How to prevent and treat cholera

Many thanks to Mark and Monika at for providing advice on how cholera works, water filters and rehydration. We have compiled info on natural soaps, moringa filters and sanitation from a number of sources. Please forward this info as it could save lives! If someone wishes to translate to Kreyol, I will post it!

Here are some simple methods, which anyone can use, to prevent and treat cholera.


• Cholera does not kill directly; you die from the dehydration that intense diarrhea inflicts.

• People with cholera-induced diarrhea pass many gallons of water a day.

• You get cholera from eating tiny amounts of poop from someone who has it. It is not airborne. That’s why clean water and effective sanitation, and hygiene keep it from spreading in “developed” countries. Cholera can survive in standing water and can be transmitted in bilge water of ships and other water sources. It is essential to filter or otherwise decontaminate water before using it.

• Cholera spreads more during the rainy season. As water sweeps through villages and other settlements, it takes the pathogen to rivers, lakes and streams where it can survive and spread. Most people get cholera from contaminated water, not directly from other people.

• 80% of the people with cholera have no symptoms! Imagine how hard it is to stop when people are traveling all over Haiti without symptoms. Even if you quarantine those with symptoms, there are a lot more people spreading it that feel perfectly healthy – like the one that traveled to Florida last week.

• Cholera does its deed very fast. There are many reports of people getting symptoms in late afternoon and dying before morning. Most deaths are within two days of the onset of symptoms.

• If you can quickly get water back into the blood, most of the people with cholera-induced diarrhea will live. A percentage will survive even without treatment – this is especially true if you are healthy and eat a good diet.


• Human waste must be kept from entering any water supply. That would include wells, other groundwater, streams, lakes, ponds and rivers. It can continue to live in most water once it gets into the supply. The diarrhea caused by cholera is very runny and if not contained, can easily end up in a water supply somewhere. Fish and shellfish can carry cholera and must be thoroughly cooked.

• If there are no sanitary latrines in the area, dig emergency latrines immediately at least 30 meters from any water supply and ensure it is not in marshy ground nor does it penetrate the water table. Ensure all people use the latrine. Cover human waste with dried grass, soil or other brown organic material after each use. While you are building a latrine, make sure that all human waste is buried so that flies cannot access it and it cannot run into water supplies when it rains.

• A better solution than a pit latrine is to find out how to use a compost toilet and use fully composted human waste as fertilizer (correctly done, composting kills all pathogens). Here’s one method being used in Haiti successfully – Cite Soleil:

• Flies can spread cholera. It is important to keep food covered to prevent them from transmitting cholera. Flies are attracted to garbage and human waste, so keep garbage far away from food, and cover it if all possible. Ideally, toilets will be sealed so that flies cannot enter into them. The seating area can be sealed so that when the lid closes, flies cannot get into the toilet area. It is well worth taking the time to do this to keep the fly population down as they spread many types of diseases in the tropics.

• Create a “tippy-tap” to wash hands in after using the latrine, and educate people how to use it. A tippy tap is a large plastic jug and a soap container filled with water and hung next to the toilet. A foot pedal allows one to put soap and water on one’s hands without touching either bottle. Washing hands after going to the bathroom is vital to preventing spread of cholera

o If you don’t have soap, you can make some from the moringa plant:

o Yucca root can also be used as soap – just put some of the root directly in the water bottle that you are cleaning your hands with, shake it up, and remove root. The saponins in the root are what create the soap quality.

o Soap nuts can also be used as soap – boil a few nuts in water, pour in a jar and then seal the jar tightly – it will spoil after a bit.

o The fruit, leaves and bark of Acacia concinna can be dried and made into a soap paste – used in India for centuries as soap and shampoo.

• Contaminated clothing, bedding, etc (that human waste has gotten on), must be buried or boiled. Solarizing it (heating it up in the sun) can also kill cholera.

• Cooking food will kill cholera. Shellfish should be cooked at 160 degrees F or higher for at least 10 minutes. If the bacteria is not killed in the food, it will multiply rapidly as the food cools.

• Filter and disinfect all water before using it to drink or wash vegetables or dishes. This is vital to prevent spread of disease as it is very difficult to keep the germ out of the water supply especially in the rainy season. Any water that could end up in the mouth should be treated, including water used to wash vegetables.

• How to disinfect water:

o Place water in clear plastic bottles and ideally set them on dark surface that collects heat, or shiny metal, and leave it in full sun for at least six hours. This kills water borne pathogens. The bottles should no bigger than 1.5 liters. This is the fastest and one of the most complete ways to kill all pathogens. If you do not have full sun, the bottle should be left out as long as two days. This method is called the SODIS (solar disinfection) method.
In Kreyol:
o If the water is cloudy, filter water through sand or cloth that has been folded several times. This is important as cholera and other disease germs can hide in sand particles or other particles and survive SODIS. Filtering with cloth or sand alone will not kill all the cholera – you must use SODIS or boil the water too.
o Boil water to a hard boil (many bubbles coming fast to the surface).

o Solarizing water is another option. You can build a fairly large solarizer that will handle lots of water.
o Here is a way to make a more complete filter, for a more long term solution. This takes 2-3 weeks before you get clean water from it:

If your water supply is filtered and human waste is composted and protected from flies, you will interrupt the disease vectors and will have no more cholera. Correct handling of human waste (keeping it isolated from water and flies and composting it), and filtering water is the only way to eliminate the disease from an area. Washing hands before preparing food is essential as well. If you do these three things, cholera cannot gain a foothold in your area. You will also eliminate dysentery, typhoid and other diseases.


• Dehydration kills. Rehydration will save lives. Drinking water is not enough – too much salt and potassium is lost in the diarrhea to absorb the water.

