Vernet is located just outside the city of Les Cayes in the southern region of Haiti. It is home to approximately 3,000 people, some of whom are native to Vernet, and others who fled there from Les Cayes seeking relief from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Hurricane Matthew killed more than 500 people, displaced 175,000 others, and ravaged the agriculture of the area.
Life in this area is very difficult for children and families living in poverty. Many lost their homes and crops when Hurricane Matthew hit, and they are still working to rebuild their lives. Additionally, the practice of restavek, a form of child slavery, is rampant in this area. It’s estimated that 65% of the children in Vernet are restavek. In many cases, restavek is harmful and provides no future for the child. Forty-five percent of the restavek children in Vernet are treated poorly.
Forward Edge’s Country Director in Haiti, Chavannes Jeune, and Program Coordinator, Fabnise Jean, are leading our efforts to serve the families of this community and address the needs of vulnerable children. To allow for consistent and focused assistance, we are specifically creating partnerships with local churches who are already ministering to the most vulnerable children.
In Vernet, we’re partnering with Pastor Prenor Coudo and his wife Antonise who lead a community-based ministry for vulnerable children called “Kids Club.” On a weekly basis, they touch the lives of over 100 children with the Gospel (over half of which are restavek children), provide a healthy meal, and plan fun activities for the children to enjoy.
Vernet Community Summary
Municipality Name: Les Cayes
Locality Name: Vernet
Total Estimated Population: 3,000
Number of Churches: 8 Protestant, 1 Catholic, 1 Voodoo Priest
Number of Community Schools: 0 Preschools, 0 Primary, 1 Secondary, 0 Universities
Age of Community Members
70% of the population in Vernet are between the ages of 0-25. The mature population of Vernet represents 30%. The youth population is evenly divided between males and females with the females between the ages of 6-17 outpacing the males.
Of the 55% Christian population, 60% attend church on a weekly basis. Forty percent of the same population are unchurched which will be a good opportunity for the local churches.
What resources exist within the community that people depend on? The most important assets to the community are the 8 churches.
What are the main sources of income for community members? The principal sources of income in Vernet are small street vendors, taxi drivers, and a handful of professionals, tradesmen, laundry workers, and farmers.
What do people in the community value most? The most important thing to community members are their families.
What motivates people to want to live in the community? Those who live in Vernet either were born and raised there or have migrated to Vernet from the larger city of Les Cayes due to being displaced by Hurricane Matthew.
Most Important Community Assets
The most valued asset in the community of Vernet is the local churches. Roads come in as second most valuable, however, many of the roads are run-down and some are even impassable, compounding the problems for the community. Professionals are the third highest asset since they are a blessing to the community and will often share their experience or offer their expertise in the community. Haitian community organizations, local bakeries, and hotels bring up the rear but are still important assets in Vernet.
In Vernet, there are six main sources of water the community will access for general uses as well as for drinking. There is a large reservoir in the center of town that is piped into some homes and various tap stands throughout the community, but this water is untreated. There are also private wells and hand pumps that are untreated. There are two sources of water in the community that are treated to different degrees. The first source comes from a water company that distributes water for sale in small plastic bags. The second source is a treated water system attached to the Philadelphia Baptist Church. The church charges for access to this water.
Community Members with Access to Clean Water
How Water is Accessed
Community members of the upper and middle class often complete secondary school (equivalent to high school in the U.S.) with many moving onto either a trade school or university. However, those living in poverty very rarely have the opportunity to attend a university, many struggle to simply finish primary school (equivalent to elementary school in the U.S.), let alone secondary. Those living in poverty make up 60% of the total population of Vernet.
Highest Level of Education for Those Living in Poverty
The most prominent illnesses in the community are sexually transmitted diseases reported by the women. Malnutrition resulting in various health problems and intestinal worms also make up 40% of the health concerns. Not all community members have access to modern medicine and the largest percentage uses herbal remedies for their health concerns.
Access to Healthcare
Livelihood, Problem, and Uncertainty Analysis
These three analyses are used to identify the specific components of a community’s development plan. In each analysis, the top three to four concerns are chosen and plotted on the community empowerment index chart below.
The livelihood analysis is a tool that examines the primary sources of income in the community. It answers the question, how do the majority of people that live in Vernet make money?
The most common source of revenue in Vernet is street vending. Street vendors are men, women, and children who sell pretty much anything you can think of on the streets and door-to-door. Tradesmen and professionals make up the rest of the livelihood majority.
Jobs Held by Community Members
The problem analysis identifies the major problems or concerns that exist in the community. The top three problems that exist in the community are the lack of jobs at 40%, safe drinking water at 30%, and lack of pre and primary schools in the community at 20%.
Major Problems that Exist in the Community
The uncertainty analysis is important because it identifies extraordinary events that occur in a community that is often “freakish” in nature. These events may be intermittent but they create an instability that destabilizes a community. In other words, they are events that breed fear within a community which eventually can undermine any attempt for community development to be successful.
