Big Fish, Little Fish: Building Foundations and Mobilizing Community in Haiti

UUSC is excited to be partnering with the Unitarian Universalist Association on a joint volunteer trip to Haiti for youth and young adults, August 20—27. In the post below, participant Ravenna McGuire reflects on their first day working at the eco-village and learning about the MPP community and history of Haiti. Eight of us piled into the back of a white SUV. Our American legs, unaccustomed to pants in the summer heat, rubbed against our neighbor's. As we left the compound, tree trunks painted in the green and red of Mouvman Peyizan Papay (the Papaye Peasant Movement, or MPP) faded to dense fences of thin cactus stalks. A few minutes later we passed the first landmark that had become familiar — the washing river. The first time we crossed, a man was scrubbing his red Chinese-made motorbike in the middle of the brown water; the second time, a massive brown and white bull waited patiently while his hide was cleaned. This morning two men stood knee deep in the river, washing the floorboards of a white truck without doors. After 25 more minutes of pinballing across the road to avoid deep rifts in the red earth, we arrived at the entrance to the eco-village where we'd be spending the rest of our mornings. Mimine, the head engineer, guided us through the growing village. Two complete square houses, eight under way. The buildings are made almost entirely out of earth, with a rock and gravel foundation and clay walls. We got to work, passing stones hip to hip around the perimeter of the building to the men and women laying the foundation. Soon the group of Haitian children who'd been watching us joined us in line. Side-by-side, we sang Haitian freedom songs and Janis Joplin. The rock pile became smaller, and the foundation grew. Haiti has a troubled history, and its relationship with the United States is no different. We blocked trade soon after they won their freedom because we were afraid of the precedent set by a nation established through slave revolt. We established a Marine occupation in the 1900s, and we continue to ignore or oppress Haiti as convenient. But here we are, 13 young Americans, laying a house's foundation alongside members of the most political peasant movement in Haiti — largely because UUSC has proven time and time again, with its steady stream of volunteers and dollars, that it is committed to standing as an ally in the long term. Today we sat in on a popular-education training, where community members from all over Haiti use music and pictures to discuss oppression and how to mobilize their community. We talked about a series of pictures, one with a large fish eating a mouthful of smaller fish as others swam in different directions. Then we saw the smaller fish organize into the form of a larger fish and chase the larger fish away. In the course of our discussion, one of our members asked if the smaller fish could ever ally with the big fish, to which the facilitator responded, "Selman si gwo pwason prann konsyans" — "only if the big fish is conscious enough." With the groundwork laid by UUSC and our community's continued commitment to serving as a partner — listening to the Haitians tell us what they want for their communities, how they want to mobilize, where they want us to put the rocks — we can make huge strides in supporting progressive, sustainable, incredible projects like the MPP eco-village. And we can make baby steps toward addressing the many, many missteps that we as a nation have taken in our dealings with Haiti. If we're big fish, let us at least be conscious ones. View photos from the service trip!