Category Archives: Images Of Haiti

Gardening Friends

Ti Kèl and Mackenson are the best of friends. They are sixteen-year-olds, who sit next to each other on the same bench of the 5th grade class at the public school in Mariaman, where my neighbor Mèt Anténor is principal. They both come large families. Ti Kèl’s mother has ten children, and Mackenson is one of seven.

They are both unusual in their families, but not unique, in their deciding to try to take school seriously. One of Ti Kèl’s five older siblings, a guy named Titi, is well into high school and working hard. If the three kids between Ti Kèl and Titi are not in school, it is nonetheless Titi that he’s chosen as his model. He has been strongly encouraged to work hard in school by his godfather and first cousin, Mèt Anténor, and his parents are both supportive. Mackenson has an older sister living in Pètyonvil who’s in high school, but most of his other siblings are not. He himself decided that he would go to school. His parents are pleased, and they give him the little help they can, but they had no hand in the decision.

This year, they decided to plant a joint vegetable garden. Mackenson’s father, Leon, had some land he wasn’t using that he let the boys borrow, and the planted tomatoes, sweet peppers, and corn back when the rains started in late February. It looks as though there may be a decent harvest. There’s been an unusually good mixture of sunshine and rain.

They asked me to take some pictures of the garden to take with me to Matènwa. Ti Kèl has made friends at the school there. Since he heard about their efforts to plant trees, he’s been sending seeds and saplings. He visited last summer, and made many fast friends.

They are especially pleased with their tomatoes, which are really loaded.

One of their two plots of corn is growing well too. The other is in distinctly poorer soil, so it’s struggling. But here’s the good corn:

Their peppers are flourishing.

Mackenson’s also raising a goat.

The papaya tree in front of his house is really filled.

They will send their harvest for sale to Pètyonvil. Their mothers will probably do the actual selling. But the should make some money.

The Finals

Last fall, the neighborhood guys in Kaglo talked a local farmer into renting them one of his fields for the next three years to use for soccer. They raised the money themselves, scraping it together by combining their own funds with some outside financing. Since then, they’ve been organizing regular soccer tournaments. A recent Sunday saw the finals of a tournament for young men, a division just below the open one, that’s restricted to younger guys about 5’ 7” or less.

The home team, which featured guys from Kaglo and Mabanbou, faced a team from Metivier, an area about 40 minutes away by foot. The Metivier team was led by my friend Elie, who is from Metdivier but has lived in his aunt’s house in Kaglo since his mother died.

The field has one disadvantage: There’s a larger tree in the middle of it that the farmer, rightly, refused to let them cut down. They simple have to play around it.

The match was refereed by Watson, a twenty-something from down the hill in Mariaman.

It was exciting. The field is small, and the players cover it easily, so nothing can develop slowly. The goals are small too, so you can’t really score unless you take the goalie by surprise. Goals have to come very suddenly.

Here’s the team from Metivier. Elie is standing up, the second from the right.

The real match, though, is played off to the side. The six-eight year olds. They have no uniforms, no referees, no fans. They don’t argue or show off. They just have a great time.

Literacy in Zone 1

AAPLAG divides Lagonav into six zones. The division helps the organization administer its various programs across Lagonav, the large island west of Pòtoprens.

AAPLAG is the Asosyasyon Animatè ak Peyizan Lagonav, or the Lagonav Association of Community Organizers and Peasants. It has been working for years at community development on the island. It has health, agricultural, and environmental programs, but also microcredit and literacy. The adult literacy program is almost twenty years old. It was the first program in Haiti to start experimenting with Wonn Refleksyon back when we first starting creating Wonn Refleksyon in 1997. At the time, the program’s coordinator was Abner Sauveur, who was then and still is the principal of the Matènwa Community Learning Center. The current coordinator is Ezner Angervil, Abner’s former student.

In December, a small group of us led a workshop designed to help this year’s group of literacy teachers use a new version of Wonn Refleksyon with their students. This version would be based exclusively on short Haitian proverbs, which would also serve as reading lessons for the students. We also streamlined the typical lesson plan to make it as easy as possible for an inexperienced discussion leader to follow. (See: Driving the Dog.)

