Sewanee’s annual spring break Outreach trip to Haiti provided the opportunity for students to meet with two global leaders in poverty alleviation: former President Bill Clinton and Dr. Paul Farmer. The Sewanee group served two locations in the country and at one of them, students and faculty had the chance to participate in lengthy sit-down sessions with these two leaders and advocates. (Photo, right, Clinton with students Jonathan Brenes Salazar and Kathleen Richter.)
Clinton was visiting Zamni Agrikol in Corporant, Haiti, one of Sewanee’s partner organizations. Our group was working in the area and was invited to meet the former president. Associate Professor of Biology Deborah McGrath was able to share her ideas for the future reforestation of Haiti with Clinton. The former president’s speech at the rural site was consistent with McGrath’s lecture earlier that week, reinforcing her scholarship and charging the group with the knowledge that they can make a difference.
McGrath is working toward a potential solution to the problem of Haiti’s deforestation: payment for ecosystem services, or PES. PES is a system whereby incentives are offered to land owners to manage their land for ecosystem services such as watershed protection, reduced erosion, and carbon sequestration. McGrath, recent graduate Keri Bryan (C’12) and a handful of current students have been doing extensive work with Zanmi Agrikol (Haitian Creole for “Partners in Agriculture,” a sister organization to Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health) to make PES a reality for the struggling farmers of the Haitian Central Plateau. Read more about the project here.
Physician Paul Farmer is co-founder of Partners in Health (PIH) of Boston and the Zamni Lasante healthcare complex in the central plateau of Haiti. His delivery of quality, first-world care to the poor of Haiti has modeled PIH’s approach in other nations, and is the subject of the book Mountains Beyond Mountains. Farmer is the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Adviser for Community-based Medicine and heads the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. His sister Peggy is a Sewanee community member, and accompanied the Outreach group. Paul Farmer spent an hour meeting with students, inquiring about their lives, motivations and academic interests, and speaking briefly about the status of Haiti’s future.