food justice

Thanksgiving in The EcoVillages

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As we gather with our families and friends to express gratitude for our blessings, a different kind of “thanks” giving emanates from the people of the EcoVillages.  This Haitian version of gratitude is directed towards YOU.

They are thankful for your gift of learning.  You have helped provide the classroom, the workbook, the teacher and the full belly for this child to learn.  And 266 other kids like him.  When we visited in October, parents and children asked us to deliver this message to you.  “Mesi!”

They are thankful for your gift of community. The school has become the center of community life.  People collaborate to raise the food that feeds the kids so they can learn.  “Mesi.”

They are thankful for the gift of optimism.  For people who are rebuilding their lives from the personal devastation of earthquake, from the uncertainty of endless days in tent cities and from the hungry months of drought in their new homes, optimism is an incredible contrast.  Make no mistake.  It has been and still is hard, requiring enormous resilience just to keep going. They have done the backbreaking work required to scratch a living from fallow soil.  They have had to adapt to living among people who were strangers in the beginning.  But now they can see the results.  The EcoVillages are lush with growing food.  Children play with abandon like children are supposed to play.  Parents see the possibility of a more prosperous life where there is something left over after the family has eaten.  They are optimistic that they will control their own destiny soon and that their own efforts will sustain their school. 

They want you to know how they feel about your support:  “Mesi. Mesi anpil.”

On this Thanksgiving as you express your gratitude for the ways others have enriched your life, hear the voices of your unseen friends. You have done a good thing.  Let their Mesi brighten your holiday.

Life Improves in the EcoVillages

Education. Enrollment at the school has grown from 170 last year to 267 this year. A new 7th grade classroom was added. 

The thirst for learning is contagious. Parents are now clamoring for adult literacy classes so that they can learn to read and help their kids in school.

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Electricity.  It doesn’t look like much, but a pole can be a beautiful thing.  Our partners at the Unitarian-Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) in Boston approved a grant to bring electricity to the six EcoVillages this year.  The power is now on! There is a pole next to the community center building in each village which provides light at night.  Residents must buy a meter to bring power to their own homes, which some have already done.  Residents are already imagining how their lives might change.

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Water. Wells in two of the villages were broken last year. UUSC paid to have them fixed.  Now there is nearby water for everyone. Clean clothes feel good.

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Food. Everywhere you look there is food: congo beans, cassava, plantains, papaya, bananas, peppers, cabbage, squash.  You even hear chickens peck and goats bleat and an occasional pig grunt.  The days of empty pots and lean harvests are behind them – at least for now. 

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Collaboration.  Parents understand that they must coordinate their efforts to grow food for school lunches.  Thanks in part to a grant from PATH (Atlanta’s Presbyterian Answer to Hunger) new school gardens have been planted, expanding their contribution dramatically. Hot, organic meals are served to the students every day of the week. Cassava came in this month, cabbage next week and squash in November.  As a result, the school budget for food has been slashed so that precious funds can be allocated elsewhere.

When asked about his life in the village, one man replied matter-of-factly, “Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not.” In other words, for many life has returned to familiar routines.  The struggle for basics -- survival and safety and a place to belong – is being replaced by the struggle to get ahead.  You know -- normalcy. 

Bringing a Gift of Adventure

Tomorrow I will travel to Haiti with Claude Henry Pierre and Marty Maxwell, two new members of the steering committee of our Haiti EcoVillage School Partnership.  Claude will translate both the language and the culture for us while looking for ways to improve our long distance communication with our partners in Haiti.  Marty will study the prospects of forming a sewing business using the six machines that have been donated and the ample enthusiasm of the people to learn both how to sew at a commercial level and how to run a successful business.   

One of the joys during our trip will be to deliver many books for the children.  Supporters have been providing funds for books each year for the past 3 years. This year, for the first time, we have targeted a wide range of interests beyond just early Kreyol readers. Here are some of the books we will be taking to the school.

 Many of the early readers are in two languages – English & Kreyol or French & Kreyol – with familiar titles designed to expose children to the stories of the world. They will learn about the Little Red Hen, Aesop’s fables and Beowulf.

Many of the early readers are in two languages – English & Kreyol or French & Kreyol – with familiar titles designed to expose children to the stories of the world. They will learn about the Little Red Hen, Aesop’s fables and Beowulf.

 Some of the books about Haiti come in sets of 5 so they can be used for group reading in class.

Some of the books about Haiti come in sets of 5 so they can be used for group reading in class.

 Can you figure out what story is told in the book titled Wow ak Jilyet? Many of the books are more advanced and tell stories about Africa and soccer. Think Shakespeare. Haitian kids must learn French so they can pass a national exam after the 8th grade and there are books to polish that new skill. Here’s a cool book about the caves of Haiti. Poetry. How about Songs for Kids in French and Kreyol?

