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Resourcefulness, Creativity, and Shared Values in Haiti

March 19, 2012

UUSC is partnering with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) on a joint volunteer trip to Haiti, March 10–17. In the post below, trip participant Flannery Wheeler ruminates on her experiences of connection while working with the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) on their eco-village, which is a new home to displaced survivors of the 2010 earthquake. The UUA-UUSC Haiti Volunteer Program is made possible through the contributions of UUA and UUSC donors and a generous grant from the Veatch Program of the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock, in Manhasset, N.Y.

Today was our second day working at the eco-village. I continued to help build goat cages by tamping logs into the ground and carrying planks to the construction sites. While we worked, a mother goat and her two kids looked on, and two of the women from the village braided each other’s hair. 

While here, I have been continually awed by the Haitian people’s resourcefulness and creativity. Because wood is scarce in Haiti, for instance, the men do not search for perfectly straight logs but instead straighten the logs they have, by hacking partway into them with machetes and then nailing small pieces of wood into the resulting wedges. Impressively, most of the villagers are not former farmers but former city dwellers — meaning construction is almost as new to them as it is to me.   

After leaving the eco-village, we returned to MPP for lunch and drove to Hinche to shop at the local market. We then stopped at Midou, a restaurant, for some needed relaxation. As I sipped soda and ate popcorn and peanuts, I spoke with one of our translators, Juliette, about her experiences as a young Haitian woman. We talked about our common interests — cooking and reading (fiction for me, biographies for Juliette) — as well as more serious topics like the threat of Monsanto and widespread corruption in Haiti’s government. Although Juliette and I didn’t agree on everything we discussed, I found we had very similar values, and I was surprised by how quickly we were able to connect.

Similarly, although the other volunteers and I have only been in Haiti for five days, I feel a strong connection with everyone here. My roommate and I, who are both students, joke that we have really lived here for months, known each other our whole lives, and been long subject to the opinions of the older adult volunteers, our lovable and talkative extended family. I imagine that living in such a new and different environment, combined with the relative inaccessibility of the outside world, has made us feel so separated from our recent past and so close to each other.

To be honest, I still feel disoriented here and like I have a lot on my mind yet to process. What has struck me most about my visit to Haiti thus far, however, is the sense of hope I find in being here that I did not find in reading about Haiti. The facts and statistics in books are grim, as indeed they should be. Every day, I see malnourished children who must walk for hours to get to school or potable water, hear farmers talk about the desperate need for rain, and see feral dogs so hungry their rib cages protrude from their bodies. What the books don’t capture, though, is the joy one feels in playing with these children by a waterfall, in seeing the farmers find ways to manage the water they do have, and in sneaking a bit of one’s dinner to a dog hiding on the front porch. I look forward to returning to the eco-village tomorrow, learning more about the farmers’ lives, and making progress, however slight, in helping improve them.

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