The road to Citadelle Laferrière is a brutal strip of gravel and brick not meant to be easily passable. It’s a narrow path with sharp turns that covers 2,800 feet of elevation gain over 5.5 miles. The long trip from the town of Milot to the foot of the fortress is another layer of defense for the Citadelle, perched atop a mountain as a challenge to outsiders.
Reaching the fortress would be an ambitious venture for anyone, but several employees from Alltech are willing to undertake it, as runners no less. They’ll be participating in the first Citadelle Run on Saturday, Nov. 23 to benefit Alltech’s Sustainable Haiti Project. They’ll run the 11 miles from Milot to the fortress and back.
The goal is to raise $20,000 for the project, which focuses on supporting schools in Haiti and developing jobs to foster long-term, sustainable improvements for people on the island.
“You have to keep in mind the focus on creating jobs for the future,” said Kyle McKinney, an applications research scientist for Alltech participating in the run. “For me personally, providing education for kids is the focus. These kids have to have some kind of future as they grow up. I’m doing this primarily to provide education and jobs for people who have been affected by natural disaster.”
Almost three years after a devastating earthquake rocked Haiti, there’s still little support for the Haitian people. Initial disaster relief on the island concluded long ago, leaving little long-term infrastructure to improve the living conditions for its 10 million people.
“The intention of Dr. Lyons is to be there in the long run,” said Jorge Arias, a director at Alltech. “Most people go there in the months after the earthquake and say they’ve done something and go home, but Dr. Lyons has made a long-term commitment.”
Alltech has continued its efforts in Haiti, providing support to the people there with a long-term commitment to improving the future for its people. The Sustainable Haiti Project helps fund two primary schools in Haiti and several economic development projects. Alltech’s Café Citadelle coffee bears the name and image of the fortress that will be the location of the race.
The Citadelle Laferrière was built in the early 19th century to protect Haiti from foreign powers that might be interested in attacking the newly-freed country. The gigantic fortress was designed to house 5,000 defenders for a full year.
The fortress is an imposing symbol of Haiti’s past, but the climb to the top could prove to be an important step forward for the country.
“From a running point of view, it’s just a race,” Arias said. “But our run could be relevant for the future of the project and the future of that place.”
The contingent from Alltech is expecting a small group of locals who will join them in the race, along with several hundred supporters. That’s the first step in building an event that could become a fixture in the area. There’s no event like the Citadelle Run that takes place around the fortress.
Citadelle Laferrière is among the largest of its type in the Americas, but it still isn’t developed as a tourist attraction. The run, which is sponsored and promoted locally by mobile phone company Digicel, could help bring attention to the potential the fortress holds for tourism.
It’s a tall task. The climb of 2,800 vertical feet is more than 1,000 feet higher than Chicago’s Willis Tower. As if that weren’t enough, temperatures are expected to reach into the 90s (F) on Saturday.
“If we wanted to make it easy, we could run here in Kentucky and donate the money to Haiti,” McKinney said. “They built that fortress on a hill to make it difficult for people to get to.”