Training ApiaryHives For Haiti: Becoming Redundant

by Ailsa Rose, volunteer

How do you keep helping when all the helpers have gone home?  David Macdonald couldn’t stop asking himself this question.

In 2012, David was part of an expedition to Haiti – the group brought food and aid to survivors of the devastating earthquake of 2010.  It was an amazing journey which instilled in him a great love for the Haitian people, but left him with one big question:  What would happen to these people when the volunteers went home?

Many NGO’s struggle with this problem – Aid can only last as long as the people providing it do. When the time comes, and volunteers have to leave, the help they provided leaves with them. David, along with his friend and fellow traveler Brian Coombs, wanted to break this cycle.

How do they do it?  Beekeeping.

David Macdonald is an experienced beekeeper, and Apiary Inspector for the Government of British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture. He has the knowledge of 6 beekeepers (in my opinion, if not officially), and boy oh boy is he ready to share. Haiti, on the other hand, had no beekeepers. Locals would smoke out wild hives and rob their honey. No one, that Brian and David could track down, was actually KEEPING bees.  No one was tending them, no one knew how to work them – it was an untapped market. And thus, Hives for Haiti (H4H): a non-profit organisation bringing the people of Haiti the skills and tools required to create their own livelihood, was born.

The project of bringing beekeeping, as a source of income to impoverished Haitians, began right away. By 2013, David and Brian actually found one Haitian “bee-haver” named Ojene. Incidentally, a beekeeper manages their bees. A bee-haver provides a home for bees, and takes honey, but doesn’t manage them. Usually this is because they don’t have the knowledge to manage their stock.

This Haitian bee-haver discovery would set them back, however, because some of Ojene’s bees were Africanized.  Africanized bees are aggressive – “spicy”, as David likes to call them.  In Canada, we don’t have to deal with these angry little buzzers, but they have recently moved into Haiti and elsewhere, and are making themselves right at home.  With little to no experience handling this difficult type of bee, Brian and David, covered in stings, were forced to return to Canada and re-tool their ideas to accommodate this unexpected challenge.

Forward to 2015 and things are well under way.  Garry, a Haitian translator and aspiring beekeeper, has travelled to Canada with David to train and learn “the language of bees” (to be an effective instructor in Haiti’s own language Haitian Creole).  Beehives are being built, knowledge is being shared, everyone is hard at work to make the dream a reality. While they’re working, let’s examine that dream.

“We want to be redundant.” -David Macdonald

We circle back to the beginning – how do you help people when the helpers have all gone?  Brian and David didn’t want to just travel down to Haiti and give people bees; yes, that would provide for a few people, but it would depend on their supplies, their presence! The core concept behind H4H is to eventually not be needed at all. A truly self-sustaining program, to the point that if we suddenly disappeared, it would keep going.

They didn’t just make beekeepers. They made teachers.

Today, H4H runs independently from any outside influence. With the Bee Programs and honey sales on “cruise control”, Brian and David have had the opportunity to add projects such as their Permaculture Class. This class has proven to be key in sustaining a healthy ecosystem for bees in an otherwise devastated environment. They are also working on a Youth Program and a Women’s Initiative.  Locals are manufacturing and selling their own beekeeping equipment, and Hives for Haiti is even paying the tuition and wages of a young Haitian apprenticing as a metalworker – he will soon be making Bee Smokers to supply all of Haiti. A bee smoker is a metal canister stuffed with combustible materials to ignite, allowing it to smoulder. When the beekeeper needs to move some bees off of a surface, or get them to calm down, they apply a little smoke by squeezing the bellows.

Of course, David still works tirelessly raising money to help fund their efforts. But he does all this to expand on the programs already in place and thriving. On David’s last trip to Haiti in 2018, he met a beekeeper who had learned from a teacher, who had learned from a teacher, who had been a student in one of their earliest classes. That young man is now teaching others these valuable skills – the knowledge is being shared, just as the founders of Hives for Haiti hoped!

The programs run by Hives for Haiti work with local Haitian supplies, not imported items that might not be available in a local economy. They employ Haitians to build and teach, rather than flying down volunteers; thereby supplying jobs and livelihoods to locals rather than spending resources on bringing in outsiders. Their admin fees are 0%! All donations go directly to Haitians in need; supporting them in the continuance of their journey to self-sufficiency.

If that’s not sweet as honey, I don’t know what is.

Editor’s note: For further information, you may reach out to David on their website Hives For Haiti.