May 1st – International Workers Day was honored in many locations throughout Haiti. Thousands gathered in Port au Prince at the Champs de Mars, and almost a thousand gathered at the national training center of the Mouvman Peyizan Papay ( MPP) in Papay. All were present to celebrate but also to raise their voices and tell their transitional government, as well as the international community, about their hopes – about their needs – and what they are no longer willing to tolerate.
I spoke with two young men who had awoken at four in the morning to make the four hour walk from their homes in St. Cerc a la Source to participate in the celebration in Papay. These two young men had heard me speaking Spanish with one of the MPP agronomists who is in charge of the natural medicine and organic agriculture – and had decided to have a conversation with me – in Spanish! It is a testament to the determination of Haitian peasant youth, in country where 60% of children have no access to education and where half of the adult population is illiterate, that they have been able to learn three languages – Kreyol, French and Spanish.
Both Joseph Oguel and Moly Maxis wanted to make sure to give me their special message to people living in the US who may have an interest in Haiti’s future. These youth from St. Cerc a la Source want us to know that they are organized and they are acutely conscious of what is needed to make life in the Haitian countryside better. The said that “despite their best efforts to organize and make their needs known to the Haitian government they have not had the support that they need for their community to develop economically, socially or culturally. There are many things that we can do, and are willing to do, but we have never been given the resources nor the support to put our energy to work. Our community has no school, no hospital, no library, little access to potable water…. Our organizations have done what they can, but these things are the responsibility of the Haitian state.”
Moly and Joseph also said that they would like to see a stronger program of reforestation and conservation – one in which the Haitian government would join in and support the work of the peasant organizations to protect and develop their land. They need access to low cost loans to buy tools, seeds and saplings. They have the willingness and the strength to work – what they lack are the resources.
These two young men made it quite clear that rural development policy must be comprehensive – it cannot include only programs to support agricultural development, but rather should involve all aspects of rural life. In order to be effective rural development policy must take into consideration the needs of rural youth – and must work with locally organized groups.
If Joseph and Moly are representative of organized rural youth they have quite clearly expressed the basic elements of what is needed to have good locally controlled rural development. This experience shows me that neither a college degree nor international development training is needed for peasant youth to have a clear sense of how to maximize their local strengths and local resources to build a better future. And as they said they are willing and have the energy – what they need is support from the Haitian government and the international community.
I must end this here for now as I am running off to a meeting with a Haitian women’s organization – more later…………..