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Hope for Haiti

It’s difficult to read about Haiti without feeling heartbroken. The Caribbean country caught the world’s attention nearly three years ago when an earthquake killed thousands and left over a million Haitians homeless.

Haiti has suffered greatly from deforestation, with 98 percent of its original tree cover destroyed. Rife with mudslides, floods and soil erosion, the country is an environmental disaster in need of a hero. That’s where Chavannes Jean-Baptiste comes in.

Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian agronomist and founder of the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP), will speak at LCC Nov. 8 about his active role in the Haitian sustainability movement. A winner of the 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize, Jean-Baptiste and his group have planted more than 20 million trees, advocated for alternative fuel sources and brought sources of solar power to Haiti. 

He also aims to improve water quality in Haiti, where cholera continues to infest drinking water. “Nothing can move forward if people don’t have clean water to drink,” says Melanie Oommen, a pastor for the First Congregational United Church of Christ who helped organize the event.

Oommen says that Willamette University law professor Susan Smith arranged for Jean-Baptiste’s visit after her extensive volunteer work with him in Haiti. Since Smith and her church volunteers traveled to Haiti so often, they wanted to give Jean-Baptiste an opportunity to visit Oregon and spread awareness about the issues in Haiti.

“It’s an extraordinary opportunity to hear directly from Haiti,” Oommen says, “and it’s especially extraordinary to hear from an international leader on human rights and the environment.”

Jean-Baptiste will speak at 1 pm Thursday, Nov. 8, in LCC’s Center for Meeting and Learning, Room 226. He will also appear at 6 pm for a potluck and meet-and-greet at Oommen’s church. Both events are free and open to the public.