Friday, Ezner and I went out into the field together. We wanted to visit a literacy center to see how Wonn Refleksyon was working. Ezner had seen several discussions in various of AAPLAG’s 17 centers this winter, and had reported that the students really liked the process, that they enjoyed talking about the proverbs, but this would be my first chance to visit one.

We took Ezner’s motorcycle to Zone 1, the easternmost part of the island. It was about a 45-minute ride from Matenwa.

Here’s a view of the church the center is located in. It’s still under construction, but perfectly usable.

These views of farmland around the church can give something of a sense of what peasants on the island are up against. Soil erosion has been so damaging. This farm looks, more than anything, as though it’s cultivating rocks.

This is the dry season. Though the rains began a couple of weeks ago on the mainland, Lagonav is still waiting.

The class started over 20 minutes early because the teacher and most of the students had already arrived. The first thing they did was review the previous week’s work. The students had been writing their names on the blackboard, and two of them volunteered to write theirs.

Here one of the women watches as her teacher corrects the way she had written her name. Her name is Neemie, but she had reversed the n and forgotten the i. The correction was very much positive, and she seemed encouraged.

As always in Wonn Refleksyon, the main work is done in small groups, where people get to exchange opinions before the large group convenes. The proverb they are discussing is “//fè koupe fè//,” or “iron cuts iron.” It’s used in a number of ways, but often means something like, “what goes around comes around.” Small group work is a time to begin sharing experiences that relate to the proverb.

Here is the large group. The man on the right is Ezner. 18 of the 19 students in the center are women. Partly, this reflects the fact that boys are more likely to be sent to school. Partly, it’s because women are more likely to admit they can’t read. In the large group, the exchange of experiences continues and broadens.

After the Wonn Refleksyon discussion, the group returns to the work of reading and writing.

It was a useful visit. The group’s leader managed the Wonn Refleksyon well considering how little training and experience he’s had. He asked for some suggestions, and it was easy to point to a couple of things.

I don’t know whether I’ll get back to that particular center this year. There are, after all, 17 of them, and I’m rarely on Lagonav more than once a month, but Ezner visits them regularly. In the end, the minimum things needed for the Wonn Refleksyon to be process to be worth doing are simple enough that very little support is really needed.

Inivèsite Fonkoze

Fonkoze’s approach to its educational programs distinguishes them from other adult-education programs I’m aware of. Even their objectives are unique. It sees providing educational programs as a route towards helping its members improve their lives. That might sound conventional enough. But for Fonkoze, the route depends, first and foremost, on effective microcredit programs that help members increase their financial independence and security and to become less poor. Fonkoze’s educational programs are designed to complement and even serve microcredit. The institution is not, after all, a school that lends money. It’s a bank that offers education.

The educational programs serve microcredit in a number of ways. Most directly, and obviously, are the ways that Basic Literacy and Business Development students acquire skills that help them make better use of their loans. Keeping track of inventory, expenses, and sales is much easer for women who can read and write. And these are all skills specifically covered in the Business Development class. Health Education students can reduce sickness – their own and their families’ – that can drain their resources.

But these direct effects are, in a sense, less significant than another that is, perhaps, less obvious. Educational programs strengthen microcredit by strengthening the centers that the credit works through. It strengthens these centers by bringing their members together for more frequent meetings.

Centers without educational programs generally meet every two weeks. Every four weeks, they meet to make loan repayments. They have a second meeting each month for discussions. Centers with educational programs, however, meet once or even twice each week. The women end up working with one another more closely, more regularly, and so a sense of community, of solidarity, develops among them.

But credit centers can have forty members or more, too many to participante effectively in a single class. So Fonkoze has been developing an approach one might call “Inivèsite Fonkoze”, or Fonkoze University. Credit centers are organized to offer two or three classes simultaneously. Women can sign up for the class they want. It is as though they are university students choosing from among elective offerings.

Here are some photos from one Fonkoze University, at a credit center in Zoranje, a rural community in the mountains outside of Jakmèl.