• Immediately upon getting symptoms, add one teaspoons of salt and 8 teaspoons of sugar to one liter of treated water and drink it. It is important you start rehydrating as early as possible.

• Continue to drink this preparation throughout the course of the disease.

Coconut juice has very complete electrolytes in it and if available should be consumed liberally by anyone with cholera symptoms during the course of the disease.

• If you have access to it, drink water mixed with oral rehydration packets.

In Kreyol… (

Haiti – Donate Now…

Permaculture Disaster Relief in Haiti

Camp at Delmas - this is only a small portion of it

Camp at Delmas - this is only a small portion of it

It’s been a while since we’ve updated about Haiti – below is a summary of what occurred from the time of the earthquake forward. We’re in planning stages now on the next phase and will post information about that as soon as plans are implemented. Our main focus currently is getting education out about how to prevent and treat cholera, using low tech methods and inexpensive or free resources. We’ll post that here too, in the next couple of days. We are deeply grateful to all of you who donated and made this journey possible – your donations did save many lives and they continue to do so. Here is the summary report:


When the earthquake hit Haiti last January, I was teaching a permaculture course in Little Haiti, Miami, and there seemed to be no choice but to get involved. After assessing what was most needed, I assisted six permaculturists and sustainability experts to get to Port Au Prince shortly after the earthquake and this is their story.

After receiving reports on the ground, we determined that the major life threatening situations were water and sanitation. There were no city wide water or sewage systems in place before the earthquake, and water borne disease had always been a situation but in the chaos after the quake, the risk became dire. We knew that resources would be almost non-existent in some areas and rescue organizations might not reach those areas for weeks. Permaculture had solutions, using local resources, that others didn’t have for handling human waste and unfiltered water.

Port Au Prince airport, the only international airport near the quake zone was closed to everything but military and rescue planes, and other ways into the quake zone, such as the road from Dominican Republic, were unpredictable – many roads had sustained damage in the quake. I arranged for the teams to fly into Port Au Prince via planes chartered by Church of Scientology Volunteer Ministers disaster relief organization to bring emergency medical teams there from the US. They would stay at the Volunteer Minister camp and have a relatively safe, established base camp to operate from (though conditions were very primitive and harsh, at first). They would also have ready access to other disaster organizations, military personnel, and government officials, which would allow them to be more effective. This worked out well with the teams rapidly creating connection with major hospitals, UNICEF, US Army, ACTED and other major organizations – all of them needed their specialized skills.

The goal was to save lives by getting low tech, sustainable solutions out there rapidly, while establishing relationships with both Haitians and NGOs that could be developed in the future for longer term design projects.

The first team that arrived was Mark Illian and Monika Cikhart, from Nature Healing Nature (, a non profit organization that specializes in teaching villages around the world how to filter water via low tech methods, using locally available materials such as sand and plastic bottles. The second wave was made up of Rodrigo Silva, a permaculturist and sanitation specialist from Portugal who has built compost toilets for 30,000 people at a time at European festivals; Nicole-Klaesener Metzner, another compost toilet specialist from Austria, and Andrew Larsen, a systems engineer and sustainable sanitation expert from Salt Lake City. They were flown into Haiti within a few days of responding and were in high demand immediately. Hunter Heaivilin, a permaculturist and tropical plant expert, arrived a few weeks after the quake and stayed for several weeks.

Andrew, Rodrigo and Nicole bound for Haiti

Andrew, Rodrigo and Nicole bound for Haiti

The “water team” of Nature Healing Nature immediately set to work educating people on how to filter their own water. They worked with the sanitation team, but also on their own when it made sense to do so, traveling where the need was greatest, such as to Leogane which was getting little assistance or relief. Because water filtration has traditionally been poor in Haiti, their educational work had quite a lot of potential to save lives – the death rate from dysentery and other water borne diseases, especially of children, was high even before the earthquake. In addition to helping provide a clean water supply, they set up showers for rescue workers, such as medical personnel who hadn’t been able to shower for days, they helped Haitians link up to organizations that had funding and resources, they helped organize emergency food and water distribution, and did whatever was necessary to facilitate the process of Haitians getting back on their feet as sustainably as possible.

Many people who survived the quake but were injured were losing limbs or dying because of the horrible sanitation in the makeshift hospitals. All the hospitals in the area were damaged and operations were occurring in makeshift tents with improvised instruments. There were not enough doctors so rescue workers with no medical background or experience were instantly deputized to act as surgeon assistants. There was so much chaos that it is hard to comprehend. Piles of garbage were heaped near the operating theatres and recovery areas, and it was difficult to keep the areas clean or sterile because of lack of medical supplies or any other supplies.

The sanitation team’s first major project was the main general hospital in Port Au Prince, where sanitation was almost completely out of control. Huge piles of garbage surrounded the hospital with everything from human feces to body parts to needles to toxic substances in the mass. The toilets were backed up, filthy, and unusable. Our team worked out how to clean the area and arranged for trucks to haul the trash (it was a major feat at that time to get fuel, never mind a truck to put it in); they set up proper disposal systems, and got funding to pay local Haitians to clean the trash sites so that tents could be set up to treat patients in a clean environment. They were not able to set up compost toilets there, as the hospital was under great pressure and staff didn’t want to risk anything but known elements like portapotties, but they were able to educate a number of disaster and rescue personnel on the advantages of composting human waste.

Clean up at the General Hospital

Clean up at the General Hospital

Hospital tent is on clean ground with sanitary conditions established

Hospital tent is on clean ground with sanitary conditions established

As a result of their work, an inspection of the site found almost no garbage anywhere in the vicinity of the hospital. This most certainly contributed to saving lives and limbs.

