Gontran is fast becoming a leader in his community, helping other Haitian farmers learn agriculture techniques he gleaned from studies at the Asian Rural Institute in Japan.
By Judith Santiago*
May 30, 2012 ―“I thought it was the end of the world!” Gontran Delgrace told an UMCOR staff member during a visit to Haiti. Gontran was referring to the impact of the magnitude-7.0 earthquake that devastated the nation of Haiti more than two years ago.
At the time, Gontran was working at a children’s home for boys in Delmas, where 42 children, including his own son, rode out the terrifying seconds that would change the landscape of the nation and touch the hearts of the people. As the rumbling and shaking continued, Gontran grabbed his son, held him tightly and shouted, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…you can take my spirit… I will go to die!” he recalled.
The walls of the compound soon fell down. Gontran worked frantically with others to help bring the children to safety. Thankfully, not one child was injured.
While the initial earthquake lasted only a few moments, the damage in Haiti was deep and wide, as were the many scars left by this tragic event on survivors like Gontran. The epicenter of the earthquake near the town of Léogâne, about 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, was most affected.
Within the first nine hours after the initial earthquake, 32 aftershocks of magnitude 5.0 or greater were reported by the United States Geological Survey. In the two weeks following the earthquake, 52 more aftershocks went on record.
For Gontran, the earthquake and aftershocks he experienced not only shook him physically and emotionally, but helped shape his destiny. In 2011, with support from UMCOR, he was awarded a scholarship through the General Board of Global Ministries’ Scholarship and Leadership Development Office to study agriculture at the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) in Japan.
Near the time he was due to arrive, though, an even more intense, magnitude-9.0 earthquake occurred in northern Japan in March 2011. It triggered a massive tsunami and a subsequent nuclear threat. In these new circumstances, ARI decided to move forward with its program in April, and Gontran did not hesitate to attend.
Equipped to Lead
ARI is an ecumenical institute and long-time UMCOR partner that equips grassroots leaders from Asia, Africa, and the Pacific in sustainable agriculture techniques and to serve their respective communities. Through ARI’s intense nine-month training, which completes one agriculture cycle, participants like Gontran learn integrated organic farming techniques, rural leadership, community building and organizing, and animal husbandry.
A typical training day can begin as early as 6:30 a.m., followed by classroom instruction and hands-on field work until the evening hours. After completion of the training, program participants return home and pass on what they have learned, often leading change in their communities.
“I believe God prepared me to go to Japan because of my experience and background in Haiti,” said Gontran.
Before coming to ARI, he worked with the Methodist Church of Haiti’s agriculture projects and was responsible for animal production in Carrefour. Growing up, Gontran helped his parents raise pigs, goats, and chickens, and also helped out on the family vegetable farm, where they grew corn, millet, sweet potatoes, and black beans.
“My parents did not know anything about agriculture,” pondered Gontran. “They grew some vegetables, but they had no control of the harvest. Their land was very dry, and they lost most of the crops,” he continued.
Gontran said his parents and other Haitian farmers simply accept the harvest conditions they have rather than learn from their past mistakes. Looking back, he said, they did not know how to properly transplant their vegetables, and they didn’t have Bokashi
, an organic fertilizer that Gontran learned about at ARI.
, a form of composting, is made from combining commonly available organic materials such as rice or corn bran and poultry manure with a composting organism that speeds up fertilization and helps break down organic matter. The process, which improves plant growth and food production, takes about two weeks to produce, as compared to the conventional method, which takes six to twelve months.
Today, Gontran is bringing home the fruit of his training at ARI. This month, he is introducing Bokashi
to farming communities throughout Haiti: in Les Cayes, Léogâne, Petit Goâve, La Tremblay, Cap Haitien, and Cabaret. Within each region, he will demonstrate for a total of 120 farmers how to prepare and use the Bokashi
mixture. Each community will receive follow-up visits from the Methodist Church of Haiti’s Interdisciplinary Team agricultural technicians to monitor their progress.
“When I left ARI, I wanted to have one demonstration farm, so farmers could come and see what I have learned,” said Gontran. Indeed, his dream has come true.
Gontran’s desire to help others, as he did that fateful day at the children’s home, aligns with his destiny to lead and shape the future of Haitian farming communities. Soon, he will receive hygiene and nutrition promotion trainings and then will serve as a development agent for schools and communities.
He also will be responsible for identifying connections among schools, community gardens, and farmers with the goal to supplement the daily nutrition of students participating in the Haiti Hot Lunch program, a project long supported by UMCOR.
“Thank you very much, UMCOR, for paying for my scholarship and for my new skills,” said Gontran. “Now, I can help young people who cannot finish their studies learn the same technical skills I learned at ARI,” he said.
You can support projects like these with your gifts to Haiti Emergency, UMCOR Advance #418325
*Santiago is the Media Communications Associate for UMCOR.