By Morgan Smith
Covenant Day School’s plan to find sustainable food for the people in Jeremie, Haiti is finally starting to come into view.
A team of seven adults and 11 upper school students from the Matthews private Christian school visited Haiti in early June where they installed the first aquaponics system for El Shaddai Ministries, a Haitian Christian nonprofit that operates about 30 schools with more than 6,000 students and about 10 children’s homes serving about 1,400 orphans. The system is meant to be a sustainable food production outlet, which involves growing vegetables and raising fish.
It’s the sixth year Covenant Day has partnered with the ministry, previously installing technology for some of the ministries’ schools, planting Maringa trees, buying goats and cultivating relationships.
But this year was different. The group was finally able to install the system they’ve been talking about for more than two years.
“The system simultaneously raises fish and plants in a closed system. The waste from the fish fertilizes the plants,” said Rusty Randles, a chemistry teacher at Covenant Day School and Haiti team leader. “The idea in Haiti, what we are really hoping for, is a means to provide them with a source of nutritious food in a sustainable development program.”
After months of research, last summer the school built an aquaponics system on their own campus as a trial run for what would be done in Haiti. Throughout the year, teachers like Randles, along with help from students, monitored the system, taking note on what works and what doesn’t.
“Pretty much anything we’ve planted has thrived,” Randles said. “Pretty much anything you would plant in a garden works — peppers, tomatoes, lettuce does really well. We are actually experimenting right now with root vegetables.”
Another team from Covenant Day visited Haiti in April where they were able to nail down some of the details for the aquaponics system, Randles said, including its location and what resources were available. By June, the second team was packed and ready to go, fully equipped with almost all materials, excluding gravel and piping, though there were some bumps in the road, like pipes not matching their fittings.
The team also worked with teachers at The School of Joy, near the location of the aquaponics system, to help train and encourage leaders who could incorporate the system into school curriculum and teach job training skills.
Randles added the system the group installed in Haiti doesn’t have the capacity to feed the entire school or orphanages yet, but like the system at Covenant Day, is an experimental project to ensure the system could be successful.
“It’s the kind of system that the people there will have to get involved with. It will only work if people get involved. We have to teach them how to use it,” said Rachael Snapper, a 2012-13 Covenant Day graduate who made the June journey to Haiti. This was Snapper’s second trip to Jeremie.
Snapper said after visiting the orphanages and schools, she understands the need for the system, as much of the food served lacks nutritional value. She said if Covenant Day has the opportunity to continue to help El Shaddai Ministries, especially on a larger scale, they should continue to grow the partnership.
And that’s exactly what they are doing. Randles said the school will start construction in July on expanding the school’s aquaponics system to learn how the method would work on a larger scale.
“We are actually in the process of expanding the system at Covenant Day … (quadrupling) the size of it to experiment with feeding larger groups,” Randles said, adding that with an increase in harvest, the school hopes to donate a lot of its produce to the nonprofit Matthews HELP Center.
Anne Fuller, a rising senior at Covenant Day, said the main concern, for now, is security of the system in Haiti. El Shaddai Ministries is working to get a fence, she said.
“Honestly, I do believe if we can get the security established, it could be very prosperous for the community,” she said. “I still came away with questions like ‘Did we do enough? Did we really make a difference?’ Our team is really trying to establish the long-term system … really helping the people to learn to help themselves.”