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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sanitation, Agriculture, and Sustainable Development in Haiti (interview)
Leah Nevada Page is Development Director for SOIL: Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods.  SOIL provides essential ecological sanitation services for people in some of Haiti’s poorest neighborhoods, along with hundreds of people living in camps throughout Port-au-Prince who still lack permanent housing following the 2010 earthquake.

What’s the situation currently like in Haiti? What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in working there?

Haiti is an astoundingly beautiful country with a rich culture and a fascinating history. When many people think of Haiti they think first of the problems and the poverty, but after foreigners visit for the first time they often talk about the kindness, strength, and generosity of the people they meet here. Education is highly valued in Haiti and the country is rich in human capital. My main advice to people interested in coming to Haiti is to come with an open mind, ready to listen, and ready to learn.

How did you get involved with SOIL?

I came to SOIL for two reasons: the first is that I had a Haitian American friend who suggested that I visit Haiti as “it is the most beautiful country in the world”. The second reason is that I heard Sasha Kramer give a talk about her work with SOIL, and I was fascinated by the potential impact of supporting demand-driven sustainable sanitation.

Over 2.5 billion people around the world lack access to improved sanitation and the current sanitation technologies that we have are too costly and too water dependent to be easily or affordably scaled up. I believe that with a lot of creativity, collaboration, and high standards for success, we can develop sustainable business models that will meet people’s needs and demands while also improving public health and creating livelihoods.

SOIL brings together locals and foreigners, as well as “people educated in universities with those educated by the land.” How well does everyone work together?

SOIL currently has 67 staff members, all passionate experts in the fields of sanitation, business development and agriculture. Their dedication and goodwill gives me inspiration to keep going on difficult days. Everyone has something to contribute – from Excel skills to how to lead engaging sanitation workshops – and we continually work with each other to respectfully improve the capacity of everyone on the team.

People can get involved in SOIL by joining the conversation on our Facebook and Twitter pages and checking out the volunteer opportunities on our website.

How does SOIL work with other organizations?

SOIL is particularly dedicated to working with local, community-based organizations in the neighborhoods that we serve. By working through existing networks we believe we increase our impact and improve our long-term relationships with a community.

We also wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the strong partnerships and collaborations we’ve developed with organizations from Haiti and around the world that provide us with guidance, advertise our services, jointly apply for funding, and help us increase the scale and quality of our impact.

What does “mindful teaching” mean to you? Do you have a mindfulness practice, and if so, how does it help you in your work?

To me being mindful means being intentional, humble, and respectful. I deeply believe in the potential for positive transformation over time as I feel I learn something new every day and I love to imagine that someday I’ll think everything is a funny, loving delight.

I also have begun to notice that with every year that passes I become more impressed about how the basic things we learn in our quest to be good humans (kindness, generosity, respect, humility) are most definitely not learned in university or in a sky rocketing career trajectory but rather are there from the beginning if we only are able to pay attention to them.


related posts:

Work of the Heart, for the Heart, and for the People of Haiti (interview)

Ending the Book Famine in Africa (interview)

Reproductive Health Services and Education in Africa (interview)

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