Literally getting his hands dirty for the past five years, it’s not hard to smile when working with agronomist Michel Jean-Duquais. Arriving at the office on a motorcycle or in a flatbed truck filled with watering cans, Michel always greets everyone, from Hope for Haiti office staff to the farmers in his gardens, with a big smile.
Michel, 39 years old, was born in Grand-Anse, near Jeremie (in southwestern Haiti) to a farming family. Without many memories of his own father, Michel opens up on the importance of not only being a father, but on being a good role model and why education should be a priority. “A good father has to think about his family, to have a job and encourage his children to go to school, give them food, send them to the hospital when they are sick, and play with them, too.” He is the father of Michel Domingue Olivert, 7 years old, Michel Rose Cassandre, 4 years old and Michel Rose Irlande-Hilary, 3 years old who live together with Michel’s wife in Les Cayes, Haiti. Sharing the same infectious smile as them, it’s apparent that Michel is devoted to his children.
“What do I hope my children learn from me? I would like to tell them to appreciate people; so when people do something good- they congratulate them. Share things with people who need help, be respectful, and like to work!”
Michel is no stranger to working the Haitian land. “When I was growing up, I saw my parents and neighbors working on the land, planting bananas, coffee, and potatoes. If you want to have food, to feed your children or your nation, you have to work the land. It’s not a surprise, it’s an obligation,” said Michel when describing the sacrifices parents must make for their children and also on what led him to become an agronomist. Mr. Duquais is part of Hope for Haiti’s Sustainable Communities team and focuses on agriculture and reforestation in Southern Haiti. Michel thinks that Hope for Haiti’s work is important because in a poor country like Haiti, “most people cannot send their children to school or send them to a hospital when they are sick. Hope for Haiti has reforestation programs, which contribute to rebuilding the country. This is important in Haiti, especially in Les Cayes.” Michel believes it is important for him to give back by showing people how to plant and take care of the land so they, too, can have food for their children.
In Haiti, many people still cut down trees to make charcoal, which means that there are not enough trees to conserve the soil. When it rains a lot, much of the soil goes to the sea because there are no roots to protect the soil. Trees are essential to helping plants grow.
Michel notes: “I think the nursery is a huge thing Hope for Haiti does for the community. Without the trees we help grow, people cannot live or grow anything. The trees protect the animals and give food for people. They collect water to keep the soil healthy. And most importantly, people breathe well with more trees.”