Seeds of hope sown through education

Posted on: 7th April, 2015

Category: Features

Contributor: West Cork People

A devastating earthquake in 2010 left more than 1.5 million people homeless in Haiti and resulted in an immense humanitarian crisis. Heather Christie from Clonakilty continues her diary from last month, sharing her experiences as part of a team of 13 volunteers working in Haiti for the first two weeks of January with Methodist Missionary Society Ireland.


Haiti has the highest illiteracy rate of any country in the western hemisphere and is far behind others in the Caribbean with only 64 per cent of men and 61 per cent of women able to read. These adults spend an average of just five years in education. The Methodist Church has been involved in education in Haiti for at least sixty years and at present runs 105 Primary, 12 Secondary and two Vocational schools all over the country. Approximately 20 per cent of children attend this type of school, which to exist must charge a small fee.

We visit the Methodist school at Frères, which has primary and secondary sections to educate children from six years old until they are ready to go to college. One primary school is held in the morning and another in the afternoon so that children who work in houses as live-in maids for example, can get an education and be cherished.

At 3.30pm students get a free hot meal with the teachers and some of the older boys. Currently the school gets aid from Switzerland, which pays for 300 children’s scholarships. This is a great because it allows the school to be a social ‘melting pot’, with no division between the kids – no one knows who is wealthy and who is poor.

There are now 1,553 morning pupils (563 primary, 990 secondary) plus 200 more in the afternoon. The school is achieving good results and aims to instil discipline in the children; last year they were top of the national league for exam results! The kids love school because along with core subjects there are a wide variety of other classes including sport, music and pottery. A separate programme is run on Saturdays for dance and drama. There is also a vocational school on site covering electrics, car mechanics, plumbing etc.

Cabbages and other crops grown on terracesHaiti is slightly larger than Munster with a population of 10.32 million. Eighty per cent of the land is mountainous, making growing conditions challenging and 50 per cent of the population is malnourished. It lies in a hurricane belt and is subject to severe storms from June to October, with occasional flooding and earthquakes and periodic droughts. The riverbeds are completely dry whilst we are there, following a drier than normal rainy season, and we see no sign of rain. The country has suffered extensive deforestation where land has been cleared for agriculture and for fuel (cooking is done on charcoal burners). Some crops are grown on terraces on the steep slopes, to retain soil and reduce erosion. We see water being carried in buckets on heads and sprinkled by hand; the Haitians are extremely hard workers.

Many of the women selling on the streets have bought their produce down from the mountains and stay late into the night, for days, until it is all sold before returning home. Crops grown include cabbages, yams, avocados, rice, sorghum, banana’s plantain, sugar cane, mangoes, papaya, coffee and maize. The majority of the labour is manual, a few wealthier farmers use cattle for heavy work such as ploughing and reportedly there are a few tractors, but I haven’t seen a single one in the two weeks we are here. Nor have we seen herds of cattle. Those that can afford cows have only one, or possibly two, which are tethered by their horns – no electric fences! But still there is a cattle identification ear tag system in place.

I have a great interest in the agriculture of Haiti, having been brought up on and worked on farms (I used to keep goats and still keep a few sheep and poultry) and I studied agriculture at third level. The Methodist Church runs two agriculture schools, EMAB at Baudain in the north offers a higher level course for two to three years, whilst the second, Vialet near Petit Goave, is two hours from Port au Prince and is currently being refurbished. When Vialet restarts it will offer a one-year programme of practical agricultural training, so those who qualify can become local community development agricultural technicians. Students are selected by their own community and are required to go back to that community to share what they have learned.

They hope to restart pig breeding at Vialet, crossing the durability of the black Creole pig with the vigour of the white pig that we are familiar with, and have future plans to introduce turkey rearing and honey production. The church is currently operating a goat-breeding programme, which gave out 580 goats in 2014. In these projects one farmer helps the other because when a farmer is given a breeding goat he must give the first kid to another family. This method creates solidarity in the groups and allows for sustainability and further development of the project. Participants are in groups of twenty farmers and each is given crossbreed Billy goat. Local church and community leaders, based on defined criteria, carefully select beneficiaries and each receives proper goat husbandry training from the agricultural technicians.

The Methodist Church has also set up ‘Agri Boutiques’ (small co-op shops) to enable farmers to buy farm inputs locally, instead of having to pay for transport to and from towns. They also offer advice to farmers. The church’s Micro Credit Programme offers small start-up loans for individuals who wish to start a small business, enabling them to support themselves and their families. A number of these beneficiaries are then grouped together to form a small community bank.

The Agroforestry Programme includes tree nurseries and planting schemes, with a variety of trees used such as Moringa, Oak, Cedar, Papaya, Cocoa and Mango. This means there is a mixture of short- and long-term trees. Ignorantly I had never heard of the Moringa tree, which is often known as the ‘miracle tree’ because of its high nutritional properties, extensive uses and fast pace of growth; it is being introduced into many countries to combat malnutrition.

From Wikipedia: ‘Ounce for ounce the Moringa leaves have seven times more Vitamin C than oranges, three times more iron than spinach, three times more potassium than bananas, four times more vitamin A than carrots and four times more calcium than milk. Leaves can be eaten raw, cooked or dried and ground into powder. Seeds are 42 per cent oil, used for cooking, skin conditions and even as a machinery lubricant. Seeds can be used to make antiseptic ointment such as Neosporin. Seed kernels purify water by settling out suspended particles and organic matter – killing 90 per cent of bacteria. Seed cake is used as a fertiliser and as a flocculating agent. Flowers eaten raw or to make tea. Roots can be ground into a horseradish type replacement. Immature seed is eaten like garden peas. Young tender pods are eaten like asparagus or green beans. The wood used as paper pulp and produces a natural blue dye. The bark has fibre to make rope and exudes sap or gum that is also used in medicines.’

