‘Here for the long haul’
By Donna Vickroy Sun-Times Media February 20, 2012 9:08PM
Updated: March 22, 2012 8:16AM
Last month, a chartered DC-6 airplane flew 62,000 fish from Fort Pierce, Fla., to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Their destination? The Zanmi Beni Children’s Home in Port-au-Prince, where relief organization Operation Blessings International has built a new tilapia farm.
The aquaculture facility aims to help feed its partnering children’s home while creating new industry and jobs.
“All the fish in Haitian restaurants today is imported because the waters here have been overfished,” project coordinator Tim Morton said. “We wanted to create new opportunities for Haitians to eat locally grown fish, while also teaching them how to farm them.”
The farm, which now consists of 25,000 fingerlings, is expected to have an estimated yearly output of up to 50,000 pounds, Morton said.
It will help fund the children’s home, which provides rehabilitation therapy and assistance to special-needs kids, some of whom are live-in orphans; others are brought to the facility for care by their parents on a regular basis.
The project challenges are incredible, but not insurmountable, Morton said. Supplies, particularly tools and parts, are difficult to find. The hot weather and rocky terrain also present obstacles.
Morton said project workers also are mindful of the benefits of recycling, something Haitians embrace not because it is politically correct but because it is essential. Fish waste will fertilize the nearby gardens. Moringa trees will provide important shade and supplemental fish food.
The grounds are an oasis of sorts, separated from the bustle and chaos of street traffic by just a 10-foot stone wall. Inside the iron gates, peacocks roam, chickens cluck and special-needs children find emotional relief through art and music.
While Haitians learn the tilapia operation, another side industry is being cultivated: an ornamental fish hatchery.
Boxes of angelfish, tiger barbs, swordtails and other freshwater aquarium fish also were flown down in the shipment. The plan is to create an ornamental aquarium industry.
The Operation Blessings project is in conjunction with Haiti’s National School of Agriculture. The objective is to educate young Haitians in aquaculture techniques, leading to aqua skills training and jobs.
Operation Blessings was founded in 1978 by philanthropist and businessman Pat Robertson. Under the direction of current president and CEO Bill Horan, the multimillion-dollar-a-year humanitarian organization provides disaster relief, medical aid, hunger relief and orphan care around the world.
“This is so critical, so crucial, what this could provide to this country,” Morton said. “We’re deeply invested in Haiti. We’re here for the long haul.”