How Your Support Makes Coffee Entrepreneurs in Haiti

Lionel Philidor, a member of the Sainte Helene coffee cooperative, poses for a photo at the cooperative in Carice, Haiti, June 17, 2015. Photo by Allison Shelley for LWR

This post is part of the ongoing LWR Blog series “My first LWR project visit,” in which LWR staff making first time field visits are invited to share their insights. We hope you enjoy their perspectives and that it gives you a new point of view of the work you support with Lutheran World Relief.

One thing we seem to talk about a lot at Lutheran World Relief is investment.

We talk about how you invest your time, talent and treasures with LWR to help people in need around the world. Internally, we talk about how to invest those and other gifts so that we are making the greatest difference possible and being good stewards. And of course in my job, as staff writer, I try to show you how you do truly invest in people through this work – and how those investments are life-changing.

Meet Madame Lionel Philidor. She’s one of many people in whom you invest.

Power in Numbers

Lionel Philidor, a member of the Sainte Helene coffee cooperative, reflects inside her new home, which she was able to build with the proceeds from selling coffee seedlings, in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, June 17, 2015. She learned how to grow the seedlings and begin a plant nursery through her cooperative, in partnership with RECOCARNO, (Réseau des Coopératives Caféières de la Région Nord) the Network of Northern Coffee-Growing Cooperatives, and LWR. (photo by Allison Shelley for LWR)

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I met Mme. Philador on day two of my field visit to Haiti this past summer. I was there as a part of a video project to document our work with coffee farmers. Upon arrival to the Ste. Helene de Carice cooperative, high in the mountains of northeast Haiti, many coffee farmers assembled to greet us and tell us about the work they’ve been doing in the face of crop disease, changing climate conditions and other challenges. Among them was Mme. Philador.

We didn’t get to speak until the next day, when it came time to interview her and learn more about her story. We spoke through a translator – our Haiti Program Manager, Justine Poldor, who speaks Haitian Creole. Although I could not understand her words on my own, I remember Mme. Philador as soft-spoken. Quiet. Not boastful, but more matter-of-fact as she recounted to me an amazing success story.

Mme. Philador had been farming coffee since about 1991, the year she married her husband. Even though they both worked hard to produce good coffee, they didn’t make a good income from it. Middlemen with unfair pricing often saw more of the profits from their hard work than they ever did. That’s why Mme. Philador decided, in 2005, to join the St. Helene de Carice cooperative. The cooperative provided support and power in numbers against unfair pricing.

New Opportunities

Lionel Philidor, a member of the Sainte Helene coffee cooperative, examines a coffee seedling in her plant nursery in Carice, Haiti, June 17, 2015. She learned how to grow seedlings and begin the nursery through her cooperative, in partnership with RECOCARNO, (Réseau des Coopératives Caféières de la Région Nord) the Network of Northern Coffee-Growing Cooperatives, and LWR. (photo by Allison Shelley for LWR)

LWR provides support for the St. Helene de Carice cooperative through our local project with partner RECOCARNO, which is a federation of coffee cooperatives. Together we’ve been working to help farmers overcome a number of challenges, as well as get more support for coffee farmers from the Haitian government.

Up until the 1980s, coffee was a profitable export for Haiti. But over time,  changing climate conditions and other factors made it difficult to grow coffee in certain places. Leaf rust just made things worse. That’s a devastating, air-borne crop disease that attacks and kills whole coffee plants – plants that took three years to produce coffee in the first place.

As a member of the cooperative, Mme. Philador learned about all stages of the coffee production process, including seedling nursery management. The cooperative owns and manages its own nursery where farmers can purchase quality coffee seedlings to plant. Mme. Philador took part in a group of members who learned to manage the nursery – she liked this work very much.

Sometime after that, Mme. Philador learned that the Haitian government was in need of coffee seedlings to distribute to farmers as assistance. Now that she knew how to effectively start healthy coffee seedlings and manage a nursery, she thought why not go for it?

So she decided to produce coffee seedlings for the Haitian government – 25,000 seedlings to be exact.

It took the help of many people in her village to set up a nursery, start seedlings, ensure they got proper shading and nutrients, watering and maintaining them. It was a big job, but ultimately Mme. Philador did it – she produced 25,000 coffee seedlings which she sold to the government. Of the money she earned, she kept 40 percent of the earnings for herself, and the other 60 percent she shared among the people in her community who helped her.

Improving families, improving communities

Lionel Philidor, center in purple, a member of the Sainte Helene coffee cooperative, poses for a photo with her extended family on the porch of her new home, which she was able to build with the proceeds from selling coffee seedlings, in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, June 17, 2015. She learned how to grow the seedlings and begin a plant nursery through her cooperative, in partnership with RECOCARNO, (Réseau des Coopératives Caféières de la Région Nord) the Network of Northern Coffee-Growing Cooperatives, and LWR. (photo by Allison Shelley for LWR)

When she recounts that point, Mme. Philador smiles a big, broad smile. Up to then she’d had a polite, “it’s nice to talk to visitors” sort of smile. But this smile was different. It said so many things that can’t be said in any language. It spoke of her pride in what she accomplished, in what her community accomplished, and her desire to help others accomplish it as well.

In fact, that’s a point she stressed many times. She wants to help other women in her village and in the cooperative learn nursery management so that they can start their own businesses. Through her own efforts, Mme. Philador bought a house for her family down the mountain so that her children and grandchildren could have better access to education.

As I walked through Mme. Philador’s nursery and listened to her explain how she runs it, I was struck not only with the breathtaking mountain view around me, but of the meticulous care that goes into setting up a nursery. Some of her plants had been affected by leaf rust, but the cooperative is working to help by producing seedlings they believe to be disease resistant, and helping her and other farmers to grow alternative crops to diversify their income.

We finished our day with Mme. Philador in her new home, surrounded by her family. I could tell that she took pride in her family and what she has been able to provide for them through her hard work – hard work she was able to do through your investment.

This work touches – changes – lives. It empowers people to overcome their poverty, overcome challenges, and match your gifts to theirs to build better and more secure futures.

Mme. Philador thanks you for this support. I thank you for this support, which I was blessed to see with my very own eyes.

Around the world, every day, this is the kind of work your gifts make possible. These are the kind of success stories you help write.

Thank you.

All photos by Allison Shelly for LWR.