New Haitian school under strain as earthquake victims find refuge in Key Biodiversity Area
Since 2007, BirdLife has been working with the Société Audubon Haïti (SAH) to develop sustainable livelihood strategies for the communities in the southern buffer zone of the Macaya National Park, building on the results of socio-economic use and impact studies. Severe poverty in these remote communities has resulted in the unsustainable use of the region's natural resources.
The Massif de la Hotte is a mountainous area in south-westernmost Haiti. The region's forest has been reduced to a patchwork of remnants, but it remains one of the most important places in the world for the conservation of globally threatened plants and animals – 42 globally threatened species occur there, including 13 Critically Endangered (mostly amphibian) species that are endemic to these mountains. The Macaya National Park – within the Massif de la Hotte Key Biodiversity Area – is home to one of the few known breeding colonies of the Endangered Black-capped Petrel Pterodroma hasitata (the focus of recent studies by the Vermont Center for Ecostudies), and a diverse range of other globally threatened and restricted-range birds.
Formon is the main locality in the southern buffer zone of the park. Its school – the only school within a six hour walk – ran out of funding and was closed in 2000. This left the majority of the community's children, particularly girls, without the benefit of a formal education. The few families that could afford it sent their boys to school in another town.
Recognising that a basic education for children is a key component of a prosperous and sustainable future, SAH worked with locally-based NGO Fondation Macaya and the local community to renovate the Formon School, furnish it and staff it with eight teachers. The kids of Formon went back to school in October 2009, and currently 214 children from over 150 families attend class.
"Some parents in Formon are telling us that their children are refusing to take agricultural produce to the market as they don’t want to miss attending school! Re-establishing the Formon School has had a huge, positive impact and is a real source of pride for this remote community" —Jean Vilmond Hilaire, Société Audubon Haïti
"Some parents in Formon are telling us that their children are refusing to take agricultural produce to the market as they don't want to miss attending school! Re-establishing the Formon School has had a huge, positive impact and is a real source of pride for this remote community", said Jean Vilmond Hilaire, Executive Director of Société Audubon Haïti.
This project is part of a broader integrated conservation and development program being implemented by BirdLife in collaboration with Nature Canada (BirdLife co-Partner) and with funding from the Aage V Jensen Charity Foundation, USFWS-Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, Naomi Lupka Trust and the Government of Canada through the Canadian International Development Agency. As a result of this broad approach, 80% of parents who cultivated land within the adjacent forest are reported to have abandoned their activities since the school in Formon was reopened. The tell-tale signs of smoke from charcoal production and forest clearance for planting new crops have not been seen since July, and a notable recovery in natural vegetation is visible around Formon and nearby Durand.
Six weeks on from one of the most devastating earthquakes the world has ever known, people are fleeing the chaos and destruction in and around Port-au-Prince to find refuge in rural areas away from the epicentre. The 12 January 2010 earthquake had no immediate material impact within the Massif de la Hotte. However, the aftermath is starting to be felt with people arriving in the remote communities around the Macaya National Park. The Formon School committee has already received more than 20 requests for displaced children to be integrated into just four grade classes that are already full and for which teaching and class materials are in limited supply. The fear is that this influx of people could reverse or set back the advances being made in Formon. BirdLife is now working with SAH, Nature Canada and others to find ways to expand the capacity of the school to accommodate earthquake victims, and also – importantly – to prevent any negative impacts the refugees may have on the critical biodiversity of this unique area.
Please help us increase the school's capacity