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5959: research and volunteering in Haiti (fwd)

From: Tara DePorte <taradeporte@hotmail.com>

[Tara is NOT a list member, please respond directly to her at the
address above this note.]  

Hello all,
I am currently a fourth-year student at the University of VIrginia majoring 
in a interdisciplinary studies called Human Impacts on Ecosystems (Biology, 
Environmental Sciences and Anthropology).  Recently, I have been engrossed 
in my thesis which concerns freshwater availability, land-use and 
man/environment interactions in Haiti.  As many of you can probably 
understand, as I have learned more about Haiti and her many amazing 
attributes, I have become more passionate about my research and about 
learning more about Haiti and her people.  I am emailing you in hopes that 
there may be some suggestions of people, organisations, places to travel etc 
who may be interested in similar issues, discussion or collaboration.  I am 
especially interested in suggestions on how to organize a research/volunteer 
trip for myself in January (if it is indeed safe for an American woman to 
travel there at this time). I am looking into travelling around the 5th or 
6the of January and am hoping to stay for 10-12 days.  Ideally, I would like 
to be able to deal with some if not all of the issues that I am studying.  
However, it is also very important to me that as a foreigner and as a 
person, I am not just 'taking' when I go to Haiti. I want to be a 
participant in whatever might be needed in the area that I travel to (rural 
areas, had been thinking of the Fondwa region, but am open to any 
suggestions).  I would love to participate in any needed volunteer groups, 
educational centers....THerefore, I may have an agenda, but that is simply 
so I don't go with no hopes of things to accomplish, it is not a set 
schedule or a must.
It is important to state that safety is a definite issues for me (as a woman 
traveling alone and as an easily picked out foreigner).  I would, however, 
be very interested in working with people from other organizations (of 
course if my research suits their interests) and do need to create an 
organized ( meaning that there is someplace where I will definitely be 
staying, transportation, etc), safe, effective trip.
To summarize what I am working on is difficult, because it seems all 
encompassing, but I will try. I am dealing with water availability in 
comparison to land-use trends and human population dynamics in Haiti (most 
data is the past 35 years or so but I would also like to incorporate 
historical land-use...colonial, etc). This is the purely scientific side of 
my research and I am using data from WRI, WDI, UNEP and others. THis data, I 
am currently organizing, running statistical analysis and create 
environmental modeling systems to mimic ecological flows affecting the 
Haitian water quality system. My plans are to then take this quantitative 
data and compare it with historical and cultural events. I am trying to 
educate myself in these subjects, but there is so much to look at. I am, 
however, very interested in rurual culture, women's issues, kinship ties and 
the role of the voudou religion throughout the country. To me, in order to 
look at environmental issues, it is crucial if not primary to understand 
social structures and the actual people involved. However, I do understand 
that as a foriegner, there is only so much you can understand about a 
culture that you are not a part of (I don't completely understand my own 
Additionally, I am looking at economic trends in Haiti, ie import/export 
trends and GNP, debt to foriegn countries. I think looking at economic 
situations is critical too. Environmental issues are difficult and all 
encompassing and it's easy to see how poor people would focus more on 
everyday survival rather than ecological trends (the rich, who have this 
liberty still often ignore environmental issues). Therefore, I would like to 
understand the actual Haitian people's view of their environment, how they 
want it and the extent they understand it.
To me, water issues are most eminent of all environmental issues. No living 
thing can survive without water, water quality is directly effected by other 
environmental sources of degredation (deforestation, industry, atmospheric 
pollution....), and in my mind freshwater is our world's most limiting 
resource. Without water, there can't be food. Without water, there can't be 
In Haiti, I would like to conduct a two-part project, both scientific and 
anthropological. Firstly, I would like to take actual water samples in 
different areas (rural and urban). Secondly, I would like to actually talk 
to Haitians in rural and urban areas (I would like to choose no more than 
two or three sites so I may become well informed) to see if A)people are 
concious or concerned with freshwater availability and quality b)what are 
some local, grassroots ways for environmental change c) who are the 
community 'leaders' (my understanding is that voudou leaders and 'groupmen' 
leaders in rural areas have a lot of ability to catalyse community-level 
action) and to d) get a more personalized feel for Haiti and her people.
I feel increasingly more passionate about my project the more I learn about 
your country and the more involved I get. I sincerely hope that I will be 
able to achieve many, if not most of my goals. I do, however, understand 
that this is a very large project and that I need help. I am not, nor can I 
be, and expert in all of these areas. If you, or anyone you might know, 
would be interested in this project, or similar ones, I would greatly 
appreciate it. Additionally, I would be interested in any grant information 
that you might now of available to research projects such as this. I am 
currently looking into those available through my university, but would be 
interested in outside sources as well.
I believe in an interdisciplinary approach to environmental issues and life 
itself. To me, one must put an emphasis on culture and social understanding 
before attempting to deal with issues of the environment and likewise, 
policy. This is, hopefully, a growing trend and one which I would like to 
follow throughout my life as and individual and as a professional.
If any of this interests you at all, please contact me with your comments, 
questions, advice.  As I said before, I am very open to any ideas.  Thank 
you very much for your help and the intriguing discussions I read everyday 
on this list.
Tara DePorte
University of Virginia
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