“Cooking With Love – This is My Haiti” – Carmene Alverbe
Jennifer Lang, Program Manager
Carmene Alverbe sits rolling Lebanese Kibi in bread crumbs, chattering away in Creole while running her hands down the red-and-white apron. The kitchen of the Hope for Haiti in-country headquarters is a place of constant activity and warmth, overseen entirely by Carmene.
Carmene left Cotes de Fer, a mountainous region of Haiti known for its rolling plains and charcoal production, for the city of Les Cayes—sometimes a five-hour drive due to muddy rains. After meeting current President Tiffany Kuehner, Carmene joined the Hope for Haiti team four-years ago and began sharing her legendary hospitality.
“What I do, well, I make people happy. I get to learn every day… new recipes, new styles of cooking, new ingredients. I still get nervous when I experiment. My favorite moment is when I try out a new dish, and a visitor compliments me.” Carmene has mastered Italian, French, American, and of course Haitian dishes, and her expansive repertoire is ever growing. At the time of this article, Carmene teaches a weekly cooking class for young students, runs a small business selling Haitian pastries, and plans to add juice-production to her enterprises—all in addition to her full-time role as Hope for Haiti’s Manager of Headquarter Operations. Moreover, Carmene sees potential in Haiti’s natural resources; a vision of Haiti’s growth in production through exports of fruits and canned produce.
Still, growing up, becoming a Chef never entered her mind. “My mother worked as a vendor in the market. Until my father died, she sold the leftovers from his work in the fields. Then, she would make small artisan crafts. So I learned business from helping her.” In a family of 9, Carmene became the primary caretaker after her mother developed debilitating stomach illness. “I really dreamed of being a nurse when I was a child because of my experience helping at home. Even after I entered professional school, I thought I would be a tailor or a seamstress; it took many years for me to find my passion.”
Carmene’s passion benefits all those around her. The Cooking School, supported by Hope for Haiti, was developed by Carmene to help teach young girls marketable skills. “The kids today, sometimes they have trouble listening to their parents. It’s easier now to forget traditions. By learning skills—skills that serve others, life has a stronger purpose.” Graduates of the program have found employment in Les Cayes’ various restaurants, opened their own businesses, improved nutrition in their households, and even joined the Hope for Haiti staff.
What’s next for the businesswoman who “doesn’t like to just sit at home?” Carmene dreams of bringing an upscale gourmet restaurant to Les Cayes. “The next step for me is learning service. I want to know how to make a great restaurant and all the traditions behind it. Learning what wines go with fish, what wines go with beef, how to serve the different dishes, how to make a comfortable refined atmosphere, I think that would be really interesting. Also, I want to learn how to decorate cakes – even bigger cakes than the ones I make now, like wedding cakes, with grand decorations all over in a very ornate style.” The Hope for Haiti staff is always thankful she lets us taste the menus she dreams up!
“To me, Hope for Haiti is family.” Our mission to serve others, especially through education, resonates with Madame Alverbe. “Many of the people I have met, visitors from all over the world, they don’t know Haiti’s history, how successful we once were. There are a lot of problems in my country, and it will take many years to build a new future, but education is the first step.”