Sources of Uncertainty in the Community
The major uncertainties for Vernet are obvious: hurricanes and earthquakes. These two catastrophic events have created an enormous amount of uncertainty within Haiti. Power outages usually are a daily occurrence.
Community Empowerment Index
The Community Empowerment Index (CEI) represents the degree to which the people within the community feel empowered in each area of development. It is also possible to prioritize each of the development components by using the CEI. The CEI uses three concentric circles. Each circle is an index, or an indicator, that shows how the community perceives the degree of control they have over a particular aspect of their development. The CEI is a visual tool that shows the level of empowerment perceived by the community. The greater number of dots in the inner circle, the more the community feels empowered in their own development.
INNER CIRCLE: The innermost circle represents what the community feels they have complete control over. It is what they believe they can do to address each of the components of development.
MIDDLE CIRCLE: The middle circle is where the community needs help from others outside the community. This help can come from a nonprofit, the government, and/or any other outside entities.
OUTER CIRCLE: The outer circle represents things beyond what the community and/or outsiders can do. Some ascribe this to God, spirits, or less intangible things that cannot be controlled by the community or outsiders.
Christ-centered, holistic, child-focused community development is a comprehensive approach that allows the Gospel of Jesus Christ to impact the spiritual and physical needs of vulnerable children, their families, and their communities. In holistic development we address some of the most basic human needs; safe water, quality education, health and wellness, and economic development. We segment each area of development and ask the question, how can the Gospel message be integrated into initiatives like safe water, quality education, health and wellness, and economic development. We answer this question by establishing third-party Christian partnerships. We can’t be the experts in every aspect of development so we partner with organizations and groups that love Jesus and are experts at what they do. Together, along with the community, we prioritize the needs and determine the best approach to meeting their spiritual and physical goals. A development plan is then created and over a period of years, Forward Edge, its partners, service teams, and the community work together in transforming lives in our locations.
Community Development Priorities
Based on feedback received from Vernet community members through the Community Empowerment Index, we’ve created the following list of community development priorities:
- Job creation and economic development: street vendors, tradesmen, and professionals
- Increase quality pre/primary education opportunities in the community
- Provide more access to safe drinking water
- Hurricane preparedness
- Preventing and responding to power outages
- Flood preparedness
The first phase of an economic development plan for Vernet will be to introduce Business startup training. Business startup training (BST) is a 30-day training that teaches entrepreneurs how to start and manage a business from beginning to end. It then asks each participant to write a business plan that they will implement toward the end of the training. The course also provides mentorship for the students to coach them over a nine-month period. The program works with those individuals who are current business owners or who have an entrepreneurial DNA. There is a vetting process that prospective students must first pass in order to be a part of the program. The class size can be no more than 25 students. Pastor Chavannes will work with the pastors in the community to select the prospective students.
Another aspect of economic development that the community is proposing is an agriculture demo plot. The community will donate the land and strategically determine the types of vegetables to grow. Additionally, they are proposing to start a training for children in business by making and selling hand-made crafts. While this may not be a large business venture or even a micro business venture the goal is to begin training children in business principles.
There are two components to an educational strategy for Vernet. The first component is to provide funding for children to help with their school fees. Many children in the Kid’s Club are unable to attend school because their parents simply cannot afford tuition. We would like to allocate a certain percentage of the sponsorship funds to educational scholarships. A criterion for qualification would be established to determine the children who will be eligible. Two basic criteria will be; actively participating in the Kid’s Club and proof that the parents can’t afford the school fees for their children.
We would also like to begin a tutoring program for children in the Kid’s Club. Tutoring would be for any student falling behind the academic standard for Haiti. In order to have tutoring, there will need to be paid tutors on site along with volunteers to assist the tutors. And lastly, we would like to provide teachers training for master teachers in the community. By training a master teacher, we can ask them to host trainings in the community for all teachers who would like to grow in their pedagogical skills.
Providing safe water will begin by contacting a third party water organization like Water Missions or Water for Life. These types of organizations will come into the community and do a water assessment. Usually, these assessments include an analysis of the water table, aquifers, and the depth required to access water. Once a full assessment has been completed a proposal is submitted that includes the organization’s recommendation and budget necessary to complete the project. The second project that will address safe water concerns on a smaller scale will be to assess the status of a current well on the property of Pastor Coudo’s church. The idea is to provide free and safe drinking water for all the children in the Kid’s Club during their time in the program. We would also like to provide a certain amount to their families per week at no cost. If more water was desired it would be sold at cost to the family.
In any natural disaster, preparedness is the key. We would like to locate partner organizations in Haiti that specialize in natural disaster preparedness. Our hope is that we can host several community meetings in local churches sharing information with families on simple ways to prepare for the inevitable natural disaster. Additionally, we are still poised to respond to those families worst hit by a natural disaster.