Their next target was sanitation for a nearby camp. A huge handicap was lack of materials – there was almost no wood or organic material available anywhere. Andrew had brought in material to create a compost toilet system, but they ended up using different models because there simply wasn’t enough building material available. They improvised, using shipping pallets and whatever material they could find.

Their initial target was to isolate human waste so it wouldn’t contaminate water. In the process, they taught Haitians how to build compost toilets and explored how organic material could be created by growing fast growing plants like vetiver grass and bamboo (both of which grow readily in Haiti). In between, because of the extreme need, they helped distribute food and water, and did anything else that was needed. They inspected wells with the US Army, they taught rescue workers how to build safe latrines for their camps, they built showers, they worked with UNICEF to assess sanitation needs for orphanages. Feedback from rescue workers were that their skill sets were perceived as very, very valuable, they were quite grateful they had come, and they would welcome permaculturists and low tech, sustainable solutions at any disaster site.

1500 people line up for supplies, Jean Lucho assists the team

1500 people line up for supplies, Jean Lucho joins the team

The first few weeks were filled with chaos and triage situations. It took courage and dedication to deal with the conditions they operated under – these guys are tough! But even under the most extreme conditions, many seeds were planted and beneficial connections were made. And lives were saved! Most of the long term design work to create sustainable systems started many weeks after the disaster, however.

Cooking for 3000

Cooking for 3000

As systems become more established in Port Au Prince, Rodrigo started organizing and attending meetings to create recycling in Port Au Prince. The waste streams are impressive – millions of plastic water bottles shipped in during rescue efforts, cardboard, tent material, etc. He experimented with paper brickets, which replace charcoal in the ubiquitous open cook stoves that are destroying forests in Haiti.

Results of recycling class

Results of recycling class

Nicole started working for an NGO and got them to use arbor loos in one of the camps. Andrew connected with the Give Love project ( in Cite Soleil, and helped build a compost toilet system for a camp of 2500 people , with a team made up of Joe Jenkins, Rodrigo, and other humanure experts. PDC student from Little Haiti in Miami, Paule Jacques, hooked the project up with her contact, Minister of the Environment of SE Haiti, Jean Ked Neptune, who connected Mark and Monika, Hunter and Rodrigo with Haitian non-profits, so they could “teach the teachers” sustainable methods of growing food and handling water and waste with workshops. Rodrigo, who is still in Haiti, has continued to build compost toilets, teach people about composting and set up recycling systems for various organizations.

Compost class with Hunter

Compost class with Hunter

Rodrigo teaches compost toilet class to Haitian non-profit group

Rodrigo teaches compost toilet class to Haitian non-profit group

At first, these were made of pallets and whatever could be scrounged. Rodrigo inspects

At first, these were made of pallets and whatever could be scrounged

Kids are first in line to use the compost toilet

Kids are first in line to use the compost toilet

I traveled to Haiti in May 2010 to assess the projects and the situation in Port Au Prince at that point, and to connect with Jean Ked. I felt that training Haitians in permaculture was key, and was able to fund a trip to Pine Ridge for the Minister of the Environment and his associate to do the Permaculture Design Course there. We felt Pine Ridge was a very appropriate venue because of similar conditions of watersheds, economics, and degraded landscapes. Ked has started a vermicomposting project that will link into creating a stable local economy as well as revitalizing degraded lands, and intends to do village sized permaculture projects. We continue to work with him and others in the area to help facilitate their projects.

Haitians assess the site at Pine Ridge PDC

Haitians assess the site at Pine Ridge PDC

Because of the connections we made through this project, we’ve been able to link up several permaculture resources across the country with each other so they can exchange energies, and we’re currently assisting in the organization of a database of all things permaculture in Haiti, so that more beneficial connection can be achieved.

All in all, the project was a success, with a number of things coming from it that will continue to propagate and fruit. It is likely, for instance, that the low tech methods of purifying water, and education on how to prevent water contamination from human waste may be saving lives as the cholera epidemic unfolds. We continue our efforts to educate people on these techniques.

Though the chaos of the immediate aftermath of a disaster of this magnitude is not conducive to design and planning work, the rescue team is glad that they could be there to help when it was so desperately needed. Many seeds have been planted that will continue to fruit into more sustainable systems.

Haiti – Donate Now…

AND/OR Purchase Books and Products. Portions of the proceeds allows us to reach out to communities such as these.

Impressions of Haiti

(from a visit in May, 2010)

Four months after the earthquake, the streets of Port Au Prince are filled with people selling things, repairing things, walking somewhere, doing something. There is a semblance of normalcy in the city, a mixture of passion for life, purpose and perhaps resignation. But signs of the earthquake remain obvious.

Driving through Port Au Prince at night, the broken houses and rubble and garbage in the streets appear ghost like and ethereal. The people stay vibrant and real, colorful in the headlights, enjoying the respite from the hot sun.

We stop at a checkpoint in the middle of the street – there has been an increase in kidnappings and NGO employees are under curfew – some must be in their homes or hotels by 6 PM. The victims are always released unharmed – kidnappings in Haiti have their own rules and politics. Injustice, economic and otherwise, often drives such actions.

What strikes me more than anything else about Port Au Prince and surrounding areas is the calm purpose one finds in every neighborhood, every street, to bring order back into the chaos that prevailed after the earthquake.

Tent cities are ubiquitous – in parks, in empty lots, on the rubble of destroyed buildings, or in the streets themselves, blocking already narrow lanes, you cannot drive for five minutes without seeing one. Most people now have real tents, or at least rain proof tarps, but some are still using sheets. Port Au Prince is sheltered by mountains and a bay which mitigates the winds but a major effort was in progress to relocate tens of thousands of people whose tents were likely to be washed away or flooded out in major rainstorm, as the rainy season progresses. Only 100 tent cities are on the list. We visited one city of 2500 in a flood plain that isn’t on the list – there are no plans to move it.

