Download AMURT Haiti’s From Disaster Relief to Community Empowerment

Organic gardening provides experiential learning opportunities for over 1000 community members in Port-au-Prince. The Urban Ecology Program is based at Sant Felisite Sineyas, the Integrated Healing and Education Center at the IDP camp on Delmas 33.  This IHEC consists of 11 pavilions and 22 classrooms, 10 composting toilets, 8 rainwater catchment systems, a reservoir, a composting site, a tree nursery, a permaculture demonstration site and organic garden.  Two agronomists and three technicians give round the clock classes and demonstration of various principles of urban permaculture.


The goal of the program is to train teachers, women, youth leaders and community members in all five basic permaculture modules, and to supply them with the necessary seeds, compost, soil and learning materials for them to begin and maintain their own square foot gardens and permaculture experiments. The permaculture modules taught at Sineyas are experiential, process-oriented and hands-on, seeking to build trainers and to replicate these ecology principles in the community.


The urban ecology program focuses on the following principles and hands-on activities:

•    Permaculture – principles and techniques

•    Composting – generation, maintenance, and uses

•    Horticulture – tree nursery management and maintenance, tree planting, knowledge, and nature cycles, including air-quality, soil conservation, etc.

•    Integrated water management – rain catchment, grey water usage for the square foot gardening, etc.

•    Urban gardening – tire, square foot, stacked, raised bed, etc.

•    Moringa – powder transformation, nutritional and medicinal aspects, planting and care of

•    Composting toilets – construction, principles, use of, hygiene, compost maintenance, problem-solving


In Haiti, AMURT set up and has been operating for some time now a series of Child-Friendly Spaces in refugee camps in and around Port-au-Prince.

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, made a one-day trip to visit earthquake affected Haiti. As Ban toured through the refugee camps, he visited one of our Child-Friendly Spaces scheduled to open the following day. Sara Wolf (Sarita), the AMURT child-protection coordinator, explained the educational importance of providing safe opportunities for play and self-expression for young children. She described our program which offers story-telling, art, music, karate and yoga as well as meals and nutritional support to children 4-12 years old. Ban was very impressed to see how happy the children look.

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Haiti: Two Years Later

January 12 marks the anniversary of the devastating 7.0 earthquake that shook Haiti, leaving over 300,000 people dead, more than half a million injured, and well over a million homeless. AMURT/EL responded immediately with medical care, food and water and supplies. Now a year later, we take stock of how things are for the survivors of that shattering day.

In many places in the Haitian capital, it’s hard to believe a year has passed since the earthquake caused such destruction and misery. What took a lifetime for many to build was destroyed in 35 terrifying seconds. Twelve months later, more than a million Haitians who lost their homes are struggling to survive in tent cities, once thought to be strictly temporary. Cholera broke out in the rural provinces this past fall, most likely carried by UN relief workers. In November it hit the capital, sweeping through the camps where hundreds of thousands are forced to live with no septic, no steady source of clean water, and little medical care. Raw sewage flows through the canals of the city, providing a breeding ground for all kinds of disease. Hunger, violence and despair are constant companions in the camps. More violence is expected when results of the most recent presidential election are announced. And for women and children, the situation is even more challenging.

Although AMURT/EL had been working in Haiti for the past 18 years, the earthquake required us to focus more of our resources in Port au Prince. We brought in some of our best disaster workers from around the world and, thanks to the generous support of the global community, were able to immediately start offering aid.

Currently AMURT/EL is working in 10 camps, operating numerous child-friendly spaces and kindergartens, and running mobile clinics six days a week. We have supplemental feeding programs in four of the camps, benefitting malnourished children and pregnant and nursing mothers. We have begun our own micro-finance program in four camps, and established a work for cash reforestation program in the northwest.

Child Friendly Spaces: These programs provide thousands of children with safe and healing places to go each day. Using art, play therapy, music and dance, our teachers work with those children most in need, helping them through the trauma they have experienced. It is incredibly rewarding to see how these children are beginning to put their lives back together, once again playing and interacting in a healthy way. As all the children attending a CFS are displaced and living in tents or under tarps, having the consistency and security of these programs has made a huge difference.

