International Unitarian Universalism

Talking with Women of the Papaye Peasant Movement

By UUA International Resources

UUSC partnered with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) on a joint volunteer trip to Haiti, January 21-28. Trip participant Casey Aspin writes about her experience in the post below. 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. Day Five My earlier entries neglected to explain that we made a four-hour trip from Port-au-Prince due north to Papaye (near Hinche) in the Central Plateau. We went from Global South urban poverty (crowded, smelly from burning garbage, buzzing with activity) to rural poverty (dotted with shacks, tethered animals, and a steady stream of people headed to market to sell wares — most on foot, some leading a donkey, and for the comparatively well-off a motorbike taxi provided transport). Once in Papaye, we settled into a simple dorm on the grounds of the training center for the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP). Other dorms were filled with people from all over the lower and central highlands who came to learn about tire gardens, drip irrigation, natural pesticides, and other things of import to Haitian farmers. On this day, we met with the MPP women's group. We learned, for instance, that it's a five- to six-hour walk to get to a medical clinic (which is likely to be poorly staffed and ill equipped). Violence against women is endemic in Haiti, and MPP is no exception. Part of the solution is "animators," who use songs and drawings to teach illiterate women about their rights. I remain confused about the value of understanding rights when there are no nearby police or courts to enforce them. My interpretation — reading between the Creole lines — is that women will not turn in their abusers because they need their financial support. Why should Haiti be different from any other country? MPP women see the solution as — surprise — tire gardens and livestock. A woman who can provide for herself and her children can leave an abusive spouse. And MPP women support each other, providing training and scholarships so that more girls can become leaders. Tuition is $40 a year for elementary school and $300 a year for high school, so schooling ends for many at a young age. The MPP women had many questions for us. For instance, what do our husbands do to protect us? There was much laughter at this question, and I worry that we didn't explain why. But it really brought home the difference between our lives and theirs. We don't live in fear. And, for the women in our group, thankfully, college, a house, a car, health care — these are all givens. The visit ended with a tour of one woman's tire garden — the biggest and best we've seen. She grew turnips, spinach, onions, bell peppers, parsley, and tomatoes. Like everyone else who gave us garden tours, she was very proud.

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