Cite Soleil camp

Cite Soleil camp

A new addition to Port Au Prince is the rubble from thousands of houses which spills onto sidewalks and streets and empty lots as they are demolished to make room for new construction. One of the major agencies is supposed to arrange to pick it up, but there seems to be a never ending supply of it – virtual mountains of urbanite, which landslide in the heavy daily rains and block the roads. The people are cleaning up and rebuilding their city with hand tools and wheelbarrows, piece by piece.

Those that can afford it are building smarter – they have all seen which houses stayed standing in the earthquake and which ones didn’t (the old style gingerbread houses are almost all still standing). Those who can’t afford better grades of concrete and construction materials are rebuilding the same way they did it before, or building shacks made out of scraps or if they’re really lucky, they scored a shipping container.
When assessing needs and resources, the waste stream becomes an obvious abundance that could remedy a number of scarcities. Garbage is everywhere – there are literally mountains of plastic bottles, sawdust, cardboard and other garbage in every neighborhood. Per one person we spoke with, there is only one small recycling facility in Port Au Prince.


As we landed in Port Au Prince, we flew over thousands of shipping containers that could be used for earthquake and hurricane resistant housing sitting at docks next to several large tent cities.

Driving through the city, we see people carrying logs only 2” in diameter, to rebuild houses (per my Haitian friend, the trees do not get any bigger before being chopped down). I saw hundreds of cookstoves lined up on sidewalks, burning biochar created from the remnants of the jungle, the lifeblood of the land burned to cook imported rice in a country that used to grow enough rice to be a significant exporter, before economic manipulation destroyed the rice industry. Farmers became loggers, and now the mountains are barren and the rivers full of silt, what is left of rich jungle soils.

“What can the people do?” one Haitian woman said to me. “They need shelter! They need to cook their food!”

Millions of cookstoves burn trees of Haiti

Millions of cookstoves burn trees of Haiti

The Director for the Ministry of the Environment in Jacmel, introduced to permaculture by one of our PDC graduates, Paule Jacque, discourages solutions that use wood at all, because of the concern that people will continue to cut trees. Thus sawdust and rocket stoves are perceived as not the best solutions possible though certainly an improvement over what is used now. We plan to experiment with sawdust stoves using rice husks and other material. One solution I found was the high efficiency Lucia stove created by World Stoves and produced in a local Haitian factory. Using a vortex technology, it burns almost anything efficiently (garbage, fruit rinds, rice husks, etc) and produces biochar, which can be used in a program to remediate depleted soils. Another solution being experimented with by some of our team are brickets made of waste paper and other flammables from the waste stream. While not an ideal or long term solution, it can be a transitional program. With few recycling facilities in Port Au Prince, it is better than putting it in a landfill. And it saves trees.

We are driving down a steep road coming from one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Port Au Prince. The road headed downward is empty except for us, but a long string of newer model jeeps and SUVs is parading up the hill headed for the estate compounds in the hills. “Those are the NGO’s” my friend informed me. “Some Haitians won’t rent to other Haitians because they get more money from the rescue agencies – in some cases $10,000 US per month. They pay US and European rates.” Her Haitian friend, in the car with us, was having trouble finding a place to rent, though she had money. Even Haitians that can afford to pay rent can’t find housing sometimes because they are displaced by foreign employees of foreign NGOs.

The barriers to getting things done in Port Au Prince can be complex and formidable. I’ve only been here a few days, but already I’ve been stranded by flooding, which caused me to miss a key meeting, stranded by a fuel shortage (the fuel was available offshore, but not allowed into PaP for some reason – political, per some Haitian friends), prevented from reaching another meeting by a strike, dehydrated, and bitten by plenty mosquitos.

But yet I am struck by a sense of order. In the camps, Comites (committees) have been elected to coordinate needs and resources, flood mitigation, medical care and other logistics. Neighborhoods spontaneously organized themselves shortly after the quake and neighbors took care of each other and their area. Children in impeccably neat school uniforms are seen in most neighborhoods, and I marvel at how impeccably clean everyone is, considering so many are living in camps with shortages of showers, the dust from the rubble can be intense, and the rains turn it into sticky mud. Most of the streets were kept clear enough of rubble, tents and other debris to be passable, which was quite a feat, with the rains especially. Garbage was being collected in some areas, markets were thriving, and the sense of purpose was palpable.

“Tap tap” buses are always evident even when there is little fuel, a symbol of optimism we see in so many places in spite of the grim circumstances.


Jobs are almost non-existent but everybody is selling something, it seems. I wonder where they get both the goods and the money.

While Haitians are only paid $3-10 per day “cash for work” as part of the rescue effort, to clean up rubble and garbage , money is trickling into the economy via high prices for foreigners (on the street, there is one price given to foreigners, another one for rich Haitians, and another for poor Haitians). I took a 15 minute taxi ride to an NGO meeting which cost $40 US, more than twice what it would have cost in NYC. When I queried the price, the driver firmly said, “This is the going rate for NGO’s”. With $10 billion in aid slated to Haiti and very little of it actually entering the local economy even now, Haitians are tapping into it where they can, via the salaries and operating budgets of relief agencies.
The media states that the World Bank and other major funders of the relief effort will be largely running the country on a de facto basis, bypassing the government and the local business community. No surprise, but disappointing – Haiti is a country as yet relatively untouched by multinational corporate chains and heavy commercial development.