Medical Outreach: Initially our medical teams were seeing injuries that were directly earthquake related: crushing injuries from falling houses and walls, infections and tetanus from untreated wounds. Then as we moved into the second month, we began traveling to the camps, providing treatment for health issues that were a direct result of post traumatic stress, incredible poverty, and lack of any previous medical care. Our teams had a routine of rotating between the camps on a weekly basis, until cholera appeared. Cholera has hit especially hard in the province, where few villages have access to transportation, clean water or medical care. Our teams spend a few days a week treating cholera, malaria and other diseases in the camps near our offices in Port au Prince, and then drive out to the villages in the provinces. Dr. Mark will arrive with his team in the early afternoon and often work through the night and into the next day, as villagers bring family members extremely sick with cholera. The doctor told me that in some areas, they have seen people die just 8 hours after the first symptoms appeared. In the camps around Port au Prince, the spread has slowed due to a very effective education campaign by many NGOs on preventing the spread of cholera and other water born diseases. Our Amurtel workers use theater and music to teach prevention and treatment, and the rate of cholera now in these camps has been significantly reduced.

Micro-Credit Finance (breaking dependence on aid): The women in the camps we work with are all eager to establish a way to support their families. After fruitlessly waiting for funding to begin a micro-finance program, AMURTEL finally started its own, pulling from our limited funds. Our community organizers held trainings for those women selected, and then working in teams of five, the women were given their first loan and started their businesses. Each team offers support for its members and so far the program has been a resounding success. We will expand the project as more funding becomes available.

Urban Ecology: When nutritionists did an evaluation of the health of pregnant and nursing mothers in some of the camps, it became apparent that lack of healthy food was a major contributor to poor health. But as the woman pointed out, they do not have the resources to buy food, nor was any readily available to them. So the idea of permaculture took hold, working with women to design and maintain gardens in each of their camps. Currently we have a permaculture training program, based at our Integrated Healing and Education Center (IHEC). With help from a grant, the IHEC now has  classrooms, composting toilets, rainwater catchment systems, a reservoir, a composting site, a tree nursery, a permaculture demonstration site and organic garden. Two agronomists and three technicians give round-the-clock classes and demonstration of various principles of urban permaculture, with a particular focus on the 820 children attending the AMURT/EL preschool and after-school programs, their familes, and the women’s and youth groups. The goal of the outreach program is to train 120 women and 160 youth leaders in all five basic permaculture modules, and to supply them with the necessary seeds, compost and soil, and learning materials, in order for them to begin and maintain their own square foot gardens and permaculture experiments. The permaculture modules taught are experimental, process-oriented, and hands-on, seeking to build trainers and to replicate these ecology principles in all the communities.

Appropriate Technology: Rocket stoves, small and highly efficient portable cooking stoves, are built in Haiti and use less than 1/5 the amount of charcoal of other stoves. This project, overseen by our own Elizabeth Sipple from Faytson, is partnering with AMURT/EL in a pilot program to provide stoves to 300 families in our camps.

Children: Before the earthquake, we had four children under three living with us at the AMURTEL center. Since January 12, another three have joined us. Malika, first rescued from a living hell in a so-called orphanage, was brought to us in February. She was emaciated, unable to even roll over, let along sit up or walk, and did not speak. Her age was thought to be around 3. With lots of TLC, good food and play therapy, she is now racing around the compound, talking and laughing and has grown about 6 inches. Malika is a true testament to how much healing can come from proper food and loving care. Jyo Jyo was a tiny little 2 year old who also did not speak, was unable to walk or even sit upright by herself. She was a very solemn and sad child. She too is now cruising around on her own little legs, talking and joking. KK, the newest baby at 13 months, was recently brought by his great aunt, after his teenage mother contracted cholera. No one in the family could take care of him and the standard response to his crying at night was to give him sleeping pills. Although with 6 little kids we felt we were at our max, one look at KK’s condition melted everyone’s heart and he became a member of our family. The other children have all taken KK on as a brother, taking turns holding him, feeding him and squabbling over who gets to sleep next to him. KK for his part is now a contented child, curious about everything and eating up a storm. Although our center is filled with the expected noise and controlled chaos that comes from having seven pre-schoolers, three teenagers, various volunteers, barking dogs, and a constant stream of people in need of some kind of help, it is a place filled with magic and a warm family feeling. When volunteers return to Haiti, it is always here that they want to stay.

As grim as things are, perhaps what stands out the most through this last year of hurricanes, disease, and unfathomable hardship, is the endurance and sense of hope the Haitian people have. We have rarely seen a people so determined to succeed, to overcome unimaginable challenges and create a better life for themselves and their families. Schools rise from rubble; babies are born, and loved under the worst conditions. And the little food that is available is shared, keeping both the body and spirit alive. We are filled with awe and a deep respect for the survivors and for our volunteers, working side by side with the Haitian people.