Critical food aid program ending in Haiti

By Mydrène François   |  June 19, 2012 at 9:29 AM
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JÉRÉMIE, HAITI – Martha Joseph, 23, is a mother of two in Jérémie, a commune in the Grand’Anse department of Haiti. Because of chronic unemployment in Haiti, she and her husband haven’t been able to find jobs to support their two children. As a result, hunger visited them daily. Joseph says there were even days when they did not eat at all. But thanks to a food aid program that began in 2012, the family can now pick up groceries at a local store. Joseph registered for the program, called the Grid Resource Registration Project, in December 2011. She signed up at a house run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, who gave her a card in February, which qualified her to start receiving food for her family. Joseph obtains food at a store in downtown Jérémie. The owner of the store, Felinne Ditery, says that food has been distributed here three times under the internationally funded program. Joseph says that she can’t choose which items to take home, but she has been very happy to receive the food. There are no longer days in which she and her family don’t eat. But the six-month program is nearing its end, and many worry how they will feed their families. A food aid program has been reducing hunger for thousands of families in Haiti. Families say they are grateful, though some enrolled in the program cite kinks such as not receiving food. But now, as the end of the short-term project looms, beneficiaries and administrators are asking how those enrolled will be able to eat afterward. Beneficiaries ask for entrepreneurial trainings as a more long-term solution instead of more food aid. Willy Aly, of the Direction de la Protection Civile in Haiti, says that the food aid program is a partnership between the agency and the Catholic Relief Services, an international humanitarian agency. The agency administers and international sources fund the emergency program, which is part of the Aba Grangou or Down With Hunger movement initiated by first lady Sophia Martelly. CARE is responsible for providing the food aid to 12,000 families in nine communities. Catholic Relief Services covers thousands of other families in three communities. U.S. Agency for International Development also provides support, and Digicel, a cell phone company, enables participating stores to receive the funds for the food through its mobile money feature. From September 2011 to December 2011, the Direction de la Protection Civile, Catholic Relief Services and CARE conducted a survey to identify the elderly, cholera victims, pregnant women, people living with HIV, widows and victims of Hurricane Tomas in 2010. All of these people then received a card, which allows them to receive food at participating grocery stores. The card enables beneficiaries to receive 2,000 gourdes ($50) worth of food aid once a month for six months. They can go to any participating grocery dealer and obtain food such as rice, oil, oats, flour, Maggi cubes, spaghetti, corn, beans, sweet potatoes, plantains and breadfruit. Castin Michel, 27, says the program is helping him to feed his family. "I am happy with this aid,” he says. He used to earn a living as a mason, but he hasn’t been able to find any work lately. “My wife just had twins, so this food is helping us a lot,” he says. Fabiola Justin, 22, agrees. “The program is good for me,” she says. “It helps me feed my kids. My husband drives a motorcycle taxi, but he makes very little money with that." Manouchka Richard, 21, can relate. Her husband also drives a motorcycle taxi.

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