Can you figure out what story is told in the book titled Wow ak Jilyet? Many of the books are more advanced and tell stories about Africa and soccer. Think Shakespeare. Haitian kids must learn French so they can pass a national exam after the 8th grade and there are books to polish that new skill. Here’s a cool book about the caves of Haiti. Poetry. How about Songs for Kids in French and Kreyol?

 From early reader content through 8th grade, we offer them English parallel text.

From early reader content through 8th grade, we offer them English parallel text.

 Our most ambitious experiment is the entire Harry Potter collection in French. We hope some children will become engrossed in Harry’s adventures so thoroughly that they master French in the process and discover the wonder of imagination and a culture far away.

Our most ambitious experiment is the entire Harry Potter collection in French. We hope some children will become engrossed in Harry’s adventures so thoroughly that they master French in the process and discover the wonder of imagination and a culture far away.

Follow our posts this week as we deliver the books and talk about our trip to the school and the EcoVillages.

Across the Divide

 Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner, Islands & Island Nations (Haiti), at a traditional konbit--a communal work day spent building walls to conserve the soil.

The divides are many.

We are the richest nation per capita in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti is the poorest.

We speak English. They speak Kreyol and French.

Our lives are aided (dominated?) by complex, ubiquitous technology.  The EcoVillages don’t even have electricity.

We drive and walk fast.  They walk everywhere at a relaxed amble.

We live in splendid isolation behind the walls of our houses, where most of the faces we see each day are on our devices.  They live interlocked lives with their neighbors, with whom they collect water, raise large families and even share outhouses.

We demand security from police, EMTs, retirement funds, Social Security, warranties, contracts, and armies.  They have no security except for the good will of their neighbors.

We grouse about pot-holes near us.  The nearest paved road to the EcoVillages is 5 miles away.

We shop at Kroger, Publix, Your Dekalb Farmer’s Market, Sprouts, Whole Foods, depending on what specifically we want. Plus, we eat out a lot.  They eat what can grow in their yard gardens. 

We watch AcuWeather forecasts and movement of temperatures during the day.  They pray for a safe hurricane season that doesn’t level their crops.

We are God’s Frozen Chosen, adhering to the rules of the Book of Order, but keenly aware of an elusive God whom we cannot detect with our scientific instruments and whose presence in the world seems confusing.  They are part Catholic, part charismatic, part voodoo, 100% believers that God controls their fate.

We frown a lot. They smile a lot.

I know.  I am going on, but I could keep going.  The differences are many and they are fundamental.

From the beginning of our project to build a school for children who would otherwise not learn to read, we articulated a commitment to bridge that gap, to build relationships.  We intended to know these people, to understand their struggles and their joys.  We decided to learn from their wisdom and to authentically present ourselves so that we could be known to them, too. For 5 years we have dispatched delegations to meet, learn and share. Ask anyone who has been and they will tell you about the life-enriching experience. And our Haitian partners know something more about us, as represented by the child who reaches out to touch our skin to learn if it is real like her own skin.

Last year we exchanged art between the children at the EcoVillage school and our own children.  We said, “Draw a picture about your life.”  The art about their lives has hung on our walls for our children to see.  Our children’s life art hangs on their school walls now. Photos show curious children looking at the others’ images, wondering about their lives.

This year, to bridge the distance, we have invited the founder of the EcoVillages to come to us.  He is a man worth knowing. 

When you meet him you’ll be drawn to the smile, in part because you’ll see that his 70-year-old face has spent a lot of its time smiling. This from a man who has avoided assassination through exile and has spent all of his life living among some of the poorest people on earth. There is wisdom to be learned from someone so courageous.

You will see a man of the world who has traveled to Lima and Durbin to contribute to United Nations conferences on climate change, Paris and San Francisco to receive honors for his work.  Yet he still lives in Papay among the people he spends his life helping. There are insights to be gleaned from someone so broad.

You will hear from a man who has wielded political power as adviser to Haiti’s president, but has never compromised the well-being of his people for personal gain.  Can we ever get too much from people of integrity?

So come meet Chavannes.  Broaden your experience and understanding.

At the same time, let him learn about us through your presence.  You will be one of the people he talks about when he returns to talk to the families in the EcoVillages and the children at the school.  Your presence will help build that bridge of understanding and respect that holds the promise of a better tomorrow for all of God’s people, Haitian and American, rich and poor, smilers and frowners. 

Hear Chavannes at Emory University Candler School of Theology, Thursday, 4/12   5:30-7:30pm