Islander raises funds for Haitian family

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A Salt Spring beekeeper is over a quarter of the way towards a fundraising goal that will see four young members of a Haitian family gain education and have their basic needs met. 

Salt Spring beekeeper David MacDonald has been working with colleagues in Haiti since he and Brian Coombs started up their now thriving beekeeping and permaculture non-profit over a decade ago. Having heard about a Haitian family whose eldest child is at risk of ending up in indentured servitude, MacDonald undertook the goal of raising $22,000 to help the family over the next four years. 

Hives for Haiti’s director of operations Simon Remond let MacDonald know about the situation his neighbour’s children found themselves in. The father of the family is disabled, MacDonald explained, and their mother is illiterate and cannot work due to the reality of Haiti’s economy. The small Caribbean nation has a 15.4 per cent unemployment rate and 24.5 per cent of the population lives on less than $2 US a day. 

Poverty in Haiti is extreme, MacDonald explained.

“If you haven’t seen it, it’s kind of beyond our comprehension, I just didn’t think such a thing existed.”

MacDonald recalled the first time he went to the country as an aid worker and was kicking a ball around in the street with three young girls. Two months later, MacDonald was told the youngest of the girls they’d met had died of starvation and the oldest sister had been sold into servitude to feed the middle child.

“That’s life in Haiti, that’s not an unusual situation.” 

Indentured servitude is also what awaited the oldest child of Remond’s neighbours, 13-year-old Judeline, who would be in servitude to a family until she is released at age 17. With no education or literacy, those released from indentured servitude often end up homeless, in the sex trade or even turning back to the family they served in order to survive, MacDonald explained.

MacDonald recalled hearing their story from Simon.

“I said, ‘These are four kids out of probably six or seven million kids that are in the same position? What good is it to help this one family, Simon?’”

MacDonald knew Hives for Haiti could not stray from their focus of providing usable skills to people who then go on to create their own beekeeping businesses and pass on the knowledge, as veering off course would water down the organization’s mission and possibly lead to its failure.

“I felt really uncomfortable at the end of that conversation. I’m laying there for several nights thinking about these kids,” he said, and couldn’t get their story out of his mind.

“I know that there will be criticism out there — ‘what about the other ones?’” he acknowledged. “I know it’s an emotional thing. Yeah, you can’t save everyone, but the one that I can see I can do my best to save.”

MacDonald decided to do the fundraiser for the family on his own, outside of Hives for Haiti, with a detailed plan he came up with together with the non-profit’s management team in the country: Remond, Nelcie Pierre and Jobles Onesias. The plan is to hire a tutor and bring the children from Grade 1 up to speed with reading, writing, basic math, business and operating computers, and if there is time, to teach them French and English.

The $22,000 will cover food, clothing and education for four years, and a detailed budget is shared with would-be donors on the Gofundme page entitled Help Keep Judeline out of Indentured Servitude.

“Then we would have those kids prepared either that all four of them can join our organization as beekeepers and learn the trade of beekeeping, or they would at least have enough education — practical education, not academic education — to be able to get into a trade,” he explained. 

MacDonald has raised close to $6,000 towards the goal, and they’ve already hired 21-year-old Voltaire Voyvlyne Issainclyne to begin the children’s schooling.

This fundraiser is separate from MacDonald’s work with Hives for Haiti, which is also progressing. The non-profit bought a seven-acre property last year, where they will use permaculture and syntropic farming practices to regenerate the landscape. The property is fenced and has water, with further plans to install a water capture system and run training programs in syntropic farming.

The organization is putting in an application for charitable status this year. They will also be renaming themselves the Haiti Beekeepers Society.

A firefighter in Richmond who retired into beekeeping and a job as an apiary inspector for the B.C. government, MacDonald first visited Haiti as an aid worker a few years after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country. MacDonald and Coombs created Hives for Haiti shortly after that first visit in 2013, and the definition of success they came up with back then is now coming to pass. 

“If we got to a place where we weren’t needed anymore, where we were just redundant, that would be the ultimate goal,” MacDonald said.

And while he’s still involved in training and other aspects, this goal was reached around six months ago with an all-Haitian team teaching new beekeepers the ropes and several success stories of beekeepers to point to.

“The program will still go and grow and it’ll just keep chugging along beautifully.”

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