Community: the people of Belle-Rivière
Belle-Riviere lies in the mountains of Southern Haiti about 75 miles from Port-au-Prince, a four-hour drive which concludes with six miles of unpaved road which prevent access to any vehicle without four-wheel drive. Although the center includes two churches, three schools, and a clinic, the population (approximately 6,000) is too scattered and too unstructured to qualify as a "village." This agrarian community depends largely on produce, corn, millet, sisal, and charcoal. While country living offers some refreshing relief from the congestion of population centers, it comes at the cost of access to economic opportunity and a variety of living essentials. The lifestyle of this community stands in stark contrast to a majority of the world population.
The Ultra Poor: "Ultra poor" are those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. They earn less than $1.25 a day. On average, they eat 1.5 meals per day, can’t afford essential services like education and healthcare. According to World Bank estimates, there are over 1.4 billion ultra poor people, or one out of five people in the world today. The majority of the residents of B-R fit into this category.
The People of Belle-Riviere: Despite significant differences in background and culture, visitors to B-R are inevitably impressed by the receptive and optimistic attitudes of the people of this community. We wouldn't be able to bear their physical circumstances nearly so gracefully. Like most of our fellow humans, once you get to know these people, they are irresistible.
Community Leaders: Despite any lack of political structure, this community is as motivated as any to take advantage of opportunity and guide its own future. Experience has proven that no one knows better what is good for the community than the people who live there. A group of seven leaders consults opinion, constructs long-range vision, and clarifies priorities. Together they match resources with likely solutions and coordinate the steps toward project completion.
Oganizasyon Fanm Bel-Rivye (OFAB): The Organization of the Women of Belle-Riviere (top photo) includes more than fifty women who discuss women's issues and priorities with emphasis on family and community. This group founded their own micro-lending fund prior to FBR. Self-inititated adult literacy classes led to the current three-year Cooking and Sewing course which prepares young women, who typically do not complete their high school or even elementary education, to manage their home and raise families.
Loubert: Community leaders are led by Loubert Lexin, a former National School principal, who now, as an "Inspector" of schools, oversees the work of more than 30 primary school principals. His profession lends to his deep involvement with the community. He speaks fluent English, and possesses a rare skill and motivation to provide financial accountability. His wife Marlhéne is equally involved in community. Together they have facilitated countless initiatives including the OFAB women's group, their loan fund, the youth group, and a variety of educational activities.
Laraque: Equally important to this working relationship is Laraque St. Louis, a university educated former school teacher from the city of Jacmel who now works exclusively as an interpreter. Although strictly speaking, an "outsider," over the years, Laraque has made countless trips to B-R and has become as much a member of the community as if he had grown up there.
Location: Map of Haiti/Belle-Riviere