Hundreds of Ways to Help People Live With Dignity

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 the first two days of the journey to help rebuild the community and lives of earthquake survivors in Haiti. 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 One The hotel where we stayed the first night has a grotto of sorts with a cannon in the middle, surrounded by cannon balls, rusted shackles, and chains. Two pairs of shackles on one chain. A few pretty plants. In about 24 square feet in front of the clean blue swimming pool. I'd like to say Haiti is full of such strange juxtapositions of its brutal past with its sparkling present — not so. We drove through Port-au-Prince today on a disaster tour of sorts. We saw the tent city that spans the Haitian equivalent of the national mall in Washington; the cock-eyed, collapsed National Palace; the shell of the Catholic cathedral; more tent cities; throngs of people everywhere. It's hard to understand how people survive in such dire and depressing circumstances. Hard to see a small child picking through garbage and piles of rock rubble everywhere. People packed into tap taps (colorful Haitian buses) like cord wood. There's also a frenetic energy — people are resourceful and appear to carry the Haitian equivalent of a minimart on their heads. It's as if Port-au-Prince could be a bustling, exciting city if the government could only manage to provide things like housing, water, proper roads, garbage pickup. Day Two The day began in the mesmerizing presence of Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, founder of the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP). An agronomist, a populist, a leader, a visionary, a problem solver on a large scale. After nearly 40 years, MPP touches more than 100,000 lives. With the team he has built, there isn't anything this group can't do. We saw cisterns that hold fish — water from the tanks better fertilizes the fields. A low-tech solar-cell recycling room (facility would be too strong a word) that provides power for schoolchildren to do their homework (an improvement over the smelly predecessor, gas lamps). Solar cell power the pumps that provide well water, and they also charge radios and, of course, the omnipresent phones. Goats that formerly died of a parasite from eating their own feces are now in elevated cages. Their poop is collected along with that of rabbits and chickens — the better to make rich compost to nourish the soil. And then there are the worm-compost gardens, and the wastewater from showers that is filtered and used on gardens, and the fruit-processing facility (it was three rooms, not one), and the pharmacy. The list is endless. One man's love of peasants manifested in hundreds of ways that help people live sustainably and with dignity. These people work incredibly hard — Chavannes hasn't made life easy for anyone. But he has helped them obtain land, tools, knowledge, and a sustainable lifestyle. Another agronomist gave us a tour of the two lakes MPP has had a hand in creating (and stocking with fish for peasants to catch). He made it clear that the MPP leaders see the peasants as the heroes. The leaders are eager for us to meet the people with the calloused hands and weather-beaten faces. One of the things Haiti (at least MPP) has over America is celebrating and revering the people who do the work. In the United States, they are at best hidden, at worst vilified (particularly if they have brown skin). I am grateful to Priscilla and Nuala for making this trip happen and to the UUSC organizers for exposing us to so much in so little time. Thank you, thank you. And tomorrow, we work!