Miami-based drive aims to curb ecological plight
An activist is spearheading a Miami-based effort to turn back some of Haiti’s environmental deforestation. That’s a monumental task, but Nadine Patrice isn’t the sort who backs off tough challenges.
With a small group of friends, Patrice created Operation Green Leaves, a non-profit organization that has been spreading awareness about Haiti’s ecological plight. She’s working on a project to build an environmental center and volunteer village in Arcahaie, a small community north of Port-au-Prince. Patrice is doing it in partnership with Architecture for Humanities, a pro-bono organization whose mission is to provide building services for communities in need of humanitarian help.
The center would be built on a donated plot of land, and would serve as a seed distribution and food-processing facility. In addition, it would house a community center that would provide environmental education to youth and adults.
“We are providing the tools to help our brothers and sisters rise themselves out of poverty,” said Patrice, who serves as executive director of Operation Green Leaves.
An earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, killed more than 250,000 people and left nearly half a million people homeless, according to the International Organization for Migration. It also damaged or destroyed thousands of homes and businesses in many regions of the country.
The massive earthquake damage isn’t the only trouble facing Haiti. The island nation is among the most deforested in the world, with less than 2 percent of it wooded, according to the United Nations. If that status persists, Haiti could eventually become the first desert in the Caribbean.
Without trees to hold the soil of the mountains, the topsoil can wash away in heavy rains, claiming lives and homes.
Environmental experts have attributed the problem to a need for fuel.
It hasn’t always been this way for Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. For centuries, Haiti was covered by a lush green landscape. However, over time as the population grew, Haitians looking for cooking fuel began cutting down trees to make charcoal. There was little effort by governments or private entities to replant those trees.
From the air, travelers flying into Port-au-Prince notice the difference along the border between the two countries. While the Dominican side remains vastly forested, Haiti’s landscape is largely brown, without a tree cover.
“It is so essential to teach the people of Haiti about the importance of conservation and protection of their natural resources,” said Patrice, whose organization has been leading awareness campaigns and donating seedlings to farmers over the past two decades.
In addition, Operation Green Leaves has led other projects in South Florida, including tree plantings, training workshops on environmental education, water conservation and pollution prevention at local elementary schools.
Patrice was born in Port-au-Prince and moved to United States as a teen. On a return visit to her homeland 20 years later, she witnessed the crushing poverty, and she knew that the ecological devastation had something to do with that. It was then she felt the motivation to help rebuild.
Her environmentalist-friends “knew that if we address all the environmental issues of Haiti, a lot could be done,” said Patrice. “Everything is interconnected with the environment.”
Looking for sustainable building solutions that will not cause further ecological damage, the volunteers on the project proposed bamboo as the main construction material for the center.
“We believe that indeed bamboo will prove to be a highly efficient material because of its fast renewability, local implementation, and its strength to weight ratio for structural use,” said Jennifer Sequiera, founder of Architecture of Humananities Miami and one of leading architects of the project. “The application of this material solves many issues of cost and sustainability.”
Building a center where education and sustainable solutions can be provided to local residents is fundamental for the island’s reconstruction and economic development, Patrice said.
“By building in Arcahaie, we are starting a new community and we hope to encompass economic development issues, such as how to provide jobs for the locals,” said Jose Nava, a member of the Arcahaie Environmental Center Team.
Raising money is a big part of the project Operation Green Leaves competed for a permanent spot on GlobalGiving, a website that promotes social good and connects organizations to funders. Recently, Operation Green Leaves on its website, www.olghaiti.com, began offering a variety of Haitian-made products, including art, clothing and furniture pieces. The project is still far away from becoming a reality. Patrice estimates the group will need nearly $90,000 to build the center. So far, only a fraction of that has been raised.
After the earthquake, Operation Green Leaves partnered with more than 20 Haiti-based non-profit organizations to reach isolated rural areas which were in need of food, water and medical supplies.
“Operation Green Leaves will continue to be committed and dedicated to help raise the standard of living of the people of Haiti,” said Patrice.