of Cormier and learning about the severe soil erosion caused by deforestation. We traversed gullies that had been washed out when the torrential spring rains tumbled down the unprotected mountain slopes. It is hard to imagine now, as the dry season allows us to literally drive along the thirsty and dusty riverbed. We saw the work of the Mango Growers Association to conserve the soil, having planted over 30,000 trees over the past 7 years. Promising new plants include vetiver, reauzo, and moringa, all of which have medicinal, cosmetic, and food uses as well as incredible erosion control.
We planted a "dam" of 29 vetiver plants across a particularly severe gully. Vetiver forms a thick mat with its roots and slows the rushing water and mud, protecting the land below. For many students, wielding a heavy hoe against hard earth in the hot, dry air - was a first. After the work, we had a meeting with the community to explain the project and enlist helpers for the next several days. The students sang the Haitian National Anthem, and while most gave an enthusiastic round of applause, one man fell off of his chair laughing. We are not sure whether he was simply surprised at our grace with his native language, or whether we were truly so horrible. Our Haitian co-facilitators have assured us that our rendition was just fine!