Island Creek Oysters is a hot new restaurant, popular with the well-heeled upscale crowd that packs Kenmore Square even when the
Economically, it doesn’t have much in common with impoverished rural Haiti, the poorest area of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The restaurant and the island do share a strong bond however, and his name is Dr. Valentin Abe.
Abe has made a name for himself as one of the world’s most creative humanitarians. Since 1995, he has been working to bring a fishing industry to Haiti and a source of income to people who barely have one. Consider that in some parts of Haiti, the per capita income is as little as $200 a year.
Island Creek, meanwhile, wants to do good while it is making good. Bill Clinton’s foundation recommended Caribbean Harvest, Abe’s charity, as a program worthy of support.
So Abe was in Duxbury last night, where the Island Creek Foundation was holding a fund-raiser for Caribbean Harvest, the organization he founded a few years ago. They hoped to raise between $100,000 and $150,000 for the project.
“The result is so direct and so dramatic,’’ Skip Bennett, Island Creek’s founder, said recently. “Val has developed a great program, and he’s looking for more people to help him. We’re just one small group of people who really believe strongly in giving back.’’
Bennett and Shore Gregory, Island Creek’s vice president, traveled to Haiti to see the program firsthand, and returned committed to donate aid. “It’s hard to explain what an impression it made on me,’’ Bennett said. “We’re a small company, but we hope we can influence others to give.’’
Abe, a native of the Ivory Coast, didn’t originally intend to settle in Haiti. He earned a doctorate from Auburn University as a Fulbright scholar, and became consumed with aquaculture - raising fish in huge tanks. He fell in love with Haiti, and scrapped his plans to leave. For security reasons, his wife and daughters live in the neighboring Dominican Republic.
“When I went to Haiti, I noticed that people who lived near lakes and rivers were the poorest people in the country,’’ he said. “All the lakes and rivers had been overfished for years, and the government had no plan to restock them. So I decided to use those lakes and rivers to raise fish.’’ Haiti imports 70 percent of its seafood, which is an indication of how depleted the fish population has become.
Abe’s group provides equipment and seed money for farmers. Once the fish are harvested, it helps sell the fish, mostly abroad. While a farmer might make $400 a year in Haiti, the fish farms boost that to perhaps $2,000 a year, by increasing the yield.
I asked Abe to explain what $2,000 a year could buy. After all, even that income is so low.
“Even in Haiti $2,000 is not a lot of money,’’ he said. “But it’s enough to send your kid to school, which typically costs about $150 a year. You can feed yourself decently and save some money.’’
It is, in short, the difference between a decent standard of living and abject poverty.
His success in Haiti has not gone unnoticed: Time magazine recently named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. A great honor, but it doesn’t relieve the necessity of raising money to keep his nonprofit viable.
Gregory said contributing to a charity in Haiti made sense, beyond the compelling humanitarian grounds. “It’s not lost on us that Boston has a large Haitian population,’’ he said. “That’s one more reason to do this.’’
For his part, Abe seemed to be enjoying his trip to Boston, only his second. “We’re going to have a big tent and good music,’’ he said. “And, of course, good oysters.’’
Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.