There is much opportunity for permaculture in Haiti – hillsides in Port Au Prince are dotted with the Haitian version of three sisters – corn, pigeon pea and squash or melon, plus various herbs and other vegetables. We found out later this was a result of a successful urban farming program from the early 90’s. We saw many mango and neem trees as well as mangosteen, noni, soursop, moringa and other potential value-added foods. Because it is so mountainous, microclimates abound in Haiti – almost anything tropical or semi-tropical could grow here if there is soil. Haitians are already accustomed to low tech solutions and if something works, its use can spread rapidly through grassroots.

Beans with overstory of banana, breadfruit and coconut and mulch of sawdust and coconut coir

Beans with overstory of banana, breadfruit and coconut and mulch of sawdust and coconut coir

In the countryside, housing is similar to traditional quincha mejorada houses in Central America – made of sticks and earth, the houses can withstand weather and even earthquakes. If bamboo is used instead of sticks, this type of housing becomes sustainable and easy to build. With the right earth plasters, it can be made to resemble the popularly accepted concrete housing in Port Au Prince.

Earthen house

Earthen house

Broadscale reforestation and erosion control is vital – at one time Haiti was the breadbasket of the Caribbean, supplying food for many other countries. Now it imports much of its food and continues to deplete its soils by cutting trees. Many reforestation projects have failed because they did not include human systems in the design process. By incorporating economic solutions, we can ensure that forests remain, once planted. There is opportunity in disaster because systems need to be rebuilt, and can be rebuilt sustainably.

We are in planning stages on a Haitian reforestation project that incorporates sustainable human systems (financial and social permaculture, self-sufficient food, water, shelter and energy), and are interested in networking and cooperation with other projects. One of our projects is to assist in putting together a database of permaculture resources in or connected with Haiti. For more information on the database, write to: Olivia Jeanne,

There is much work to be done but many hands to do it. Perhaps what touched me most of all was the optimism I encountered. In spite of the suffering Haitians have endured, when offered channels to improve their condition, interest and enthusiasm rise to the surface.

Country street

Country street



Haiti – Donate Now…

AND/OR Purchase Books and Products. Portions of the proceeds allows us to reach out to communities such as these.

Apprenticeships at Pine Ridge

Apprenticeship, volunteer and internship programs on Pine Ridge. Read more

Permaculture courses to get college credits

Both the Permaculture Design Course at Pine Ridge and Urban Permaculture Design Course at Tampa will offer college credits from local colleges.  We will have the course numbers available soon, but if you are a student, please plan on being able to purchase three credits from your local college for the course.

Journey to Haiti

It’s been several weeks since I returned from Haiti and I’m still processing.  I could write a book on what I’ve absorbed since starting this journey in January, but I’d rather just do something about it.  I will try to get a few articles up in the next few weeks about what occurred, what we saw, what the future holds.

The main thing I’d like to share right now is our plans to bring some people from the SE division of the Ministry of the Environment to Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota to get training on Keyline Design and other permaculture techniques and principles.  They are very interested in using permaculture to revitilize their economy and rehabilitate the eroded and denuded hillsides and mountaintops of Haiti.

There are many differences between Pine Ridge and Haiti – they are two very different worlds culturally.  But the similarities are haunting, especially in the sufferings of poverty and oppressions, so much so, that when the idea arose, it made perfect sense to bring this contingent to Pine Ridge to see the permaculture “revitilization” program ongoing there.  Many elements of that program would also work in Haiti, and some of them are already being implemented under this Ministry.

While you may have heard negative things about the Haitian government and no doubt some of them are true, they are most definitely not true 100% of the time, in 100% of the government.  There are sincere, competent, and passionate people working in the government who are in a position to do something about their country and we feel the people we are working with in the Ministry fall into that category.  They have recently created a vermicomposting program, they are researching sustainable polycropping, agroforestry, they gave full back up and support to our permaculture team, providing an office and connections which enabled them to “teach the teachers” in their limited time there, and have continued to provide support to those of us still involved.

In turn, we’d like to bring them to Pine Ridge to give them the knowledge of keyline design. This is a highly appropriate technology to remediate the denuded hills of Haiti, and it will dovetail with a program the government is already running, teaching women to run heavy machinery like tractors, doing earth moving.  There are many ways in which keyline design can dovetail with ongoing energies and create really positive results.

If you’d like to assist us to bring this to fruition, please contact us via our site.   Please also let others know that participation in our keyline class or other classes at the rez will help fund this project as well as the Pine Ridge project.

Haiti – Donate Now…

AND/OR Purchase Books and Products. Portions of the proceeds allows us to reach out to communities such as these.

What do we base our course pricing on?

Hillside in Haiti

Hillside in Haiti

A few people have asked what we base our fees on for our courses. Some believe that permaculture education should be very inexpensive or free so that it is accessible to as many people as possible.  There are many viewpoints about this, and we believe that multiple viewpoints on this topic, like any other, are healthy for the system and there is room for all of them.

This is how we view the subject for ourselves and why:

Our work is focused on assisting some of the highest poverty and most oppressed areas on the planet, which are also very culturally rich with much to offer.  We focus on projects that regenerate degraded lands and devastated economies so these communities can become self-sufficient and experience resilient abundance.  Our methods are focused on connecting resources and knowledge and putting them in the hands of the people at grass roots level so they can create their own destinies within their own cultural context.

Post earthquake camp, Cite Soliel, Haiti

Post earthquake camp, Cite Soliel, Haiti

We offer our courses and services for free to individuals from those impoverished areas and also bring resources into those environments to assist in the process of regeneration.

