The Class on the Mountain

Last spring I visited the Matenwa Community Learning Center with Toma, an activist, educator, and veterinary worker from the mountains outside of Léogane. Since spending those days with him, I have wanted to visit the discussion group that he leads in the yard in front of his home. I was able to do so last week.

Getting to Toma’s house involves a two-hour hike from the riverbed in Fayette, close to where he and his fellow literacy teachers meet on Saturday mornings. As you walk up, one of the first things you notice is the way the houses are built. Rocks, cement, and sand are hard to transport. Without a road that motorized vehicles can climb, one would have to depend on mules. So houses are built with wood or other more available materials.

Here’s a house woven from strips of coconut wood.

Here’s a school building made out of metal roofing material.

This woven palm leaf building serves as both a church and a school.

And here’s a typical house. It belongs to Toma’s father-in-law. Palm wood is the most common material in the area.

The view from Toma’s back yard is stunning. You can see all the way to the bay in the distance.

But Haitians say “//Dèyè mòn gen mòn//.” That means “Beyond mountains there are mountains,” and in Toma’s area this is literally true. This view is taken from his father-in-law’s house, a short, steep hike uphill from his own. The small cluster of houses you can barely see on the peak in the foreground is Toma’s yard.

Here’s Toma himself.

The group is working with the Wonn Refleksyon book that was created for non-readers. Rather than offering texts for discussion, it offers images and Haitin proverbs. The participants start by individually studying the image or the proverb for the day. Toma’s group has grown because of the activity’s popularity, so they are short of books, but participants don’t seem to mind sharing.

Participants then organize themselves into small groups to begin talking about their thoughts. The day I visited Toma’s class was talking about a Haitian proverb, “It’s when the snake is dead that you see its length.” In their small groups, participants shared experiences they’d had that related to the proverb.

After the small group work, they return to the circle. The small groups provide reports about their conversations, and a general discussion ensues.

I spent the night at Toma’s place so I gotto meet his daughters too. Nana’s on the left, and Zanda’s on the right.