I recently got to go down to Haiti as part of a mission trip with our local Rotary Club and St. Bernard Church. For any of you not familiar with what these two organizations do there, they concentrate their efforts in Carrefour-Sanon, a small mountain community near the tip of the southern peninsula. It is probably one of the poorest areas in Haiti, which is saying something since Haiti itself is one of the poorest countries in the world. The trip was led by Ron Hess, who has been working hard on this for a long time. Also going from our community were Janis Knecht, Leslie Warren, and Dr. Ryan Venis.

One of the biggest problems for these mountain communities is access to clean drinking water. Women and girls will usually have to spend much of their time walking miles down the mountain to fetch clean water for their family. This usually means girls have to drop out of school, which traps them into a cycle of poverty. So to help solve this problem, Rotary has raised money (remember the recent "Wine-to-Water Gala" event in Crawfordsville) to install a couple of water wells in Carrefour Sanon.

Another huge problem was that most of the houses, small tin-covered shacks, have nothing but dirt floors with lots of rocks jutting out of the ground. Toddlers typically run around bare-bottomed, which means most of them get pinworms. There often is no bed for the children to sleep on. When it rains the water pours into the house and turns the dirt to mud. A lot of the children end up with respiratory illnesses. To address this St. Bernard works with Martin Glesil, a Haitian who installs raised concrete floors to keep the houses dry. Martin finds out which homes are most needy, and then coordinates groups of Haitians to install the floors. It costs $250 in material and labor to install one concrete floor. Donors, mostly from Montgomery County, have funded 107 concrete floors so far. St. Bernard parishioner Ryan Venis, who is a physician who's made many medical mission trips to Haiti, noted during this last visit how well the children's health is improving as a result. But there's still a lot of work to do. Martin currently has 80 homes on his list still needing concrete floors.

Besides funding concrete floors, many people from our community are sponsoring Haitian kids to ensure they can stay in school. The children all know Ron Hess as "grandpa," and like a grandpa he personally sits down with the sponsored students during his trips there and makes sure they understand that he and their sponsors expect them to make good grades and work hard. Many sponsors continue to fund their "adopted kids" through college so that they can become doctors, nurses, agronomists, priests, and stay in Carrefour Sanon to help build it up further.

This is becoming a real game-changer.

One of these agronomists is helping groups of other Haitians create small agricultural businesses, such as raising chickens and selling the eggs. This is significant when you realize that it costs about $0.25 an egg there. (To put this into perspective, a woman will walk all day down a rough mountain road carrying a bushel basket of fruit to sell at market, and she will probably only get $5 for all that work.) Then he helped other groups run an operation to make their own chicken feed out of local raw materials, so that chicken owners won't have to buy expensive commercial feed. Other groups he has making chicken coops out of readily available material such as bamboo. He is doing similar things with rabbits, beekeeping, and a bakery. After the wells are dug he will be able to expand several gardens and fruit tree orchards he is working on. And now he has student agronomists assisting him as interns to manage some of these operations. This is all pure entrepreneurialism at its best.

There is more hope in Haiti than I ever expected to see. And it wasn't because of some government welfare program, or U.S. foreign aid, or even some large multi-national charity. It is because one person here voluntarily decides to share his or her blessings with one person there. And then another person does it, and then another person, and so on. And when Rotary and St. Bernard sends a team to Haiti it isn't going there with hammers to do the hands-on building. Instead they're going so to give Haitians new ideas on how they can build up their community and economy for themselves.

"If you give a man a fish he will feed himself for a day. If you teach a man to fish he will feed himself for a lifetime."