Silmène Veillard: Community Volunteer and Farmer in Haiti
Like most women in the rural countryside of Haiti, Silmène Veillard used to struggle to send her kids to school and grow enough food to feed her family every day. As the head of her household, all the responsibility fell to her and she did not feel confident that she could improve the living conditions of her family.
In 2011, farmers in her area began working with Partenariat pour le Developpement Local (PDL), Groundswell International’s local partner organization in Haiti. PDL works to empower rural communities like the one where Silmène lives to unite and lead their own development. With support and trainings from PDL, Silmène and her neighbors established a community organization to help farmers organize, share knowledge and ideas, and work together to make positive changes in their region.
PDL started by sharing easy, affordable farming techniques. Gradually, Silmène’s farm began to improve. “My garden is beautiful! It is producing much more and I feel like I know how to work the land better. I really value the education and training we have received. I am able to feed my children well every day now. After attending trainings with PDL and applying sustainable agriculture practices on my own land, I became an Agriculture Volunteer. Now I provide services to the other community members in better preparing their farms with sustainable, productive practices as well.”
“With support from PDL, we were able to dig a latrine. I have been able to participate in a lot of trainings and gain skills to improve my family’s health. We also have a water filter to treat drinking water, so we are not getting sick as frequently.” Silmène’s community organization and PDL have been successful at preventing cholera and other diseases that have so badly affected other areas of Haiti.
“In September of 2014,” said Silmène, “I borrowed 2,500 gourdes (about $39US) from our women’s savings and credit group to purchase a new goat. The goat has already produced 10 offspring from four pregnancies, and I have sold several for income. I currently have seven goats, three cows, three pigs, and 10 chickens. I bought the cows with profits from selling my crops. I have been able to save 1,300 gourdes (about US$20), which is more than I have ever been able to save. I have been able to accumulate all of this since the time PDL began to support our community organization with these activities.”
“Now I am able to send my three children, two boys and a girl, to school. Many other people in our community are working to send their children to school. Some parents still don’t yet believe it is important. With the money I make from my farm and livestock, I have replaced the straw-thatch roof on my house and installed sealed aluminum so that it no longer leaks every time it rains.”
Silmène has now been a member of her community organization for over five years. “Every time I go to a meeting, I am proud to be a member of the gwoupman. I feel like I now have more value in the community…people call me if they have a problem, or if they need to make a decision. Even if I am not around, community leaders call me on the phone to come and take part in decision-making. Our community culture is better. We work together now. I help and work with other people to work on soil conservation, digging latrines, cleaning up the environment, treating water, and fixing our roads.”
Silmène and her neighbors are making great progress to actively improve their lives. “We are working towards our vision and have achieved a lot together. We have bought land, constructed a building for our organization, improved our roads that are difficult to pass in the rainy season, establishing a savings and credit fund to serve the community, and set up a business cooperative. These achievements have great importance for all of us in the community, even for those who are not yet members of the gwoupman. Our organization is open to collaborating with everyone without discrimination. Anyone can access the credit, seeds, trainings or participate in other activities if they chose.”
“Some of the organization members have had trainings on rights and responsibilities, and have begun to train others. Women’s rights are respected more now. We still need to reinforce children’s rights more. As citizens, we are even working together to meet with the Mayor of Sen Rafayèl to advocate to improve the roads in our region.” Improved roads will make it easier to travel to markets to sell produce, for children to attend school, and to reach the hospital when someone is sick.
For the first time in her life, Silmène feels like a valued member of the community and like she has the ability to make positive changes in her life. “I see life differently now,” Silmène said. “I feel more appreciated and valued in the community. Now I believe that I am as important as anyone in the community. I come home happy and I love myself more too.”
Groundswell International and PDL have been collaborating since 2009 to strengthen the capacity of community leaders like Silmène Veillard to improve lives in rural areas in Haiti in lasting ways. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today.