Orcas woman empowers youth in Haiti

by Laura Kussman

Sounder contributor

After over a decade of dedicated agriculture sustainability, development and education efforts in Haiti and among the Orcas community, Rosedanie Cadet is grateful.

“It’s been 11 years and without the people on Orcas, I would not have been able to continue this work. This is my love letter to you. Thank you,” Cadet said in an early autumn interview on the Village Green.

The work she’s referring to has been extensive. Cadet recently returned to Haiti (pronounced “Ayiti” which means “land of mountains” by the indigenous Taino people of the island) to help the organization Hope for Haiti build a garden at one of their schools in Baradères. The school was heavily damaged during the Aug. 14 earthquake.

Cadet is the Director and Founder of Helping Hands Noramise, a non-profit focused on empowering youth and developing agriculture-based education. Her views and pedagogy on environmental stewardship, food literacy and stability, community service and agricultural education have been invaluable to both local and international schools and school gardens. She says on her website of returning to her home country Haiti: “the shock of seeing the results of decades of repression, of severe economic uncertainty and degradation of resources, coupled with a seeming inertia among many of the people, provided the inspiration for the formation of Helping Hands Noramise.” She has lived on Orcas Island for 14 years.

Over the last few years, Cadet has partnered with TeacHaiti schools located in St. Michel de L’Atalaye and the capital city of Port-au-Prince to develop student-led gardens and livestock programs and cultivate cross-cultural collaborations. TeacHaiti operates with the mission to empower Haitian students to emerge from poverty through education.

In her last interview with The Sounder from Oct. 2019, Cadet had recently helped fundraise for TeacHaiti to purchase goats for their gardens. She continued to foster cultural exchange via bi-monthly video conferences and letter-writing between Orcas Island School District elementary students and students in TeacHaiti school garden programs.

But much has transpired over the last two years. And things are “going really well,” for HHN partnerships she says, despite challenges and discord brought on by COVID-19 and political anarchy.

“Slowly but surely our programs [in St. Michel and Port-au-Prince] are growing and becoming self-sustaining,” she said.

The student garden committee in Port-au-Prince spent most of the lockdown months working to beautify and expand the garden and improve soil quality using their own compost. Students who lived nearby the school in St. Michel did the same.

“That was the one place they got a meal. It was safe. They could do something productive,” Cadet said. “They did a really wonderful job in the garden.”

TeacHaiti hired a garden coordinator Cadet referred named Kens Cazeau. Cazeau is an agronomist by trade and works at the Olympic Center in Port-au-Prince. He is a national karate champion and environmentalist who specializes in animal husbandry.

“I’m slowly making my exit as a developer of this program and moving into more of a consultant role. I’ve had it on my radar for a while to find a person to do the day-to-day work in Haiti. Cazeau fills that gap in a lot of ways,” Cadet says, adding she’s most confident in his ability to collaborate and sustain visiting specialists in the garden on a regular basis.

Since the inception of the Port-au-Prince and St. Michel gardens, seven new jobs have been created, Cadet says. Donations help, but she hopes by next year — along with donations — the program itself will bring in enough funds to help pay the agronomist on staff.

Both school gardens now have chickens in their chicken coop. The garden in Port-au-Prince acquired a full foul farm boasting ducks, geese, swans, quail, while the garden in St. Michel now has bees to accompany the goats and pigs. Students are learning about the dangers of chemical fertilizers and the benefits of nutrient-dense soil through composting goat manure with room for expansion.

Eggs from the chickens are gathered by K-5 grade students twice a week and eaten, and the profit made from selling excess eggs allows the school to purchase the ingredients they need to make chicken feed. Seeds are beginning to be saved for next-year replants.

According to the International Trade Association, 80 percent of Haiti’s food is imported from other countries — mostly their island neighbor the Dominican Republic. Creating hands-on, communal gardens like these stimulates a self-sustaining circle.

In St. Michel, the construction of a new garden classroom includes apparatus for a full kitchen, where students will use some of the produce they grow to learn cooking skills and good nutrition.

Cadet shared, “Last trip I installed a sink. This trip, I hope to purchase a stove so we can work on food preservation. Since there’s no refrigeration, they need to learn how to dry, can and cure.”

As the garden expands, so too will space for additional mango and avocado trees, breadfruit trees, plantain and experiments in agroforestry. As students learn about growing their own foods and caring for livestock, in tandem they will learn about irrigation and water usage, animal husbandry, laboratory skills and ag business.

A grant from the San Juan Island Rotary club provided some funding for a drip irrigation system and tools for the St Michel school. Additionally, part of the grant has subsidized one of two H.S graduates from TeacHaiti in St Michel to attend a Veterinary training school. TeacHaiti is paying for the second student to attend. Upon completion, both students will have paid work caring for the school goats and provide veterinary service to the community at large.

Recently the HHN board established an education committee chaired by member Emily Orillion who received her PhD in post-conflict education. Cadet shared plans to incorporate social-emotional learning for Haitian students in order to lighten the high levels of stress they experience in their day-to-day lives. She recalls an anecdote about a soil testing lab in Port-au-Prince that is unsafe to travel to because of a gang that has held that portion of the city hostage for over a year.

“It’s not just stressful because of natural disasters or the pandemic,” she says. “School has been closed a lot due to gang violence and political instability. They don’t have the capacity like we do in the United States to have at-home school. So the students end up losing a lot of their education throughout the year. We’re attempting to teach the school how to help the children deal with that break in their education and emotional turmoil.”

Presently, gangs in Haiti are gaining confidence and clout. A recent kidnapping by the 400 Mawozo gang of 17 American and Canadian missionaries, has forced road closures all over the country. Students are, once again, unable to get to school.

Gains have not been without challenges, Cadet says, postulating on her shifting pedagogy within Haitian culture.

“The school gardens still don’t fully understand the incorporation of the education curriculum into the garden yet,” she said. “I’ve recommended they hire only one teacher to be a garden educator to work in collaboration with the agronomists, much like here on Orcas: students K-5 go to the garden classroom once a week for an hour. That’s a model I think would be really successful in Haiti.”

Cadet says the opportunity and support afforded to her by Orcas Islanders continues to be invaluable. It is from this grounding place of community she looks to the future — toward working with Seattle-based Blackstar Food Collective. The Black and indigenous-led collective leverages five gardens citywide to promote food justice and security. Blackstar member and environmental educator Orian Grant traveled to and is working alongside Rosedanie in Haiti.

“It’s really great to finally connect with Black farmers who can now connect with farmers in an entirely different environment so they can see that we all have issues around food security. The best way to address these issues are always small, community gardens and self-reliance in growing food,” Cadet said.

Together, Helping Hands Noramise and Blackstar will adopt the Hope for Haiti school garden in Baradères, fundraise and provide training for the staff and it’s development.

You can support the continued work of Cadet and Helping Hands Noramise by donating at www.noramise.org. Support TeacHaiti school gardens by gifting a goat, chicken or seeds, or by “adopting” a farm animal for $40 USD at https://www.teachaiti.org/ under “Sustainable Projects.” Monetarily support Blackstar Farm Collective by donating at https://www.blackstarfoodcollective.org/.

Contributed photo
The Port-au-Prince garden.

Contributed photo The Port-au-Prince garden.