VoicesfromHaiti: For those who do not know who Leonie Hermantin is, how would you describe yourself?
Leonie Hermantin: I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt. My core has everything to do with my relationship with the women in my life. This is what gives me the strength to do what I do. These women are, in a sense, my launching pad. I am who I am because my mother has taught me that we are a great people. I am the product of my environment.
I am Deputy Director for the Lambi Fund of Haiti, a not for profit organization whose mission is to support members of Haiti’s rural community. We don’t believe in the hand-out type of charity. We provide assistance to those seeking to create sustainable lives with dignity. I have been involved with Haiti most of my adult life. I have always been engaged in working for Haiti. Prior to the Lambi fund, I worked in the Haiti Neighborhood community Center inMiami. I always welcome the opportunity to work in Haiti.
I have always been engaged in work that supports the country where I was born and raised. I have lived in the United States for the past forty years, but my work is focused on supporting Haitian people
The Lambi Fund supports women effort. We fund, for example, the construction of grain mills. We support efforts that help the community to help itself long after we leave.
An organization may say to us “We grow corn; however, in order to make money, we have to ground the corn into mayi moulen. And in order to take the corn from the field to the meal table, we must walk for miles on dark, unsafe roads. Can you provide us with the support to build a mill for ourselves?”
Our staff in Haiti would assess the feasibility of the project. We would look to see if the organization’s own members have the capacity and the potential to maximize on our assistance. Once we determine that it is a project we can support, we fund the effort.
Prior to distributing money, however, we provide training. We teach how to manage the project. We want the people to succeed, considering reports have to be made to us to demonstrate how the funds are spent.
Once we provide the training and the funds are disbursed, the Lambi Fund releases the responsibility to implement the project. The community supervises the construction of the grain mill. They talk with the construction people. They contribute some construction material. They are part of the process—from beginning to end. They are an integral part of the project’s implementation. We do not stay around forever. We stay with the community for two years. We believe the best gift we can give is the ability for men and women to learn how to create sustainable means for themselves. We want them to continue to earn a living with dignity long after we moved on. We are here to make an investment in their future. That is how the Lambi Fund works.
We believe in the dignity and potential of the Haitian people. We believe in their ability to know for themselves what they need in order to get out of poverty. We cannot tell them what is good for them. We can support their effort to improve their lives. Ultimately, they make the final decision about how to pull themselves out from poverty. Our humble job is to support that.
I am proud of our staff in Haiti. Many of them come from the city. They go to the rural communities and get each job done in phenomenal ways. It takes a lot of stripping away of prejudices and pejorative ideas that are attached to being a peasant. But our staff in Haiti respects the community members with whom they work. Our staff in Haiti is a huge part of the solution.
VoicesfromHaiti: Where do you see Haiti about ten years from now?
Leonie Hermantin: You have to look at Haiti on different levels. I really can’t speak of the Haiti that is influenced by the International community and the global landscape. I really cannot speak of that because that Haiti remains very unclear to me. I wish I could say that I see Haiti emerging out of its current status. I wish I could tell you that I foresee a Haiti where all children receive a good education. I can’t say that.
What I can say is that the determination of the Haitian people to improve their lives will remain as deliberate as it is today. Whoever will be in power at that time will have to reckon with the Haitian’s people’s determination to thrive.
In ten years, Haitian people will continue to make all the effort to give their children the best possible education. They will continue to do the best they can to provide for their families and their future.
VoicesfromHaiti: What do you say to those who suggest that Haiti might be better off under another (more powerful) country’s control?
Leonie Hermantin: In a de facto way, Haiti has been turned over to outside forces. But they have failed to listen to the Haitian people.
We Haitian-Americans are also guilty of thinking we know what is best for the people on the island. We think the experts know all that is best. We think the ones with the degrees on their office walls have the answers. That is not always the case. We have to amplify the voices of those who know what is best for their own families. That is what we do at the Lambi Fund: we listen.
Listening is part of the solution. We have to change our definition of who and what matters most in Haiti. We have to listen to the Haitian people’s voices.