We invite students from outside those communities to participate, and charge them rates comparable to similar courses in order to help fund our work in those areas.  We feel this is a better way to do it than grant monies, where possible, as it gives us more freedom to remain maximally flexible and responsive to the needs and resources of the communities.  Please see our blogs in this section for descriptions of some of the work we are engaged in, particularly at Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota and Haiti, post earthquake.

Pine Ridge reservation public housing

Pine Ridge reservation public housing

Our instructors are some of the most knowledgeable and respected available and often charge top consultant rates for teaching. They are worth it because they can impart knowledge far more deeply, quickly and accurately than someone with less knowledge and experience could do.

We provide a number of extras with our courses that many organizations do not provide, such as rich cultural experiences, apprenticeship opportunities, community building, web promotion for graduates, etc.

Our courses are well worth the fees from a purely practical investment viewpoint, because the knowledge and experience gained should save you far more than the course fee within a few weeks or months if you apply it to your life.

Please know that your course fees are what allow us to continue with our work in devastated areas, and that we strive to make your investment well worth your while by trying to go above and beyond in delivering not just information, but rich life experience that you will always remember.

Teaching students to compost, Port Au Prince, Haiti

Teaching students to compost, Port Au Prince, Haiti

Building a root cellar for food security, Pine Ridge

Building a root cellar for food security, Pine Ridge

Pine Ridge statistics

adam and childThese statistics and the photo piece are tough to look at – they are why we are there.  We and you can make a difference. We welcome your assistance, it is rewarding work.  There are many cultural revitilization activities on the rez and some amazing and beautiful people.  Please see the photos in our gallery after you read this to see some of the positive that is happening!  But it is also important to understand the overall state of the rez because it becomes apparent how much of a difference a combination of permaculture and cultural revitalization can make.

Pine Ridge photo story

* 97% of of the population at Pine Ridge Reservation live below federal poverty line.

* The unemployment rate vacillates from 85% to 95% on the Reservation.

* Death due to Heart Disease: Twice the national average.

* The infant mortality rate is the highest on this continent and is about 300% higher than the U.S. national average.

* Elderly die each winter from hypothermia (freezing).

* Recent reports point out that the median income on the Pine Ridge Reservation is approximately $2,600 to $3,500 per year.

* At least 60% of the homes are severely substandard, without water, electricity, adequate insulation, and sewage systems.

* Recent reports state the average life expectancy is 45 years old while others state that it is 48 years old for men and 52 years old for women. With either set of figures, that’s the shortest life expectancy for any community in the Western Hemisphere outside Haiti, according to The Wall Street Journal.

* The 11,000-square mile (over 2 million acres) Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation is the second-largest Native American Reservation within the United States. It is roughly the size of the State of Connecticut.

* There is no industry, technology, or commercial infrastructure on the Reservation to provide employment.

* The nearest town of size (which provides some jobs for those few persons able to travel the distance) is Rapid City, South Dakota with approximately 57,000 residents. It is located approximately 120 miles from the Reservation. The nearest large city to Pine Ridge is Denver, Colorado located about 350 miles away.

* Teenage suicide rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is 150% higher than the U.S. national average for this age group.

* The topography of the Pine Ridge Reservation includes badlands, rolling grassland hills, dryland prairie, and areas dotted with pine trees.

* According to the 1998 Bureau of Indian Affairs Census, the Pine Ridge Reservation is home to approximately 40,000 persons, 35% of which are under the age of 16. Approximately half the residents of the Reservation are registered tribal members of the Oglala Lakota Nation.

* The population is steadily rising, despite the severe conditions on the Reservation, as more and more Oglala Lakota return home from far-away cities in order to live within their societal values, be with their families, and assist with the revitalization of their culture and their Nation.

* More than half the Reservation’s adults battle addiction and disease. Alcoholism, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and malnutrition are rampant.

* The rate of diabetes on the Reservation is reported to be 800% higher than the U.S. national average.

* Recent reports indicate that almost 50% of the adults on the Reservation over the age of 40 have diabetes. Over 37% of population is diabetic.

* As a result of the high rate of diabetes on the Reservation, diabetic-related blindness, amputations, and kidney failure are common.

* The tuberculosis rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is approximately 800% higher than the U.S. national average.

* Cervical cancer is 500% higher than the U.S. national average.

* It is reported that at least 60% of the homes, many of them government housing, on the Pine Ridge Reservation are infested with Black Mold, Stachybotrys. This infestation causes an often-fatal condition with infants, children, elderly, those with damaged immune systems, and those with lung and pulmonary conditions at the highest risk. Exposure to this mold can cause hemorrhaging of the lungs and brain as well as cancer.

* Many Reservation residents live without health care due to vast travel distances involved in accessing that care. Additional factors include under-funded, under-staffed medical facilities and outdated or non-existent medical equipment. There is little hope for increased funding for Indian health care.

* School drop-out rate is over 70%.

* According to a Bureau of Indian Affairs report, the Pine Ridge Reservation schools are in the bottom 10% of school funding by U.S. Department of Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

* Teacher turnover is 800% that of the U.S. national average

* The small Tribal Housing Authority homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation are so overcrowded and scarce that many homeless families often use tents or cars for shelter. Many families live in shacks, old trailers, or dilapidated mobile homes.

* There is a large homeless population on the Reservation, but most families never turn away a relative no matter how distant the blood relation. Consequently, many homes have large numbers of people living in them.

* There is an estimated average of 17 people living in each family home (a home which may only have two to three rooms). Some homes, built for 6 to 8 people, have up to 30 people living in them.

* 60% of Reservation families have no telephone.

* Over 33% of the Reservation homes lack basic water and sewage systems as well as electricity.

* Many residents must carry (often contaminated) water from the local rivers daily for their personal needs.

