A Day Rich with Learning and Language

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 Alison Gottlieb reflects on a full day of learning with the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP). 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. The day started with goats bleating and dogs barking — pleasant farm sounds. After a wonderfully prepared local breakfast, we met with Chavannes, founder and director of MPP, who gave us a comprehensive tour of the training center. I was fascinated to learn how the tire gardens are built, how compost is processed quickly in tires (with red worms), and how seedlings are started with recycled plastic bottles. This would be great for inner-city rooftop or balcony gardens! We learned about highly nutritious legume plants that are used as food supplements for malnourished children; beans that are also highly nutritious, grow quickly, and reseed; and spinach that can be cut in three weeks and continuously thereafter. Since this is a training center, the plants and animals on the compound are chosen to support the Haitian diet with vitamins and minerals. After the tour, Chavannes gave an animated history of MPP from its founding in 1973 with two cooperative groups to the huge organization it is today with many co-ops (which they call "gwoupman"). The administrative structure is elaborate but very democratic, and decision-making processes empower peasants at every level. We also learned about MPP's philosophy and method of popular education. Because most peasants are uneducated, the method uses songs, images, proverbs, and stories to introduce ideas and segue into discussions of community problems and group solutions. Community organizers (which they call "animators") are trained to use these tools. Everything that is taught at MPP is broadcast on MPP's radio station, which is broadcast widely to 500,000 potential listeners. We were so interested in all Chavannes had to share, and he was so gracious, captivating, and generous with his time. In the afternoon, we piled into vans for a visit to MPP's clinic, solar-panel production operation, and jelly-production facility (we bought local jams and peanut butter!). Then we toured a gwoupman farm — individual and group plots irrigated by a man-made reservoir. Farmers take turns irrigating their crops. Irrigation allows peasants to grow crops year-round, rather than only during the rainy season. We ended the day with a reflection on the power of language. Haiti is a country where, until recently, the dominant language — Haitian Creole — was not taught in school, and everyone was required to learn in French, a language spoken by only about five percent of the population. Our group time included a language lesson, taught by our driver Bruillant, that included learning a few basic phrases in Creole. It was brain exercise for sure, and left many of us laughing. Throughout our day, on the training center grounds and outside, we met many members of the MPP community — Haitians being trained on MPP's sustainable agricultural techniques, the kitchen staff preparing our meals, families living in the training compound, MPP factory workers, and peasants tending their family plot. And we had the camaraderie of our fellow delegation members and leaders. A very full and rich day!