The center is located in the yard behind one of its member’s home, under a cluster of trees:

One important aspect of the new approach is the Fonkoze no longer hires outside professional educators to run the classes. They are instead taught by credit center members who receive a week of training to prepare them. This not only develops a sense of solidarity within the centers, as participants teach and learn from one another, but it also develops leadership skills in the women who take on the task. Here are the three member-teachers at the center in Zoranje. The woman on the left teaches Basic Literacy, the one on the right teaches Business Skills, and the woman who’s seated teaches Reproductive Health.

Participants in the Basic Literacy class felt strongly that they should be able to pose to have their photos taken. Here are two of them:

The Business Skills class uses a book that Fonkoze created. Here is a participant at the board, working out a problem:

Here, some of her classmates watch:

The instructor works it out at the table. She is learning together with her students:

The Reproductive Health class is based on wide-ranging conversations about stories that were collected because they raise important issues. Here, the teacher leads the discussion. Her young daughter looks on:

The more Fonkoze is able to provide these programs to its credit centers, the stronger those centers will grow. They will gradually become long-term associations of women who meet to learn together. Leadership skills will spread and strengthen among them, and so their communities will move forward as well. It is hard to imagine a more certain means towards progress in rural Haiti.

Leadership in the Garden

“The Matènwa Community Learning Center” is incomplete as a translation of the name of the school there. The full Creole name is “Lekòl Kominote Matènwa pou Devlopman” or “The Matènwa Community School for Development.” It would make awkward English. Hence the shortening. But the “for Development” is important nonetheless. The school aims to do more that provide strong educational programs for local kids and adults. It is committed to the development of Matènwa, of the island of Lagonav, and even of Haiti.

This commitment is evident in any number of ways. It’s clear when you see the school receiving teaching interns from other parts of Haiti. It’s clear when you see teachers at the school traveling in Haiti to share their experiences with other teachers. It’s clear when you follow the school’s leadership of the network it created of small schools around Lagonav, schools who have decided to join its decisions to teach in Creole, to teach without violence and humiliation, and to develop vegetable gardens and tree nurseries.

And those decisions are more than just words. They lead directly to action. Wednesday’s meeting was an example. Fifth and sixth graders from another school in its network, the Baptist School in nearby Gransous, came to Matènwa to watch how the kids at the Matènwa school work in their garden. The teachers in Gransous had already met and had decided to give schoolyard gardening a try. But they felt that, rather than just making their students take on the project they would seek their agreement, and the first step they chose was to bring them to Matènwa to observe.

Though the lions share of the gardening at the Matènwa school is done by the children, there is nevertheless plenty of work to go around. The school’s principal, Abner Sauveur, is also the head gardener, and he prepares for the Gransous visit:

Here the students arrive, two full classes from each school:

The first thing that caught their interest was the school’s large fish tank. It’s filled with tilapia, a fish that survives well in a closed tank with only minimum attention. The tanks water becomes an extra source of plant nutrients when it’s used to water the soil.

Abner begins by talking to the students about the different tasks they have to accomplish:

Here, the kids from Gransous are listening in. They wore uniforms for the visit, but the Gransous school has imitated the one in Matènwa in its decision not to require uniforms any longer. One sees here that, even when the kids wear uniforms, they don’t pay too much attention to whether their uniforms are all alike.

One of the tasks for the day was to fill small black bags with soil enriched with donkey dung.

The bags are used to plant tree seedlings, one of the garden’ most important products in an area whose trees have been decimated by years of charcoal production. The bags are lined up outside of direct sunlight. They’re ready to be part of the school’s nursery.

Meanwhile, another group of students is preparing a bed for planting. The beds are shaped out of enriched soil.

One of the school’s teaching interns lends a hand.

Boys and girls participate as equals in all part of the garden work.

A number of the students were sent into the cabbage patch to remove snails that can ravage their crop. Simple measures like this eliminate any need for insecticides, which would be expensive and dangerous.

A couple of students water.

The students from Gransous had been brought to observe the work, but as is clear from all the photo, that plan didn’t last. They wanted to be part of the work and, so, joined right in.

Before they left, they all met together to discuss the experience. Such closing conversations are always part of the work Abner does in the garden with his own students, but on the day of the visit the group was especially large: over sixty kids and their teachers sitting is as much of a circle as they could.

