Good News from Haiti

In a nearby country, perennially ranking one of the poorest in all the Americas, Haiti also sits near the top of the illiteracy list. Until recently, over 50 percent of her population lacked functional reading and writing skills. Yet powerful forces have been at work there since the turn of this century and in these two decades, close to a million Haitians have mastered their national language, French.

Just how did Haiti manage that?

Well, they’ve got good neighbors!

Cuba is only a couple of islands away and since 1999, sends out teams of literacy program trainers to many of the poorest populations on Earth. Over ten million folks in aboriginal Australia, Bolivia, Colombia, East Timor, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua and Venezuela have mastered their nations’ Lengua Franca after studying with volunteer literacy teachers trained by the Cuban facilitators.

This award-winning process is called “Yo Sí, Puedo” (“Yes, I can!”) and employs four months of visual and spoken language immersion, followed by four months of utilizing the new skills by studying and acquiring a primary level education. The final phase of this year-long tutelage sees the students forming Reading Circles, where the newly-literate consolidate and expand their fluency — many enjoying the fellowship of their “circles” for years to come.

In 2005, Venezuela won the UNESCO* designation of an “Illiteracy-Free Territory,” while East Timor took home that honor in 2012. These ‘little’ victories are good for us all, as the pen and the page are mightier than the sword. The *United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s constitution reads:

“Since wars begin in the minds of men and women, it is in the minds of men and women that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”

Hear, hear!

Switching It Up

I fled Los Angeles in 1971, just before the new Clean Air Act began “to turn the toxic tide,” rolling back the notorious smog layer that had rendered L.A. unlivable for me by that time. I first considered settling in central Arizona along the Verde River. [Happily, my destiny was to be New Mexico!] But recently, some news from the Verde valley caught my eye, so I will share it:

For 190 miles (many of them deemed “Wild & Scenic”), the Rio Verde harbors the epic Razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow — large, swift, Endangered fishes that once hunted others in free-flowing waterways from south California to southern Colorado. Yet the Verde, now designated a precious refuge for these dashing specimens is increasingly going dry in stretches. Not its normal rhythm, the Verde faces growing drought pressure, while over-allocated to seven large irrigation canals and nearly 900 groundwater wells (up from 250 in 1950).

This unsustainable trend grew until just four years ago, when a promising practice called “crop switching” took hold along the Verde’s irrigated green belt. Here’s the concept: since barley requires only half the water that’s needed to grow corn, and just a quarter of that required for alfalfa, venerable ol’ barley might be profitable if grown for the craft beer breweries which are popping up everywhere.

Additionally, barley only needs irrigation in the springtime to get it started — but not through the blast furnace of summer!

During the second year of this crop-switching initiative, 144 acres of barley produced 253,000 pints of lager & ale — and left 78.5 million gallons of unneeded irrigation water in the Verde. The following year, 2019, productivity rose to a million pints of beer. And water savings grew accordingly! New jobs were created at a cooperative malting operation, which prepares the barley for artisanal breweries across Arizona.

There’s a subtle, full-circle tilt to this story for me: my grandpa grew barley in Southern California, back when we could still see the mountains all around us. Twenty years later, I just had to flee.

So I love it that Rio Verde fields, one state over, are today green and gold with barley. Plus, I rejoice that once again, you can see las montañas rising above L.A. in that “Green & Golden State” of my birth!

A Great Lament

Suicide by firearm ends the lives of over 22,000 Americans annually, including more than one-thousand teens and children. Surprisingly, two-thirds of all gun deaths of humans in the U.S. are suicides. We average 61 per day across this land.

It goes without saying, but having countless firearms in unsteady hands is a tremendous public health crisis in America. I don’t think I will ever understand just what the 2nd Amendment is “protecting.”

Sources:, Nature Conservancy, Quixote Center, World Beyond War

Kathryn Albrecht, El Defensor Chieftain contributing columnist