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Paloma Institute welcomes two new board members

Paloma Institute welcomes our two newest Board members:  Olga Kildisheva, and Matthew Aghai

Food, Water, Sanitation- Supporting Basic Human Rights Internationally and Locally

(following is the text of Guy Knudsen’s invited presentation to the Unitarian Universalist fellowship, Sunday, June 19)

  Good morning, I want to thank you for inviting me into your community today.  I would like to share some perspectives with you: first, about the concept that adequate food and clean water are basic human rights, and then specifically on the Farming is Life program of Paloma Institute, and our efforts to support community gardening and health projects on the  island of LaGonave, Haiti.  There are two themes, which I hope to convince you are closely intertwined:  the first is that food and clean water are fundamental human rights.  The second is that community involvement, both at the international and the local level, is necessary to ensure that those rights are realized.

   “Farming is life.”  We first heard that term from our friend and colleague, and mentor, Nancy Casey, in relation to family farms on LaGonave.  Not “farming is a relaxing pastime”, or “homegrown veggies taste better than those from the grocery store”, or “homegrown produce is more healthful than the products of chemical agriculture”, although each of those is probably true.  But, farming is life itself.

   The name of the Haitian community organization with whom we collaborate says it better.  Their acronym is ‘JLLP’, or, in Haitian Kreyol, ‘jaden legim selavi paysan’.  In English: ‘the vegetable garden is the life of the peasant’.  In our very class-concious American society, where class status is often based on race, or ethnicity, or above all on economic status, the word ‘peasant’ often has a pejorative connotation.  Peasants are poor people.  But the original meaning of the root word ‘paysan’, the same in French as it is in Kreyol, is closer to “one who lives on the land”.  And, for a person of the land, to say that ‘the vegetable garden is life’ is to speak very literally.

   Is food a basic human right?  Our own Declaration of Independence recognizes as self-evident the truth that people are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, including Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  Some political philosophies in the United States and elsewhere interpret these words ungenerously, claiming that while we may have the right to pursue happiness, governments are under no obligation to further that pursuit.  Nonetheless, for more than half a century, the legal and cultural concept of the human right to food has evolved into a set of universal norms for the international community.  The United Nations’ ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ of 1948 declares that “…everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being… including food.”

   The most comprehensive formulation of this idea comes from the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.  The Covenant specifies that State parties recognize the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, and that they agree to take steps to achieve the full realization of that right.  More than 40 years later, 158 nations are parties to this legally binding agreement, meaning that they have both signed and ratified it.  Five countries haven’t yet found the political will to ratify this covenant, the United States being one of them. A related international treaty, the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, includes the right to food for children.  193 countries  are party to this agreement, and as you know that is almost every nation in the world.  Only two countries continue to refuse ratification.  The first is Somalia.  The other is the United States.

   Former President Jimmy Carter, who is not known for mincing words, recently said the following:  “Those who oppose the ratification of the covenant believe governments have no obligation to safeguard the rights of their citizens to jobs, education, housing, and an adequate standard of living.”  Some governments lack the will, others lack the way, some lack both.  The United States seems to lack the will.  The Constitution of Haiti is very progressive with regards to human rights, environmental protection, and similar issues, but the government of Haiti is impoverished, and corruption is endemic.  And, unfortunately, the new Haitian government that was recently ‘elected’, if that’s an accurate term, has shown little interest in making human rights a national priority.

  In the face of governmental disinterest and even opposition to the idea of food as a fundamental right, I will suggest that it falls upon the community- the international community, the local community, and the two working together, to make this ‘right’ into a ‘reality’.  I would like to briefly describe a couple of ways that Paloma Institute is working with our Haitian counterparts within the framework of community interaction: the international community, local communities on the island of LaGonave, and, hopefully, communities such as Moscow, Idaho.   

