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The Beginnings

From Executive Director: Betsy Wall


One spring month in 1969, my father plucked me from my grade eleven class at Rockway Mennonite School in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada to take me on a whirlwind trip to Haiti, that “poor sister of the Dominican Republic.” Even then, Haiti was viewed as a destitute, diseased dictatorship, ruled by the self-imposed, president-for-life, Papa Doc Duvalier and his infamous private army, the Ton Ton Macoutes. But to my father, Haiti was “The Pearl of the Antilles,” a country that held intrigue and promise.


An American business colleague of his had invited him to visit a hospital, in the capital city of Port au Prince that treated children with tuberculosis, a disease of the lungs. It was an ominous first visit that resonated with my father’s life-long affliction with asthma and a commitment made as a young adult.

Although he had poured his phenomenal energy into mobilizing the first nation-wide inoculation program against TB in the seventies, my father decided this was not where Haiti’s problems would be solved. He was a guy who liked to get to the root of the problem. He imagined the solution to be in the rural countryside where most of the population lived. In 1980, he took out a charter with a mandate to “help the poorest of the poor become masters of their own destiny.” True development,” he theorized, “must be envisioned by the people, owned by the people, and managed by the people. If not, it will surely fail.” This vision was completely antithetical to the traditional mission model of helping, healing, fixing, saving, those deemed poor and needy…


In September 1984, my parents sold most of what they had, packed away the rest, and moved to Haiti. They rented a house in the capital city about ten minutes from the airport. It had enough rooms that my mother thought she could make a living by hosting foreign visitors. My father was on a mission to find out what could be done to improve the economic lives of the poor. They were 60 years old. They would spend the next fifteen years of their lives there.


While I generally viewed my father as a patient man, this was less exhibited when he had a vision of achieving something. He was one that preferred to make his own line rather than stand in line. In 1984 in Haiti, that short line, or “no line,” was agriculture. The international community attitude toward Haiti at that time can best be summed in Paul Farmer’s book, The Uses of Haiti. The eighties were witness to a strategic and systematic undermining of Haiti’s agricultural sector primarily by the influx of heavily subsidized rice with enforced low tariffs and the nationwide slaughter of the Krèyol pig on suspicion of carrying the African Swine Flu that may potentially infect the US pork population.  It was an historic dismal failure. Haiti, once the richest colony in the Caribbean, and less than 50 years prior was able to feed its people, was now 70% dependent on food imports. “A country that cannot feed itself,” said my father, “will forever be poor.”

In 1999, my father announced he was retiring, and I became the heir apparent.

At the time FIDA was providing resources to Haitian men and women who were motivated to become invested shareholders in their own cooperative agricultural enterprise as governed by the Seven International Principles of Cooperative. My career at the time was in marketing and advertising. Like my father, I, too, liked solving problems. The first two problems that I was seeing in Haiti were this:


  1. The negative impact of international missions and NGOs in Haiti. This country is not poor for lack of money. Poverty was (and is) its commodity. Nothing sells like poverty, disaster, and disease… particularly if presented through the eyes of a child. Even by this time, the “Pearl of the Antilles” now had the epitaph, “The Republic of NGO’s” where an eventual 10,000 reportedly existed in some form on a half island the size of Maryland. In a university forum in Waterloo, Ontario, some years ago, when asked “why is Haiti poor?”, my Haitian colleague responded, “I am poor because you tell me I am poor.”

  2. The great impediment of adult illiteracy. I will state unequivocally that among the many challenges that face Haiti, illiteracy is one of the greatest obstacles of the poor. Illiteracy is a condition that impedes all human development. It is the one true obstacle to social and economic empowerment. This is no more obvious than in Haiti.


So, the first order on my agenda was to change our name in Haiti to NOT position ourselves as an international organization but to establish FIDA as a locally registered not-for-profit with a name that reflected exactly what we did… productive cooperatives Haiti (pcH). This move has proven over time to be our greatest strength and security in navigating difficult times.


There is no greater confirmation of our purpose here in earth than to know that in some corner of the world, there is a more peaceful, productive community because of you. Indeed…. “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid…” (Micah 4: 1-5)

FIDA Canada is a fully registered charitable organization: BN 13365 2768 RR0001

FIDA USA is a fully registered 501(c) 3 non-profit organization: US EIN # 47-2300976

productive cooperatives Haiti (pcH) is a fully registered Haitian non-profit organization: #B0307

© 2024 FIDA/pcH

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