When I travel to Haiti, I want to do it all. I like to fill my days with experiences and make the most of my time in the country so when I saw a visit to Haiti Projects Beekeeping Project scheduled on my first day in Fond des Blancs, I was in. My enthusiasm for a new experience in a new part of Haiti overrode the part of my brain that should have been concerned about visiting the master beekeeper’s hives with a bee sting allergy.
Haiti Projects works with 50 villages in the southwest of Haiti around Fond des Blancs to empower women in rural Haiti to be self-sufficient. Women are the heads of almost half of the households in Haiti and are responsible for feeding, clothing, and paying school fees for their children but have few opportunities to earn income. The Haiti Projects Beekeeping Project provides women with the necessary training and tools to become successful beekeepers through an activity that has been practiced in southern Haiti for generations. On this particular morning we were going to visit Laroche, the master beekeeper who learned the practice from his brother.
Even on a January morning, the sun was intense as we headed out of town and down the main road in town that was dark upon my arrival the night before. We crossed the main intersection where the road turned to dirt and enjoyed a scenic mile walk through the lush green countryside, greeting those we passed with “bonjou,” or good morning in Haitian Creole.
Donkeys walked independently with baskets woven from palm fronds, passing us with their heavy loads as they made their way to market. A wild turkey spotted on the side of the road was must have felt as if was poultry royalty when we appeared like paparazzi for an impromptu photo shoot.
Somewhere along the way in between capturing photos of the peaceful scene before us, I remembered my allergy to bee stings and mentioned it to our group. It had been years since I had been stung and while I no longer carry an epi-pen, I thought they should know just in case. Good thing too because suddenly we were there. Through an opening in the spiky bushes was a golden field with trees whose shade cloaked the apiaries.
From a distance, the beehives were peaceful. Up close they were as busy as you’d expect them to be as bees flew in and out of the structures, working to build hexagonal honeycomb structures from wax and fill them with honey.
After a peek, Laroche brought the supplies necessary to check on the apiary. He held a bee smoker, a teapot-like device that held burning eucalyptus wood in the main chamber. According to the Honey Bee Conservancy, smoking bees sedates the bees by masking the pheromones that they use to communicate with each other to send signals to become aggressive. It also simulates a forest fire that causes them to return to the hive and eat the honey inside. With full stomachs, the bees go into a honey induced food coma and are also less likely to get angry and swarm.
With Brian and Daryce group suited up and armed with the bee smoker, they were ready to and assist Laroche in extracting a screen from the hive.
Each of the single decks of the bee hives contains ten screens. When the screens are full, a horizontal screen is put in place and another hive can be stacked on top to generate more honey. The horizontal screen keeps the queen out Some of the hives were double deckers with hives containing ten screens each stacked on top of each other.
In his work with the women who want to learn apiculture, or beekeeping, Laroche teaches practical skills of caring for their apiaries, including the importance of checking the hive every two weeks to ensure that it’s healthy and how to build upon the 5 single story hives provided by Haiti Projects. Upon successful completion of the training program, women involved in the Haiti Projects Beekeeping Project have the ability to decide what they want to do with the honey they produce and the by-products of beekeeping, such as the wax.
- Selling their honey and investing in more hives
- Personally consuming their honey
- Using the wax to make soap or candles
- Selling the wax
While the Beekeeping Project teaches apiculture, it also provides the additional benefits of independence and decision-making power through employment and job skills. Women are encouraged to form groups to learn and take care of their hives together but ultimately decide what works best for them, their family members, and neighbors.
So far 15 women have successfully completed the Beekeeping Project’s training program and are tending their own hives. Haiti Projects’ long term goals for the project include training, equipment, and education for least 50 women who want to care for bees and establishing 40 healthy beehives on the property of the members. Additional outcomes include educating 40 women how to process honey and wax as income generating by-products so each group will have one product to sell as a source of income.
Ultimately, Haiti Projects seeks to educate at least 500 people about bees and how this sustainable product contribute to the health of the environment. With only 2% of Haiti’s forest cover is intact, beekeeping teaches those involved that the environment is more valuable intact than when trees are cut down to be turned into charcoal briquettes.
After watching Laroche, Brian, and Daryce successfully extract a screen, we enjoyed Haitian honey flavored with local tropical vegetation like hibiscus, campeche, and grapefruit. Not only was it delicious, but I didn’t get stung thanks to Brian who made sure I prioritized my safety over the desire to take photos of our beekeeping excursion.
And like the bees who were subjected to the smoker, I left Laroche feeling the honey coma during my mile walk back to the center of Fond des Blancs!
About Haiti Projects
Haiti Projects’ diverse initiatives include beekeeping along with a clinic which provides family planning services to women at affordable rates, a library that serves as the area’s intellectual hub for children and community members, and the Women’s Cooperative providing needed employment and job development for over 80 local women. Unlike other charitable organizations working towards poverty alleviation, Haiti Projects aims to encourage economic self-sufficiency among women.
How to Support Haiti Projects Beekeeping Project and Other Initiatives
For more information about the Beekeeping Project and other initiatives, visit the Haiti Projects website or read my post: Traveling to Fond des Blancs, Haiti to Visit the Haiti Projects Community Library.
To support this nonprofit’s programs, tax deductible donations of any amount are accepted online through the Haiti Projects donation page. If you prefer to shop as a way to give back, the Haiti Projects online store features gorgeous hand embroidered products. Unfortunately no honey is available for online purchase quite yet!
There is also a continuous need for donated items such as digital devices like old cell phones for beekeepers, books in French to stock the library, and purses for women and girls participating in the Pad Project. If you have items and would like to send them to Haiti Projects to be sent to Fond des Blancs as part of their monthly shipments, you can send items directly to:
335 Water Street
Hanover, MA 02339
This is not a sponsored post. Haiti Projects paid my travel expenses in exchange for covering the library opening and sharing their initiatives on social media however, all luggage overages to bring donated items were personally paid for.