* 39% of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation have no electricity.

* 59% of the Reservation homes are substandard.

* It is reported that at least 60% of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation need to be burned to the ground and replaced with new housing due to infestation of the potentially-fatal Black Mold, Stachybotrys. There is no insurance or government program to assist families in replacing their homes.

* Many Reservation homes lack adequate insulation. Even more homes lack central heating.

* Without basic insulation or central heating in their homes, many residents on the Pine Ridge Reservation use their ovens to heat their homes.

* Many Reservation homes lack stoves, refrigerators, beds, and/or basic furniture.

* Most Reservation families live in rural and often isolated areas.

* The largest town on the Reservation is the town of Pine Ridge which has a population of approximately 5,720 people and is the administrative center for the Reservation.

* There are few improved roads on the Reservation and many of the homes are inaccessible during times of heavy snow or rain.

* Weather is extreme on the Reservation. Severe winds are always a factor. Traditionally, summer temperatures reach well over 110*F and winters bring bitter cold with temperatures that can reach -50*F below zero or worse. Flooding, tornados, or wildfires are always a risk.

* Many of the wells and much of the water and land on the Reservation is contaminated with pesticides and other poisons from farming, mining, open dumps, and commercial and governmental mining operations outside the Reservation. A further source of contamination is buried ordnance and hazardous materials from closed U.S. military bombing ranges on the Reservation.

* The Pine Ridge Reservation still has no banks, motels, discount stores, or movie theaters. It has only one grocery store of any moderate size and it is located in the town of Pine Ridge on the Reservation.

* Several of the banks and lending institutions nearest to the Reservation were recently targeted for investigation of fraudulent or predatory lending practices, with the citizens of the Pine Ridge Reservation as their victims.

* There are no public libraries except one at the Oglala Lakota College of the reservation.

* There is no public transportation available on the Reservation.

* Ownership of operable automobiles by residents of the Reservation is highly limited.

* Predominate form of travel for all ages on the Reservation is walking or hitchhiking.

* There is one radio station on the Pine Ridge Reservation. KILI 90.1FM is located near the town of Porcupine on the Reservation.

* Alcoholism affects eight out of ten families on the Reservation.

* The death rate from alcohol-related problems on the Reservation is 300% higher than the remaining US population.

* The Oglala Lakota Nation has prohibited the sale and possession of alcohol on the Pine Ridge Reservation since the early 1970’s. However, the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska (which sits 400 yards off the Reservation border in a contested “buffer” zone) has approximately 14 residents and four liquor stores which sell over 4.1 million cans of beer each year resulting in a $3million annual trade. Unlike other Nebraska communities, Whiteclay exists only to sell liquor and make money. It has no schools, no churches, no civic organizations, no parks, no benches, no public bathrooms, no fire service and no law enforcement. Tribal officials have repeatedly pleaded with the State of Nebraska to close these liquor stores or enforce the State laws regulating liquor stores but have been consistently refused.

* Scientific studies show that the High Plains/Oglala Aquifer which begins underneath the Pine Ridge Reservation is predicted to run dry within the next thirty years, possibly as early as the year 2005, due to commercial interest use and dryland farming in numerous states south of the Reservation. This critical North American underground water resource is not renewable at anything near the present consumption rate. The recent years of drought have simply accelerated the problem.

* Scientific studies show that much of the High Plains/Oglala Aquifer has been contaminated with farming pesticides and commercial, factory, mining, and industrial contaminants in the States of South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

* The Tribal nations are considered to have sovereign governmental status and have a government to government relationship with the United States. The Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribal government operates under a constitution consistent with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and approved by the Tribal membership and Tribal Council of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe. The Tribe is governed by an elected body consisting of a 5 member Executive Committee and an 18 member Tribal Council, all of whom serve a four year term.

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New energy arriving in Haiti

One of our team members who spent several weeks in Haiti as a first responder, Andrew Larsen, has put together a contingent of experts to return to Haiti on May 9 in order to expand the delivery of sustainable sanitation solutions.  He will be returning with Joe Jenkins, author of “Humanure” and a leading expert on composting human waste, and another sanitation expert from Australia to work with the Give Love project ( and expand on the work Rodrigo Silva continues to do in the sanitation arena.  Andrew has continued to work with his university to bring interest to the Haiti project.

Cory Brennan of Grow Permaculture (formerly Permaculture Guild) will be traveling with the group and additionally will be touring with a representative from the Ministry of the Environment to give recommendations on remediation of erosion and  other environmental degradation.  We will be solidifying relationships with local NGOs and educational organizations created earlier and planning future projects.  Paule Jacque, a Grow Permaculture (formerly Permaculture Guild) PDC graduate from Miami and Haitian, will meet the group in Haiti to help coordinate expansion activities via her connections.  Paule has been working with another graduate, Linda McGlathery, to create economic opportunities in Haiti in the form of cooperative business models.

Our intention is to create the conditions for rapid growth and expansion of sustainable solutions in the core devastated areas – the pieces are gradually coming together, and like an ecosystem, we are finding the beneficial connections we need to flourish with balance and sustainably – stay tuned for more news as the story unfolds.   There are so many worthy projects with heart occurring in Haiti – we would like to assist and facilitate all of them,  and we feel we can do so by observing the system thoughtfully, creating connections where they will do the most good, and utilizing energy wisely.

Keeping Heart in Pine Ridge, Part II

pine ridge kenny cow

Many good things came from the Permaculture Design Course we held last September in Pine Ridge Lakota reservation.  Our project is on target to be self-sustaining within three years and has moved beyond that in a number of ways.

