Marie Marthe Saint Cyr was born and raised in Haiti, eventually immigrating to the United States with her father, mother, five sisters, and one brother. After arriving in the U.S., Ms. Saint Cyr, the Lambi Fund’s Executive Director, often reflected on life in her native country. “It was critical that I came to understand that my country could still thrive,” Saint Cyr explained. Saint Cyr’s determination for building a stronger Haiti can be understood in her own words: “I think that the notion that Haiti is a lost cause, to me, is not acceptable and has to change.”
Like Saint Cyr, Stephen Reichard, Lambi’s Deputy Director, is motivated to change Haiti. His efforts began in 2010, when he started donating to the non-profit. On January 12 of that year, Haiti experienced an earthquake, which devastated urban areas, causing many Haitians to flee to the countryside. Facing this devastation, Lambi worked to revitalize the country. Their partnership with Argosy, beginning in 2010, helped facilitate recovery. Several grants from Argosy supported the non-profit in supplying emergency aid, starting agricultural initiatives, and creating economic opportunity. Today, Argosy continues to support Lambi’s efforts to create a thriving nation.
Founded in 1994, the Lambi Fund draws its name from the word lambi, which is Haitian Creole for “conch shell.” For centuries, Haitians used the shell to call community meetings. Today, the shell represents the Haitian people’s struggle for democracy. The non-profit’s mission is to advance the democratic movement by partnering with peasant organizations in rural communities. “The peasant organizations are the lifeblood of the democratic movement,” Reichard explained. “Historically, the peasants have played a very vibrant role in pushing for rights,“ he added. Various organizations partner with Lambi, including ones focused on economic and agricultural concerns.
However, after twenty years of pursuing their mission, Lambi still faces push back, particularly from the government. Reichard explained that, “With the current (Martelly) government, which has been in place since 2011, we have seen a rising level of human rights abuses.” He also described the central government’s inefficiency. “Some of the essential issues facing Haiti are the lack of government services and the lack of government doing its job,” he noted. “We really are in need of an accountable government, with an international community partnership that also holds them [the government] accountable,” said Saint Cyr, elaborating on political leadership. As such, Lambi continues to view the democratic movement as an answer to Haiti’s turbulent political leadership. To promote democracy, the organization takes a unique approach.
Lambi emphasizes a bottom-up development model. In this model, a partnership begins when an organization approaches Lambi with an idea to solve a problem, such as deforestation. Prior to collaborating, Lambi’s team of agronomists and community organizers meet with organization leaders to identify concerns and design projects. Reichard elaborated on what distinguishes Lambi from other non-profits in the region. “We treat them [peasants] as equals and there is a transparency in everything we do,” he explained.
Within the bottom-up model, project development is not the only critical piece of the puzzle. Communication and training on the ground are also emphasized. For example, project monitors, assigned by Lambi to selected regions, work on assessing projects and troubleshooting problems. If a monitor cannot resolve a problem, they contact Lambi’s agronomists and community trainers. Moreover, Saint Cyr noted that many new projects do not require the non-profit’s team to train peasant organizations. “We no longer have to hire mechanics to train our new [grain] mill keepers and operators because mills we helped to establish in the past can now train new operators,” Saint Cyr explained.
“It was critical that I came to understand that my country could still thrive. I think that the notion that Haiti is a lost cause, to me, is not acceptable and has to change.”
A final aspect to this approach is measuring outcomes and refining projects. Recently, a Lambi partner, COFECA (the women’s organization of Cavaillion in southern Haiti), expressed interest in increasing the number of loans it was providing for the purchase of seedlings and other goods. In conversation with Lambi staff, it was recognized that by modifying the current loan repayment methodology, COFECA would increase the number of loans they could provide. The modification involves borrowers returning a portion of the principal each month, rather than collecting interest only during the course of the loan with a lump sum payment of principal at the end. Reichard explained, “Together, we realized that COFECA would have more money to lend, and COFECA will start this change at the end of this June.” So, the bottom-up approach emphasizes strong project assessment coupled with autonomy, allowing organizations to modify their projects according to their needs.
Making a Lasting Impact
Lambi continues to make a lasting impact. In 2013, with the help of an Argosy grant to fund general operations, the non-profit launched eight new projects, including ones focused on leadership training, reforestation, and water security. In fall 2013, the organization held a four-day conference called Conference Convenes, which included discussions on gender equality through workshops and training. Moreover, six partners completed reforestation projects to combat climate change. In total, these projects resulted in the planting of 120,000 trees. Beginning in July 2014, the non-profit will also address climate change and its effect on water security. “In the Northwest [region] this year, they had a really long drought,” Saint Cyr explained. “People were calling us saying we don’t have water, our animals are going to die.” To address this issue, Lambi will be starting “Give Water, Give Life” Campaign, which plans to build 20 cisterns in the Northwest. The project also serves as a way to honor the organization’s 20th anniversary.
Argosy takes pride in partnering with the Lambi Fund—an organization who sees social change as manifesting in the efforts and ingenuity of ordinary people, and democracy as key to Haiti’s thriving future.
For more information, please visit www.lambifund.org