I am taking advantage of the few hours of electricity provided by the Peasant Movement of Papaye’s (MPP) generator to post a few first impressions of our visit to Haiti.
We flew out of Port-au-Prince on a six-seater plane. The pilot actually leaned his head out the window and shouted what I guess was “Contact!” in French when he turned on the propeller.
Climbing over the hills surrounding the city, the devastating level of deforestation was obvious. There were sections where the topsoil had eroded down to the bare rocks. It looked like the bones of the mountains were poking through their skin. Haiti only has about 2% of its original forest cover left, but we still occasionally saw little columns of smoke rising where someone had set up a small charcoal kiln to try to turn a few of the remaining trees into charcoal in order to make a little cash. In addition to the chaotic political situation and the after-effects of the floods that hit Haiti last fall and spring, almost the entire country has been without rain for more than six months. Unable to plant their crops, many Haitians have no other way to make a living than mining the last of their country’s trees for charcoal.
Which brings us back to the MPP. We are staying at their National Peasant Training Center. Seven years ago this hilltop was as bare as any of the denuded peaks we flew over on our way in. During those seven years, they have gradually begun to improve the soil, planted trees and ground cover and a demonstration garden, and begun to construct a campus that will eventually be able to house up to 200 visitors at a time. The process of building the training center has also been an opportunity to begin the training. The young men who built the first building also learned masonry skills that they will be able to use to improve the quality of local housing stock and to construct cisterns to capture the water that flows from the few precious natural springs in the area. (After building that first building, the MPP also constructed a cistern and a reservoir that provides the only source of potable water for most of the people in the surrounding community. It’s a do-it-yourself project on a grand scale, like what a municipal water system would be if the local government had the means to provide even the most basic services.)
There are tomatoes growing with drip irrigation systems and carrots growing in planters made of recycled tires, medicinal fruits for the integrated community health program and hibiscuses planted just to look lovely. The view from the ground, at least on this one small hilltop, is much more hopeful than the view from the sky.
Tomorrow we are scheduled to visit a local cooperative to see how these ideas are being implemented by the average peasants who are the members of the movement.
Electricity permitting, I will be back tomorrow night with the details.