Bryan Deans and OLCERI (Oglala-Lakota Cultural and Economic Revitalization Initiative), who hosted the course, decided to focus on the economics side of permaculture,  the benefits of which would move far beyond Bryan’s own self-sufficient ranch project and throughout the entire reservation.

Almost immediately after the course, Bryan began teaching a farmer/rancher program on the rez, incorporating permaculture principles such as microlending.  Ranchers are lent five cows which calf, thereby giving them a small herd which they can build up. They can give back the cows, or younger ones, once the herd is established.   Farmers are given seed and loaned equipment as needed as well.  A cooperative is in its formative stages which will allow the farmers and ranchers to share equipment, buy in bulk and market more effectively.

This is a true community effort that, if translated to other industries as well, could spread throughout the entire reservation and reverse the long term cycle of poverty which has continued to make this county the poorest in the US.  It will also set an example for industry throughout the US.

Other potential economic engines and cooperatives include sustainable logging and milling, biodiesel, manufacture of high efficiency rocket/sawdust type stoves and water heaters, natural home building, traditional Lakota crafts such as leatherwork and beadwork, and the raising of other types of animals including horses and buffalo.

Medicine Hat horse, prized amongst the Lakota

Medicine Hat horse, prized amongst the Lakota

These cooperatives can be woven into the lives of the People and their ancient ways. The successes of the Mondragon cooperative, which was created by the Basque tribe in Spain and now includes dozens of profitable enterprises, are an inspiration – the Lakota will bring their unique traditions and wisdom to the council fires.  Bryan’s vision is to focus on industries that complement and support one another, and are environmentally and culturally sustainable or regenerative.

The tribe has received a substantial grant, part of which can be used toward rehabilitating the two million acres of prairie that the reservation encompasses.  The rez has been heavily damaged by overgrazing and other abuse to the point where the clay-silt soils are so impacted that succession has not moved beyond pioneer stage in many areas, and only short, tough buffalo grass survives in clumps – in contrast to the tall, diverse prairie grasses that grew thick and rich as far as one could see when the People managed it. Erosion is a huge problem, with dams blowing out regularly from the heavy force of water and canyons being cut deeper and deeper.  For generations, the plains were sustainably managed by the People who used controlled burns and buffalo to revitalize the fertile prairie grass system and keep it healthy.   Last year, Bryan and Warren Brush of Quail Springs, who taught the PDC then and will teach it again this August, created plans to use keyline and permaculture techniques to regenerate Bryan’s 8000 acre ranch, but since then the plans have gotten much bigger.


Diverse prairie grass systems are one of the best carbon sequestering systems on the planet, even better than forests in some cases.  Pine Ridge reservation consists of two million acres that could be rehabbed, and Bryan has a plan that could leverage available  funding into a 10 year program to do it (via the economic cooperatives).  Not only will this create carbon sequestering on a huge scale, it will create substantial long term employment on a rez that experiences between 60-90% unemployment, and will revitalize natural resources and ecosystems for the tribe that will last for many generations.  This is OLCERI’s vision – and Warren will teach a Keyline course this summer to kick it off.   OLCERI is looking for donations for keyline plows as the grant money does not necessarily cover equipment like this.  The entire machine is not needed, but only the plow head, as tractors are available that can be used.  We would like teach the first crew of Lakota this July how to keyline design and plow and get them started on an historic 3000 acre watershed on tribal lands that OLCERI controls currently.

Last year’s course had some other great results. One student is doing a permaculture project at a different location on the rez and will be offering a number of courses this year including cob building and food forestry.

Two other students are currently working on an economic and water revitilization project with the Huichol Indians of Mexico, and another student has brought the 13 grandmothers into her network of sustainability in Northern California.

OLCERI, in tandem with Koreen Brennan with Grow Permaculture (formerly Permaculture Guild) will be holding four permaculture courses this year on the rez and is also offering internships and apprenticeships.  The courses will be:  Straw bale building (to complete a workshop on OLCERI’s site that will have multiple functions); Regenerative Skills – a unique course for young adults which will incorporate ancient Lakota skills such as hunting with bow and arrow, tracking, beadwork, medicinal herbs, etc, with permaculture design;  the Permaculture Design Certificate Course, and Keyline Design.  In addition, Koreen Brennan at Grow Permaculture (formerly Permaculture Guild) is partnering with Sustainable Homestead Designs ( , a project to create a fully self-sufficient off the grid demonstration homestead on the rez, to teach a food forestry course and plant a food forest at that location.

All of the courses will serve multiple functions – bringing new energy to the reservation via outside students, completing strategically key projects to move toward regenerative self-sufficiency, and creating economic engines that will move beyond OLCERI to positively impact the entire reservation and set a model and example for others.

The course for young adults flanks successful Lakota youth programs, such as Kiza and Running Strong, that focus on empowering youth at risk by providing cultural opportunities.  In addition, youth will learn the rudiments of marketable skill sets such as straw bale building and sustainable farming and ranching.

Kiza horse race at Pine Ridge

Kiza horse race at Pine Ridge

Because of the work we did last year, we are already getting strong interest in the courses for this year, so early enrollment is encouraged. Our goals to fund significant Lakota participation via paying students from outside the rez will be met with full enrollment.

Additional intern/apprentice projects at OLCERI this summer include:

Planting a kitchen garden

Planting a communal food forest in the riparian area of tribal lands

Planting wind breaks on the ranch for energy efficiency and to protect the animals and gardens

Creating water catchment and irrigation

Completing the wind power and biodiesel project so the ranch is fully off the grid energy wise

Building a straw bale workshop

We continue to seek funding for materials for the straw bale building, keyline plow, trees for the food forest, and heavy equipment needed for prairie rehabilitation.

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