Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the goat program coordinator as Franck Cabrit. His name is Franck Toussaint.
Editor’s note: On Jan. 12, Haiti marked four years since the earthquake that devastated the country. This week and next, Global Atlanta is taking a look at how Atlanta-based organizations are continuing their often-challenging work in the country.
Why would an organization that has trained community health providers in Haiti for more than 30 years get into the goat farming business?
For Global Health Action, it all goes back to health: higher and more sustainable incomes allow families to afford more food and better care.
The Decatur-based nonprofit in 1985 began providing Haitian families with indigenous female goats – or does – impregnated by a Dominican or South African boer goat. The resulting hearty hybrid grows fast and produces better meat than the local variety.
At first the idea was to help families feed themselves with meat and milk, but over time the goats were seen as a means of income security. Call it an exercise in rural entrepreneurship, a mammalian riff on the “teach a man to fish” axiom.
“We assume that they will treat the goats as capital,” says Girija Sankar, GHA’s Chennai, India-born program director for Haiti. She implies that the goal is for farmers not to eat their funding all at once.
In the summer of 2012, Ms. Sankar escorts Global Atlanta to GHA’s goat farm project in Darbonne, a community near the epicenter of the earthquake that devastated the country and killed tens of thousands of Haitians four years ago on Jan. 12.
Tucked behind a school building is the GHA goat pen, with concrete posts enclosed by chain-link fence. At the time, it’s home to nearly 40 black, white and brown goats, contentedly chomping away at grass and clippings from corn and sugar-cane fields.
Franck Toussaint, who has spent nearly three decades working with GHA, ticks off the advantages of raising goats: They produce kids in just five months, and since they eat almost anything, even children can care for them.
“I love my job!” he exclaims during an interview in the goat pen, but for Franck it’s more about the people than the animals. “I like to work with the farmers. The goat represents the bank account for the farmers.”
Making that true, however, has proven difficult, especially given the financial pressures of the post-earthquake Haiti, where many families have lost their homes or breadwinners.
It has taken a lot of human infrastructure and training to ensure that the goats are used as a tool for sustainable entrepreneurship, not just a one-time windfall to be spent on school uniforms or home improvements.
For many, goats are a useful supplement are only that – extra income.
“Goats are not enough. When the children go back to school, I only have enough to sell for that,” says Gislene Monoze, a mother of seven who sells cookies, candies and produce from her garden to get by. She wants to use the goats as savings – “We don’t often eat goat” – but the pressures of caring for the family are strong.
Vania Pierre-Louis has three goat kids but notes that she could have raised even more. She sold one to pay for a hospital visit, donated one for a church party and sold yet another.
GHA provided a two-day training course for her, but she wishes they would give more financial assistance, she says.
In 2014, GHA plans to add a financial literacy component to its training and launch a goat farming cooperative to provide farmers with more collective bargaining power, Ms. Sankar tells Global Atlanta in an update on Friday, Jan. 17.
GHA has also commissioned University of Georgia researchers to interview 170 beneficiaries in an effort to gauge the long-term benefits of the project. The results are due any day now.
“Just getting some money to give some goats away, that really doesn’t do much. It might help a family in the short run. It might provide a temporary capital influx, but we really want to bump them up a rung on the ladder,” Ms. Sankar says.
Doing so also requires more animal health work, which is why GHA now has 35 trained workers spread across Leogane’s 17 districts.
Goats, while relatively easy to raise, can develop a range of ailments: worms, infections and more serious diseases like contagious eczema and chlamydia, which attacks the eyes and can cause abortions.
Rosellene LaMotte, one of the technicians, has had to help farmers stem the spread of illness by teaching them how to separate the sick goats from the well. She enjoys the work, she tells Global Atlanta during the 2012 visit.
“When I have a syringe at hand to make an injection, I feel very proud,” she says.
All the workers take their jobs seriously, says Mr. Toussaint, who estimates that the GHA project has raised more than 6,000 goats over the years.
“I have a lot of motivation because the life of many families has been improved through our project,” he says.
Inesse Cerisier, though grateful for goats, is skeptical that Haiti can overcome the impact of the earthquake and its corrupt society. It may take the Rapture to reform the country, which she has seen deteriorate during her 82 years.
“Only Jesus can change Haiti,” she says.