The kids from Gransous had lots of questions about the advantages of gardening at the school and the resources they’d need to get started.

Most of the answers came from the Matènwa kids themselves.

Abner said a few words at the end, but they were mostly words of thanks — both to his own students and to his guests:

The Center in Laskandrik

Laskandrik is a rural area on the edge of Tomond, a small city in the Central Plateau, partway between Mibalè and Ench. Tomond is home to one of the smaller Fonkoze branches, but one that’s growing quickly.

It was opened in partnership with Partners in Health, the large NGO founded by Dr. Paul Farmer. Partners in Health knows that real health services for the poor must include more than traditional medical care. Addressing health issues means addressing their causes, and those causes start with poverty. The micro credit that Fonkoze can offer thus has become a central piece of in a comprehensive approach to health.

As rural as the branch might already seem, it’s not the real center of Fonkoze’s activity in Tomond. Like all of Fonkoze’s branches, the activity in Tomond is scattered across credit centers that can be as much as two hours by motorcycle from the branch. These centers are grouping of 25-40 members, organized into five-person solidarity groups. Credit agents bring financial services to clients so that clients lose neither time nor money traveling to the branch.

Educational services, like financial services, are offered at credit centers, like the one in Laskandrik. It’s housed in a church:

The Credit Center in Laskandrik has 25 members. Only a few can read. Fonkoze’s initial literacy test showed that 17 needed a Basic Literacy class for beginners. They were divided into two groups to assure that class size would not be too large. Here are the two groups:

The guy sitting slightly behind the group is Aunondieu. He’s the education coordinator for the Tomond branch. He had been the branch’s courier. But before working for Fonkoze, Aunondieu had spent several years as an adult literacy teacher, so he was excited when we announced we’d need an education coordinator in Tomond. Here he is in the office:

His first job was to find teachers for the classes. Fonkoze is looking not just to teach reading and writing, but also to develop leadership and solidarity among its members. So instead of hiring professional educators from the outside, it identifies members who can read and write and prepares them to teach. Aunondieu engaged two of the literate members of the center in Laskandrik, Esther and Marie Ange, to be teachers, and set them to work.

Here’s Marie Ange, working at a blackboard:

And here’s Esther. She’s the one in green:

The groups have been meeting for only three weeks, but both teachers understand how important it is for their learners to be active throughout class. Their approach so far has been to spend most of the class drawing participants up to the blackboard to read or write.

And here are a couple of shots from Esther’s group:

I shot the following short film sitting on the back of Aunondieu’s motorcycle on the way back from Laskandrik. It was a 45-minute ride, much of it like the part I filmed and some of it worse. The film might help someone understand the challenges that Fonkoze overcomes every day in serving its members.

The Meeting in Ka Glo

On Friday, a group of Reflection Circle practitioners met in Ka Glo. Reflection Circles are one of the major aspects of my work Haiti. They are what brought me to Haiti when I first came in 1997. I was invited to participate in taking a program that had been created by some of my teachers and adapting it for Haiti. That program is called the Touchstones Discussion Project ( It’s a disciplined process for introducing conversation about texts as a regular activity into a range of situations: from classrooms in schools to youth groups and literacy classes. A group of Haitians and Americans that were at work here thought that some version of the Touchstones Project might be useful.

Friday’s meeting was the third in a series that began after a number of us expressed the sense last December that we weren’t doing enough to make progress as practitioners. We held a first meeting in Dabòn last spring and a second in Matènwa in July.

I took some photos of Friday’s meeting, which we held in and around my house. All the food for the day was made by Madanm Decius, the mother of my young friends Titi and Ti Kel.

We welcomed people from my front patio with coffee with bread and peanut butter. Abélard and Jude, two of the most experienced practitioners, had agreed that they would lead the day.

We sat around a circle in my living room. We had removed my furniture and replaced it all with benches borrowed from the Seventh Day Adventist church.

Abélard is a good, but a very laid-back leader. Nevertheless, leadership does involve some talking.

We spent much of the day meeting in small groups, in various corners of the mango or plantain groves.

Afelène came from Matènwa, where she’s a kindergarten teacher.

