Haiti: A Look Ahead

Vancouver-based Forward Edge International plans for ‘lasting solutions’ in quake-ruined country

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter



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Since an earthquake devastated Haiti two years ago, volunteers from Vancouver-based Forward Edge International have built 82 homes, distributed 316,000 pounds of food, and removed 9,151 tons of rubble; more than 300 medical professionals have been sent to care for the sick and injured.

In the two years since Haiti was devastated by an earthquake, a Vancouver-based organization has been working to help disaster victims recover.

On the second anniversary of the earthquake, Forward Edge International looked back at what its donors and volunteers have done since the capital of Port-au-Prince was devastated on Jan. 12, 2010.

But as its name might indicate, the organization also is looking forward. This week, the head of the nonprofit discussed plans for what he called lasting solutions that will assist communities long after disaster-response teams have left.

And that means jobs, said Joe Anfuso, the president and CEO of Forward Edge International. In a country where the unemployment rate is more than 70 percent, jobs can help people move beyond temporary fixes.

There is nothing fancy about the job opportunities Anfuso is talking about; they’re based on concepts as common as a fried egg and a plastic Pepsi bottle.

Forward Edge is collaborating with Haitian partners in two business fields — breeding chickens and recycling plastics.

The faith-based organization is helping fledgling Haitian entrepreneurs start their own chicken-breeding businesses, providing training and start-up money.

“A number of them have started family-run chicken farms,” Anfuso said. “We also provided money for a commercial farm outside Port-au-Prince with 8,000 birds.

“In addition to providing jobs, eggs provide the least expensive form of protein to the local population. They import a million eggs a day from the Dominican Republic, so this is a tremendous opportunity,” said Anfuso, who was the keynote speaker at Clark County’s annual prayer breakfast in October.

Forward Edge hopes to get a plastic-recycling business off the ground in the next two or three months, Anfuso said.

“We’re partnering with a 30-year old Haitian company. It will set up kiosks in converted shipping containers. People can bring plastic to collection centers, where it’s compressed and weighed; they’re paid based on weight and the type of plastic.”

Eventually, the plastic winds up in Texas, where it’s converted into things like lawn furniture.

“The beauty is, there is an endless supply of discarded plastic everywhere,” Anfuso said.

“You drive in Port-au-Prince and look to the side of the road, and the whole area is covered with bottles and other forms of plastic, several feet deep. People build shacks on top of plastic. It’s not only a job for an entrepreneur: It’s a job for anybody who can collect plastic.”

Another organization — Samaritan’s Purse, run by the son of evangelist Billy Graham — has already shown that Haitians can make money at it.

“They have their first six kiosks up and running in Haiti. We hope to be the second group to do this,” Anfuso said.

While the focus is on creating jobs, Forward Edge will continue to mobilize volunteers for person-to-person outreach. About 850 volunteers — who pay their own way — have been sent on short-term assignments in Haiti in the two years since the quake. That pace won’t change, with about 400 short-term volunteers projected for 2012.

The past year has included a tactical shift for Forward Edge. While marking the first anniversary of the disaster, Anfuso was hoping to get involved in community development.

“We had a vision of sustainable communities,” he said. “An engineering ministry looked at the site, and the plans for businesses, schools and housing. They penciled it out, and we were talking about multimillion-dollar projects: more than the funding available.

“And there was a concern that if we build permanent housing for people who can’t support themselves, we’re potentially creating slums,” he said. “Two years out, and maybe we would have hoped to see more accomplished in community development. But things are different than we thought initially.

“We shifted our focus to job creation,” Anfuso said. “It’s a slower process, but we believe this is the right emphasis.”