A Work Day at the Eco-Village in Haiti

UUSC is partnering with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) on a joint volunteer trip to Haiti, January 21-28. In the post below, trip participant Casey Aspin  shares thoughts on working at the eco-village with local members of 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. Day Three The morning began with a discussion between the UUSC delegation and the people we came to work with — the families who live in the pilot eco-village being built by the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP). They came from all sections of Port-au-Prince, strangers to each other brought together by the need to escape tragedy and find a new life. After the teeming tent slums of Port-au-Prince, you can't help but be happy for these 10 families, each with two to four children. The eco-village is the Haitian equivalent of Little House on the Prairie. These are urban people learning a new lifestyle, and they seem confident and hopeful. Their lives won't be easy — the trip to Hinche to sell any surplus goods is not exactly a joyride. The roads here are more like boulder fields than roads. Our SUVs get by, with us being thrown around quite a bit. But people going to market are on foot or donkey or motorcycle cab. Once the lengthy and formal introductions were over, with the eco-village leader expressing great gratitude for our work and interest in what UUSC is, we finally got to work. Everyone was pretty excited, and we set about it like we meant business — hauling rocks, mixing cement, sawing boards, and handing boards up to the guys on the roof. Everyone was busy the rest of the morning - which isn't easy when you are trying to keep 14 volunteers, three translators, and three drivers engaged (plus four UUSC staff). I would say we were pretty amazing in what we accomplished were it not for the Haitians, who worked long before we got there and who knows how long after we left. They never stopped for water or food. I don't think I've ever seen people work this hard. Ever. Some live in the village. Some are day laborers. I worked with Joel, one of the latter. He stayed seven years in the Dominican Republic learning a trade (electrician) but couldn't get work. He returned to Haiti and hasn't done much better. He said you have to pay to get work. I haven't been able to learn more about that. He has a wife and daughter in Hinche, and I think he walks round trip. We were sawing wide planks of mango wood into narrow boards that were probably destined for the roof of the community building arising next door. Mango wood is very hard. Many of the tools I brought are being used, but the saws are no match for the mango wood. We get through it mainly by the means of Joel's brute force. I'm pretty slow, but I like giving him a break. Rev. Justin and Mike Carpenter (fittingly) are cutting boards next to Joel and me. After lunch we visited a peasant house. Keep in mind that calling someone a peasant here is a compliment. They are the workers who seek to live life in harmony with each other and the earth. What we could learn from them! Our tour guide was a young man who is very ambitious to improve his lot in life. He's a model MPP member — solar panels on his very modest house, tire gardens, roof-fed cistern to extend the growing season, rabbits, chickens, and guinea fowl. And fire in the belly. The saddest part of the visit was a walk through the parched fields (no rain here since October) to visit a small tire garden behind a house with no livestock. Three girls (in ninth and tenth grades) live there with their mother. Their father left four years ago. They walk two hours each way to school. The oldest wants to be a doctor, but they are in arrears on tuition and she can't afford textbooks. She says if she has a notebook, she will copy lessons from someone else's textbook. Her face was so sad that we all wanted to figure a way to help. Of course all requests must be funneled through MPP so we don't encourage a culture of dependency. After the tour, we drove down more mogul roads to Bassin Zim waterfall. I think I was too tired to enjoy the visit. We walked high above the basin to a cave accompanied by many young boys (and some not so young) who were pretty eager for money. The cave was beautiful and eerie and ancient — unsurprisingly a place where spiritual leaders convene.