HOPE works solely in the commune of Borgne, an agricultural and fishing community situated on Haiti’s northern peninsula. From a distance Borgne appears to be a picturesque seaside community with a beautiful beach, a river, and more vegetation than much of Haiti. Up close, it shows all of the struggles and suffering found amidst extreme poverty – with most people living right on the edge of subsistence.
The commune of Borgne belongs to the Departement du Nord/Northern Department and is 30 miles West of Cap-Haitien, the main city in Northern Haiti. It is roughly 100 square miles with a population of 80,000. The town of Le Borgne (Oboy), on the northern shore, is the administrative hub of the commune and its largest settlement with a population of 8,000. The village of Petit Bourg (TiBouk) is the second largest population center with 4,000 inhabitants and is centrally located in the heart of the commune. The commune is divided into seven rural districts, also referred to as communal sections. The majority of the population lives in remote villages called habitasyons. There are close to 250 such agglomerations which are further subdivided into lakou or extended family compounds. The commune is characterized by mountainous terrain, making it difficult for people to reach health services. For this reason, HOPE brings health service to people in the more remote areas through mobile clinics and mobile hospitals.
The realities of life in Borgne...
Most Borgne inhabitants subsist on less than $1 per day. Basic infrastructure is non-existent. Borgne’s population lives without electricity, running water, or telephone service. The few gas powered generators and solar panels that do supply the community hospital are used sparingly due to high fuel costs.
As in most of Haiti, the region is densely populated. Peasant families are engaged in individual subsistence agriculture or fishing. Borgne faces all of the challenges of extreme poverty – vulnerable to any disturbances to its fragile economy. Recent upgrades to the road between Cap Haitien and Oboy have greatly relieved the burden of transport - but it remains an isolated community; and the road beyond Oboy remains a rutted, dirt lane that is barely passable even in dry weather.
As a peasant community, Borgne has a network of leaders who are trained (animateurs) to provide direction and support in the habitations. Operating within a well-established structure linked loosely to the formal government, these leaders provide a resource for community development. Additionally, there are numerous local volunteer groups of educators, cooperatives and special interest committees (e.g. water committees, women’s groups, etc.).
Life expectancies are about half that of the United States, and infant mortality is at the levels of the poorest nations on the planet. The most common health threats include a variety of water-borne illnesses, Malaria, TB, Malnutrition, Parasites, HIV/AIDS, and infections. Women’s health needs are often overlooked such that children and working men are treated first with the limited resources available.
Borgne after the Earthquake...
Although not at the center of the January 12th, 2010 earthquake, like all of Haiti, the already fragile economy and health systems became completely overloaded. We received hundreds of injured and displaced people - many who had roots in Borgne but had moved to Port au Prince. As these victims came to Borgne they were met with open arms by the local population. With the rising food prices and shortages of medications, the strain remains on the community. H.O.P.E.'s earthquake relief programs cared for hundreds, many seriously injured and ill, and provided food, clothing and shelter during this crisis. The impacts will be felt for years to come - and our work is shifting to develop housing and new economic development opportunities for the displaced.