  This year, Haiti is undergoing its periodic review by the United Nations Human Rights Council.  In March, we joined a coali­tion of 58 Hait­ian grass­roots groups and other human rights orga­ni­za­tions in presenting a set of 13 reports on human rights in Haiti to the United Nations.  These were organized by the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, which is a Haitian legal group, and the Lawyers’ Earthquake Response Network.  The reports cov­ered issues rang­ing from voting rights, to gender-based violence, to environmental and agricultural rights including the right to food.  I was privileged to contribute to the latter report on behalf of Paloma Institute.  This approach represents a type of ‘peer pressure’ on the government of Haiti, which is exerted by the international community as represented by the United Nations. 

  At the local community level, our Farming is Life program helps support 19 groups of family farmers on LaGonave, under the umbrella of our Haitian friends in JLLP.  Each of these groups has about 25 members, and they mostly represent different small villages on the island.  JLLP has been in existence for about 5 years now, and participation is increasing all the time.  They come up each year with a very comprehensive budget, mostly for tools, seeds, and a meager salary for the two agricultural agents.  We, in turn, do our best to fund what we can, not in the spirit of “charity”, but rather in the spirit of supporting our friends in the good work that they are doing.  This March, Janice Boughton, Ryan Law, and Louise-Marie Dandurand from Paloma Institute spent two weeks on LaGonave, helping with agricultural training, and with health and sanitation including construction of a badly needed community toilet to help keep human waste away from the water supply.

  In closing, I would like to thank you, on behalf of Paloma Institute, for your time this morning, and if I may I will leave you with a metaphor:  If we think about the nations of the world, discrete and carefully separated by their national boundaries, we might think of them as being the bricks in a large brick wall.  In contrast, I ask you to picture a spider’s web, glistening in the morning garden.  Every point of that web is connected to every other point.  That is the image I offer you to accompany a model that is people-based, and which focuses on community self-reliance, but in which the local community is connected to, and nurtured by, a much larger international community.

LaGonave, Haiti, March 2011

Janice Boughton, Ryan Law, and Louise-Marie Dandurand spent two weeks working with our Haitian friends on LaGonave; more info and some photos on our ‘Projects’ pages for Farming is Life and Haiti Sanitation Project.

Paloma Institute contributes to Haiti human rights reports

March 24, 2011 —  Paloma Institute joined a coali­tion of 58 Hait­ian grass­roots groups, inter­nally dis­placed per­sons (IDP) camps, human rights orga­ni­za­tions, and aca­d­e­mic insti­tu­tions in presenting a set of 13 reports on human rights in Haiti to the U.N. Human Rights Coun­cil as part of the Uni­ver­sal Peri­odic Review (UPR).  The reports were organized by the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), Lawyers’ Earthquake Response Network (LERN), and Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI).   The coalition’s reports cov­ered issues rang­ing from voting rights vio­la­tions, to gender-based violence, to environmental and agricultural rights.  Paloma Institute board member Guy Knudsen contributed to the Environmental Justice component of the reports.  The reports are avail­able at:

On the anniversary of the 2010 earthquake…

…an email from our friend and colleague Abner Sauveur on the island of LaGonave, Haiti (translated from Haitian Creole)

Hi all friends that are in all corners of the world. Today is January 12, and it is an anniversary charged with sadness.  300,000 people died in the earthquake, and many more undocumented. We do not need to say how many live with sadness on their hearts and spirit, without family, without mothers or fathers, without anything that people need to have to live.  Now 2,000,000 people live in tents or without shelter from the sun, or under rain of which there is plenty.  Haiti is also living with a cholera epidemic which is killing people every day.  A lot of people lack education to protect themselves, their families, their neighbors.  In this country too many people are poor, and drink water that is not potable.  These people do not have the means to treat their water despite knowing that they need to.

We do not need to lie or exaggerate, it is what is going on in Haiti.  We have distributed food to many families on LaGonave. We have constructed homes for 26  families.  We have distributed 9,000 packets of electrolytes throughout LaGonave.  And we have formed several committees; construction, sanitation, gardening, and health.  Our work is making a difference.  We meet weekly.  Please help us as you can. Come visit, send emails.  We still need supplies such as bleach, tools, seeds,electrolytes.

