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Another Countryside Is Possible

May 2004

Satellite internet on a mountainside in the heart of Haiti’s Central Plateau – only one of the achievements, among many, of the Mouvman Peyizan Papay – The Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP). The oldest and best organized of Haiti’s peasant organizations, the MPP, is celebrating International Worker’s Day tomorrow with a large agricultural fair drawing peasants from various regional associations to celebrate and demonstrate what can be done when peasants put their heads together.

I apologize to any readers for the delay in this next entry – but the internet connection at the hotel in Port au Prince was down, as are many essential services for much of the time. The transitional government has promised that people will finally have access to four hours daily electricity as of May 10th! If this actually happen it will be a much needed relief for Haitian who have been having to make do with less than an hour of electricity a day.

During recent months schools, clinics, garbage collection and other basic services – which by US standards are already severely limited – have been sporadic at best.

I arrived today at the MPP national training center after a five hour ride on what only vaguely resembles a dirt road. Travel through the Haitian countryside is bittersweet – beautiful and heartbreaking. It is only upon traveling to the countryside that you witness the enormity of the challenges facing the Haitian people after decades – or perhaps centuries – of neglect and exploitation of the countryside. The roads are filled with people taking animals and produce to market on foot or piled up on battered trucks. I saw several tap-taps (Haitian buses) – loaded with people animals, goods and produce – broken down on their way to markets. I wondered who would repay the people for the lost income? Who would care that peasants who had toiled long an hard might not be able to realize the fruit of their labor?

Upon arrival in Papay I was greeted by dozens of peasants hard at work preparing tomorrow’s celebration. A celebration that will include demonstrations of the products generated by numerous cooperatives – including clothing, crafts, wine and liquers, fruit compotes, honey, fruits and vegetables. Something similar to a county fair – and yet fundamentally different.

It could not be clearer that the MPP exists to safeguard a space for the peasant voice in the national reality and the national political discourse. With 60% of Haitians still residing in the countryside and dependent upon farming for both their daily survival and for income to pay for medical care and education – a peasant organization such as the MPP is vital vehicle for survival. But the MPP not only works to improve daily livelihoods – it is also doing what the Haitian state has not yet done to help peasants build for a future with hope.

I have met more than a dozen peasant youth who have achieved university training and are back to provide technical and professional services to their communities throughout the organized structures created by the MPP. They are agronomists, communications specialists, educators, health care professionals and computer techies – all returning to the rural areas where their families are still farming.

One such young professional is Agathe who has recently graduated from medical school in Cuba and has already begin a reproductive health program by training traditional birth attendants or Fanms Saj. Agathe is also working to establish a pilot primary health care center in Papay. In the past few years the indices of both maternal, infant and child mortality have increased throughout Haiti. Agathe is determined to turn the tide of sickness and death by providing primary health care services that take into account the deep rooted and culturally bound traditions of Haiti’s rural people. A child of the MPP, Agathe was raised within this rural cultural tradition and as a young health care professional of the MPP Agathe is more likely to succeed in this mission than an urban doctor sponsored by an international NGO.

Can you think of a better reason to provide increased support to Haitian grassroots organizations with decades of practical experience and success in solving what to others may seem like intractable problems?

I hope to write more tomorrow evening – that is if the generator is working!

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