The Moringa tree is a miracle indeed, much like the resilience of the people of Haiti.

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Wave to Mary! 65-year-old Mary Nolan Hickey is running around the entire coast of the Island of Ireland to raise funds & awareness for the RNLI and is currently running the roads of West Cork.

Mary is the only woman to have completed every single Dublin Marathon (all 38 of them). She’s also completed the grueling Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, known as the ‘toughest foot race on earth’.

To mark her 50th year involved in Athletics Mary is taking on her biggest challenge yet (even though she thought she’d already done that when completing the Dublin Marathon when she was over six months pregnant!) She wants to raise as much money as possible for the RNLI.

Mary started her epic journey in Arklow, Co. Wicklow, on New Year’s Day. She aims to cover up to 5000 kilometers, using coastal routes, over the next five months. She hopes to get back in time to get her first pension payment in June when she turns 66.

Mary will stop off at as many RNLI stations as possible, on her once in a lifetime adventure. As far as she knows no other woman has ever taken on this challenge.

Speaking about her journey Mary said:

“I wanted to prove that age not a barrier. Coming from a coastal town I have a deep affinity with our local RNLI station & volunteers and have huge admiration for the brave men and women who risk their lives to save lives at sea”.

Mary, who’s depending on the goodwill of communities along her route for accommodation, has been astounded by the response so far. “The support has been overwhelming,” she said. “I have met the most amazing and encouraging people along the way”.

To see more about Mary’s adventures, and to pinpoint her location today, check out her Facebook page - rnlilapofthemap2018.
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20th March, 2018  ·  


This Saturday the 10th March, will see some magically curious activity as local Bandon national schools compete in a Wizarding Harry Potter Quiz. The prize will be the beautiful Bandon Banshee Perpetual Cup.

As any Harry Potter enthusiast knows, Bandon has the unique honour of having a character named after the town. The Bandon Banshee, was referred to as the nemesis of Gilderoy Lockhart in the Chamber of Secrets. The book grossed €60 million in sales and was the 7th highest earning film of all time.

Locals, looking to enhance the town for young people, saw the quiz as an ideal way promote the connection. The universally absorbing book series brings young readers on a huge adventure of magic, adversity and triumph. It is also an exploration of loyalty and friendship, good and evil – so it is not only popular way to engage young people, it is a hugely positive connection.

Zoe Tennyson, one of the organisers said they were delighted with the response from schools who ran a qualifying quiz as part of World Book Day. On Saturday Bandon Town Hall will be transformed into Hogwarts Great Hall, with proceeds going Bandon Playground Group, and to cover costs of the event.

Bandon Books will be rewarding the winning team with vouchers to each of the five members. The Bandon Banshee, or Bean-sidhe na Bandaan Perpetual Cup will be hotly contested – but which school will the Banshee go to??

If you have any questions please call Marguerite McQuaid on 087 900 9494
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8th March, 2018  ·  

Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition 23 February 2018

The inaugural Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition will take place in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen this Friday 23rd February. As part of Engineers Week 2018, leaders and members of Ballineen Foróige Club have organised an exhibition which will showcase a diverse and exciting range of engineering projects that have been undertaken by members of the club over the last few weeks, with the aid of leaders and a number of local engineers.

With the aid of local pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, along with the support of STEAM Education, a UCC based company focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths subjects in primary schools, Ballineen Foróige has been engaging members and leaders in all things engineering over the last six weeks. From researching, designing, and prototyping a project based on local problems, to participating in various workshops on coding and careers in engineering, Ballineen Foróige have been extremely busy in preparation for the exhibition this coming Friday night.

On the night itself, Michael Loftus, Head of Engineering at CIT, Fintan Goold, Manager at Eli Lilly and All-Ireland Cork winning Footballer, along with Geraldine Coughlan of GCA Architects & Designers, a local business, will act as judges on the night, evaluating the different engineering projects and offering some advice to the members of the club. Also in attendance will be the CEO of Foróige Seán Campbell, along with a number of local councillors, TD’s and Senators.

Leading the team of Ballineen Foróige leaders organising the event, is Rebecca Dwyer, a bioprocess engineer at Eli Lilly. Rebecca recently became a leader in the club and says that Ballineen Foróige Young Engineer Exhibition 2018 “promises to be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience for all involved and we look forward to welcoming parents, relatives, friends and members of the public to the exhibition and film screening on the evening of Friday 23rd February.” Overall, there are twelve projects entered in the exhibition. One project, led by Cian Kennefick and Charlie Nolan, members of the starting out club, examines the possibility of installing speed ramps on the road near local primary school. Fourteen-year-old Charlie says he got involved in the project as it was something to do and it gets you thinking. Cian says the most exciting part of the project was the building of the prototypes.

Both Cian and Charlie, along with thirty other members of the club will display their projects this coming Friday 23 February in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen. Doors open at 8pm and the event runs until 10pm. All are welcome to attend, and admission is free. Catering, including tea and coffee, will be provided on the night.
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20th February, 2018  ·  

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Main course

17th February, 2018  ·  

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