A poised and soft-spoken Chelsea Clinton stood inside the concrete storage room in this central Haiti rural village, peppering her host with questions about aflatoxins, profit margins and market access.
“What percentage of the peanuts are consumed here in Haiti and are exported?’’ Clinton asked Robert Johnson, the general manager of acceso, which works to empower peanut farmers near Mirebalais by testing, storing and buying their products. “So a stronger dollar doesn't affect that?’’
Clinton, who studied international relations and public health, isn't an economist. But economics was very much on her mind as she promoted her family's charitable efforts to not just help small farmers become more efficient purchasers but to empower women and women-led enterprises.
“It's an important part of development,’’ Clinton said about economics.
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The vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, Clinton arrived Tuesday and left Wednesday after visiting a half dozen projects, all supported by the foundation. It was her second visit to Haiti, her first solo trip on behalf of the foundation, which has come under intense scrutiny over its donations and development programs.
“I'm really proud of the work we're doing here in Haiti,’’ Clinton said in an interview with the Miami Herald.
Scrutiny of nongovernmental organizations and donors is a good thing, Clinton said. But thanks to the foundation's programs, she noted, women in Pouly are earning three times the $4.25 daily minimum wage and the support that foundation engineered from Avon means Haitian women can now get treatment for breast cancer at the nearby Partners In Health/Zanmi Lasante University of Hospital in Mirebalais.
The visit, she said, was an opportunity to “get out of the rhetoric’’ and see “how dollars or gourdes, or any resources are being invested.’’
“At the foundation, we are always trying to work ourselves out of a job,’’ she said.
Donna Shalala, the former head of the University of Miami, who joined the foundation in June as its president, agreed.
As UM president, Shalala was instrumental in helping get aid to the country after its devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. She was a lead supporter of efforts by Miami-based Project Medishare to set up a trauma hospital in Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital.
During her visit this week, Shalala said she was impressed not just with the foundation's work but with efforts by Haitian women to take control of their lives.
“The projects that are started are being sustained,’’ Shalala said while visiting a farming cooperative that helps create castor oil on behalf of Kreyol Essence, an eco-friendly beauty product line founded by Yve-Car Momperousse, a young Haitian-American female entrepreneur.
“The population is buying in. These are Haitians who are doing this,’’ Shalala said. “Haitians have taken ownership.’’
The sustained leadership of the Clinton Foundation, she said, is making a difference.
“They never abandoned Haiti,’’ Shalala said. “They were here before, they are here now and they are building on progress. From the foundation, to the president and Chelsea, this is a passion. It's simply not another country to do good at.’’
Former President Bill Clinton has made nearly 40 trips to Haiti, traveling here 36 times for a total of 56 days since 2009, his staff said.
Haiti, his daughter said, is part of her inheritance, noting that she grew up hearing about her parents' 1975 honeymoon here.
Still, ever since Clinton decided to make Haiti a priority after leaving office, he's come under criticism by those who expected his involvement to bear more for the impoverished country.
"Because my father started in the political realm, although he's now very much been in the NGO realm for more than 14 years, I think people still see, and kind of by extension the foundation, as a political entity," Clinton said. "We are not a political entitty. We are very much engaged and I would say in two large categories of work."
Those categories, Clinton said, including working with the public sector to improve access to healthcare and other initiatives and helping the private sector fill the gap to improve their economic outcomes.