Thomas came from the mountains outside of Leyogann, where he teaches both primary school and adult literacy. He’s also a veterinary worker.

As my co-host, Lilly took a lively interest in the proceedings.

Two Schools

I have been working to add two schools to my list of partners. Here are a couple of photos of each one.

The first is called “La Modestie.” It was created by some of the women of Kofaviv as a place where other women who have been rape victims could send their children. It is thus committed to keeping tuition prices low. Unfortnately, that means that they are months behind in paying their staff.

Even so, I found teachers and students working away on the day I visited. Here are a couple of photos:

The other school is an especially interesting case. It has been established in a poor neighborhood of Petyonvil by a team of young men, ages 18-22, who were tired of seeing some many of their neighbor’s children unable to go to school. They have recruited almost 15 friends who teach as volunteers. They charge the kids that attend nothing. One of them told me that they intend to teach the Haitian government how to provide free primary education.

I seemed to have had an especially bad day as a photopgrapher the day I was there, but I hope the photos show something of the kids’ enthusiasm.

I hope to help both schools with faculty development starting in November.

Swimming in the Lake

These are photos from a recent outing to Tomazo, a small town on the eastern side of the plain that extends north and east from Potoprens. Tomazo is on the shore of a good-sized lake, which was the outing’s objective.

The idea for the day was Elie’s.

Elie has lived at his aunt’s house in Ka Glo since his mother died, in 1998. He’s the youngest of his parents four surviving children, and the older brothers live with their father down the hill in Metivye. The father is a stonemason, but he can’t work anymore because advanced glaucoma has all but blinded him. When the mother died, the family’s sense was that Elie needed a mother figure, so he was sent away. We’ve been neighbors ever since.

He had been trying to get me to go to the lake with him and his brothers for a couple of years. It never seemed to work out. But he took the second of the two high school graduation exams this year, and we all decided that he should use that as an excuse to take a break from books and chores and spend a day having fun. So he and his brothers planned a day’s excusion. Here he is with two of the brothers, Maxène and Josue:

Maxène is on the left. He’s the oldest by quite a bit. Two siblings born between him and Josue died as young children. He works for the Haitian water authority. They send a team that he’s part of around Petyonvil to open and close the pipes that determine which neighborhoods get water service when. Josue is a carpenter, a skilled cabinetmaker. The third brother, Apocalypse, is a fourth-grade teacher, and electrician, and a plumber. He was busy working the day we went to Tomazo.

We got to Tomazo midmorning. It involved bouncing from pick-up truck to bus — lots of sitting in tight spaces. The station in Tomazo is right next to the market, and it was market day there when we arrived.

From there, we walked to a farmer’s house where fresh milk, straight from the cow that day, was waiting.

The milk had been ordered in advance, four gallons of it, served hot with sugar and cinnamin. In addition to Elie, his brothers, and me, there were a couple of his cousins from Ka Glo, my neighbor Ti Papouch, and my friend Dr. Job. There were about ten of them, guys between 14 and 37, so there was no amount of food and drink they couldnt have disposed of.

There was a nice walk from downtown Tomazo to the lake.

The lake is beautiful. Its very shallow, so the water is rather warm. Right next to it is a spring of fresh, ice-cold water. So you can swim all you want then rinse off. The spring water was perfectly drinkable. Here is Ti Papouch, just before changing to go for a dip.

And here they are walking along the water.

Here’s Elie. He asked me to take this picture of him right at the water’s edge.

Here they are almost ready to leave.From the left, thats Ti Papouch, Elie, his cousin Lylson, Frantzcy, and Dr. Job.

After swimming our fill and then bathing in the spring, we went back to the house where we had drunk the milk that morning for an afternoon meal of beans and rice. There was fish sauce for those who were interested. From there we returned to the station to cach a bus home. Here Ti Papouch is waiting with the youngest of our band, another Elie. This other Elie is known as Elie Clebert because Clebert is his dad’s first name.

Here’s a last picture of Elie. He very much hopes that he’s passed the exam. If he has, he wants to spend the next seven years studying medicine. If not, he wants to take a course in electronics. He says that he wants to fix things: people if he can study medicine, radios if he can’t.