In 2007, a team from Community Covenant Church first entered Haiti.
We were there to introduce the island to the Global Leadership Summit, focusing on identifying and training leaders. We quickly realized how corruption (both within and outside Haiti) had created endemic and unimaginable poverty—and that solutions, were not simple.
Over a period of about five years, we met hundreds of Haitian leaders. One man, Pierre Leger, consistently stood out for both his accomplishments and his perspective. Leger is a business leader who has, according to UN estimates, created more than 25,000 jobs. His company produces an essential oil that is distilled from vetiver grass and exported to the fragrance industry. This Haitian business is the largest exporter of natural, value-added products in Haiti and is both Fair Trade and Ecocert certified.
Leger soon became our teacher and advisor. His understanding of the culture and corruption of Haiti often seemed prophetic. His consistent encouragement reminded me of how Jesus told us to approach an unfamiliar place. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you” (Luke 10:5-6).
When we talked with him about creating a business that would create new jobs in Haiti, he began to teach us his foundational principle—what he called “business for development.” We began to dream about re-starting the lime oil industry in Haiti. As we visited farmers whose livelihoods were destroyed by the UN’s economic embargo in the 1990s, we learned that to those in poverty, there is little difference between a war and an embargo. Both are devastating.
Together, we developed a plan to:
- grow and distribute low-cost lime tree seedlings to Haitian farmers;
- ensure an in-country distillation facility that would be ready to purchase and process the fruit at market price;
- export the resulting lime oil to world markets.
The plan is simple. But, like any plan, the implementation is filled with challenges – especially when you’re trying to do it in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
One of our team members invested so many hours in studying and experimenting with the farming processes, that he has become an expert in lime tree nursey techniques. Currently, we have a greenhouse, nursery and fields in Haiti where lime trees are beginning to grow. Last year, we began giving away hundreds of thousands of seedlings to Haitian farmers. With seedling distribution in place, we are now beginning to teach farmers how to produce their own seedlings.
Through these years of work and collaboration, we have learned the people of Haiti are very capable and want to work to lift themselves and their country out of its cycle of dependence and poverty. But they have lacked access to training, technology and markets. We hope that our work will help open those doors.
1. Identify a Person of Peace
It takes trusted relationships to develop lasting solutions to intractable problems. Progress always takes time, especially in a country where corruption is ever-present.
2. Business for Development
Developing a system of mutual accountability is an essential ingredient to long-term success. Responsible business practices, while often awkward to advance, provide the mechanisms for lasting impact.
3. Long-Haul Commitment
Any attempt to improve life for people in need requires an acceptance of failures and a willingness to constantly re-adjust plans. When starting such a project, ensure your team is committed to years of work. Money is a tool; it is not the answer.
Dennis Baril is the former senior pastor of Community Covenant Church in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, where he served in leadership for over 40 years—27 of which were as senior pastor. He and his wife, Donna are traveling around the country, supporting the GLS and seizing on other ministry opportunities as they emerge.