Thank you for reading this email.  -Sauveur Jean Abner

Here’s Abner’s original message in Creole:

Bonjou tout zanmi Ayisyen ki nan tout kwen sou latè . Jodi a ki se 12 Janvye 2011 n ap fete yon fèt ki chaje ak tristès , emosyon doulè , lapèn nan tout fanmi Ayisyen kelkeswa kote li te ye nan Ayiti , nan lemonn antye .

300.000 moun ki kote , poutan gen moun ki pa konte ki mouri tou. Nou  pa bezwen di ou konbyen moun k ap viv koulye a ak moso nan kò , nan lespri , san fanmi , san manman san papa, san anyen pou yo viv kòm moun .  Plis pase 2.000000 moun anba tant , nan lari , san kay anba solèy chak jou , anba lapli lè gen lapli .

Koulye a , Ayiti ap viv ak yon epidemi kolera k ap touye moun chak jou.   Anpil moun manke edikasyon pou yo pwoteje tèt yo , tèt fanmi yo , tèt vwazinaj yo , zanti yo paske edikasyon nan lekòl yo pa yo edikasyon de kalite . Peyi a , gen twòp moun ki pòv , moun fè bezwen
yo atè , pi fò dlo nou bwè ann Ayiti pa potab , moun yo pa gen mwayen pou jwenn bagay pou trete dlo . Pa gen Akwatab , pa gen klowòks pou moun yo trete dlo mèm lè anpil konnen yo bezwen fè sa.

Tout sa nou sot site la yo , mwen pa bay manti , mwen pa ezajere. Se sa ki la ann Ayiti. Nan Lagonav , Lekòl kominotè ki chita nan Twazyèm seksyon kominal Gransous.  Depi apre tranblemantè a ,Lekòl sa ki gen plizyè aktivite sosyal li antre nan plizyè aktivite .  Nou te gen plizyè Patenè ki ede nou fè èv sosyal sa yo .

Bay bay plis pase 7000 moun yon placho pandan 10. Nou ditribye plizyè tantèn mamit manje ak pwo bay plizyè fanmi nan plizyè zòn nan Lagonav, nou konstui 62 pyès kay bay 26 fanmi. Lekòl la fòme , distribye 9000 sachè sewòm nan plizyè lokalite nan zòn Lagonav. Nou fòme plizyè omisyon nan Matènwa e nan plizyè zòn:

komisyon konstriksyon ak ijans , Komisyon pou fouye twalèt , komisyon jaden , komisyon sante.
Ttout kosyon sa yo ap travay chak jou nan Lagonav, epi travay yo vizib.Yo reyini chak semèn plizyè kote nan twazyèm seksyon ak lòt seksyon.

Men sa n ap mande ou fè pou nou ou , menm ki jwenn imèl sa .  Fè plizyè lòt jwenn enfòsyon sa pou nou .  Ede nou jan ou kapab , jan ou vle jan li pi fasil pou nou , nou pou tou.  Vin vizite nou , voye adrès pou nou .  Men sa nou bezwen koulye a : Lajan , Klowòks , savan , zouti pou agrikilti , semans , sewòm . Akwatab. 

Pou li imèl sa ,
Sauveur Jean Abner

Paloma Institute funds Haiti sanitation project

Paloma Institute is pleased to announce our financial support of a new initiative, to be conducted by the Haitian citizens’ group, Liberte, on the island of La Gonâve, Haiti. The focus of this project will be on education and training in sanitation and water quality issues related to human waste, as well as construction and implementation of composting toilet systems. This project, still in its early stages, is funded by the generous contributions of our donors, and we hope to be able to fund a significant expansion in the near future. Effective management of human waste is a key component of public health and welfare in Haiti, and is directly related to the current cholera epidemic there. For more information on sanitation and health, please see our recent blog here: