‘Building a Future for Haiti’: Moringa and Jaden Tap Tap Kuli Kuli in Haiti, Part 1

In April 2016, Kuli Kuli co-founders Lisa, Valerie, and Jordan, and a small group of supporters travelled to Haiti. Our goal: get to know the people who are directly affected by Kuli Kuli’s investment in Haitian moringa, and better understand how our partnership with the Smallholder Farmers’ Alliance (SFA) enables economic empowerment through moringa purchasing and social development programs. Before heading into the rural communities where our moringa is farmed, we stopped by Jaden Tap Tap in Port-au-Prince (Haiti’s capital). Below, the first of a two-part series about our trip.

- Leigh Biddlecome

Sitting under the shade of fluttering moringa leaves, it’s hard to believe that we’re on top of a former landfill, surrounded by the largest slum in the Western Hemisphere (Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince). And this is precisely the mind-bending power of Jaden Tap Tap — an urban garden providing a safe haven of sports, tutoring, and environmental education for children within the community, a respite from the difficulties that are just outside its doors.

Our visit was part of a wider effort on the trip to understand how Haitians are using moringa not only to boost nutrition but as an agent of change within communities. Walking through the gates, we were greeted with a warm welcome by the charismatic director Daniel Tillias. Behind him, a dozen boys were running soccer drills. Moving over to the garden side, we passed a few children who knelt amongst the moringa seedlings, carefully weeding; across from them, young moringa trees grew out of a cluster of repurposed car tires; in the midst of the garden, a blackboard had been placed in the shade, marked up with evidence of that afternoon’s math lesson.

Daniel explained how their inspiration to use moringa at the core of their work is part of a larger commitment to change the stereotype in Haiti that ‘everything good has to come from abroad.’ That way, he explains, ‘the kids see that a solution can exist that comes from within their own neighborhood.’ In practice, the program organizes math and literacy tutoring, computer classes, trains a soccer team that competes nationally — and to give back, participants work in the garden. Beyond planting and tending the plants, the directors have also developed creative ways to incorporate environmental and nutritional lessons into every aspect of the program.

As an example of this, Daniel eagerly led us around the corner to a wall, which, to our surprise, was painted top to bottom with a blown-up version of our very own Kuli Kuli moringa nutrition poster.

Beaming, he described how they’ve used this as both inspiration and a communication tool. Going one step further, they came up with the idea to number the backs of the soccer team’s t-shirts with moringa-specific numbers: so, #3 out on the field knows he represents the potassium-richness of moringa (3 times that of a banana) and #7 can tell his friends that moringa has, gram per gram, 7 times the vitamin C of an orange. As Daniel describes it, ‘the connection was really smooth for the kids to understand the benefits and possibilities of moringa through numbers.’

This boy's jersey explains that 'doliv' (moringa in Haitian Kreyol) contains amino acids to make you strong and healthy.

Before we left, a few staff members took us to the back entrance, opening the door to what lies just outside the garden walls: a river filled to its brim with trash, which flows down from higher elevations and lies only a few feet from where small children were playing and women were preparing food. The contrast to what we had just experienced inside Jaden Tap Tap was, to put it simply, stark.

Outside the doors of Jaden Tap Tap

It was moving to witness the trace of Kuli Kuli in the form of the moringa nutrition wall and the numbered jerseys, but also to see firsthand how Jaden Tap Tap has harnessed the power of moringa as a force for community building within a challenging context — an example that has spread to many small gardens that are now popping up across Cité Soleil. Before leaving that day, Daniel left us with a memorable statement on this power of diffusion: ‘This garden is key for building the future for this neighborhood, but also for Haiti.’

Leigh Biddlecome is a writer and storyteller for small businesses and nonprofits. You can read more of her work at www.leighbiddlecome.com

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Leigh Biddlecome
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