End of Food Aid Program Nears in Haiti


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JÉRÉMIE, HAITI – Martha Joseph, 23, is a mother of two in Jérémie, a commune in the Grand’Anse department of Haiti. Because of chronic unemployment in Haiti, she and her husband haven’t been able to find jobs to support their two children.

As a result, hunger visited them daily. Joseph says there were even days when they did not eat at all. But thanks to a food aid program that began in 2012, the family can now pick up groceries at a local store.

Joseph registered for the program, called the Grid Resource Registration Project, in December 2011. She signed up at a house run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, who gave her a card in February, which qualified her to start receiving food for her family.

Joseph obtains food at a store in downtown Jérémie. The owner of the store, Felinne Ditery, says that food has been distributed here three times under the internationally funded program.

Joseph says that she can’t choose which items to take home, but she has been very happy to receive the food. There are no longer days in which she and her family don’t eat.

But the six-month program is nearing its end, and many worry how they will feed their families. 

A food aid program has been reducing hunger for thousands of families in Haiti. Families say they are grateful, though some enrolled in the program cite kinks such as not receiving food. But now, as the end of the short-term project looms, beneficiaries and administrators are asking how those enrolled will be able to eat afterward. Beneficiaries ask for entrepreneurial trainings as a more long-term solution instead of more food aid.

Willy Aly, of the Direction de la Protection Civile in Haiti, says that the food aid program is a partnership between the agency and the Catholic Relief Services, an international humanitarian agency. The agency administers and international sources fund the emergency program, which is part of the Aba Grangou or Down With Hunger movement initiated by first lady Sophia Martelly.

CARE is responsible for providing the food aid to 12,000 families in nine communities. Catholic Relief Services covers thousands of other families in three communities. U.S. Agency for International Development also provides support, and Digicel, a cell phone company, enables participating stores to receive the funds for the food through its mobile money feature.

From September 2011 to December 2011, the Direction de la Protection Civile, Catholic Relief Services and CARE conducted a survey to identify the elderly, cholera victims, pregnant women, people living with HIV, widows and victims of Hurricane Tomas in 2010. All of these people then received a card, which allows them to receive food at participating grocery stores.

The card enables beneficiaries to receive 2,000 gourdes ($50) worth of food aid once a month for six months. They can go to any participating grocery dealer and obtain food such as rice, oil, oats, flour, Maggi cubes, spaghetti, corn, beans, sweet potatoes, plantains and breadfruit.

Castin Michel, 27, says the program is helping him to feed his family.

"I am happy with this aid,” he says.

He used to earn a living as a mason, but he hasn’t been able to find any work lately.

“My wife just had twins, so this food is helping us a lot,” he says.

Fabiola Justin, 22, agrees.

“The program is good for me,” she says. “It helps me feed my kids. My husband drives a motorcycle taxi, but he makes very little money with that."

Manouchka Richard, 21, can relate. Her husband also drives a motorcycle taxi.

“But there is not much going on in the streets,” she agrees. “I have one child, and I am happy because I am one of the beneficiaries of the food card. This helps me combat hunger.”

But there are some kinks in the program.

Etude Dorce, 44, says she was enrolled in the program in December 2011. The program has distributed food several times, but she has not yet been able to obtain any of it.

She still holds hope that she will receive some of the food because she says it would really help her. Her husband left her to raise their six children and gives her no support. She also takes care of four nieces and nephews after her sister died.

Aly says that people with cards who have not yet received food should go to the office that serves their district to make sure their names are active.

Fleurancy Etienne, 73, says that it’s hard for older people to benefit from the program.

“The program seems to benefit people who are young,” she says. “The elderly are having great difficulty getting food through the program.”

She benefits from the program, but it’s difficult at her age to compete with the other shoppers, she says.

“I … have received food three times already,” she says. “But it takes a lot of effort, a lot of pushing and shoving in the line. A couple of time[s], I have been hit, and the thought has occurred to me to sell my card. But whenever possible, my kids come with me and help me.”

She says her children also help to support her when they can since her husband died 11 years ago.

Yolette Vierier, who owns one of the stores that participates in the project, affirms that beneficiaries get competitive.

“The program recipients always fight outside the store,” she says, “even though they all have a card and they know they will get food.”

Catholic Relief Services gave her store the names of 130 people who are enrolled in the program.

“We give food to these 130 people every month for six months,” she says. “We also buy local produce like sweet potatoes, plantains and breadfruit for them, and we deduct that from the 2,000 gourdes.”

But she says that one weakness of the program is that the food distributed is not items that the people need.

“The majority of the people do not want that,” she says of the items. “They say they have that at home. They say they need rice, oil, corn, flour and beans.”

Food in boxes, rum, milk and cheese are excluded from the program. Aly says the reason for not distributing milk, for example, is because people own cows that produce milk, and the program doesn’t want to create competition for locally produced products.

But no one can say how long the families will continue to get this food, as the end of the program approaches.

Aly says that he has no idea what will happen after the six-month period.

“It is true the program helps in some way,” he says. “But after six months, what are we going to tell the families?”

Michel, a program beneficiary, echoes Aly’s question.

“After six months, what are they going to do?” asks Michel, who says his family relies on the food.

Justin, another beneficiary, says that empowering people to employ themselves would have been a more sustainable use of the resources rather than giving away food for a short period.

“I would rather the people in charge would figure out how they can get me started with a small business,” Justin says. “That way I can help myself.”

Richard, another beneficiary, agrees.

“It would be better if they would help us set up some small commerce,” she says.