Life in Fondwa

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Challenges of Today Become the Progress of Tomorrow

Thursday, November 10, 2005

(From the Bloomington Sun Current)

I decided to spend my first year out of college in Haiti for many reasons, such as immersing myself in another culture and growing as an individual. Beyond those personal concerns, though, I also had a job to do, working as the Secretary of the University of Fondwa. I have quickly come to see that the two are closely related, each not possible without the other.

There has been no shortage of obstacles to achieving my goals. Communications can be difficult because the cell phone network doesn’t reach our valley, a lack of electricity prohibits internet access through even the most advanced satellite technology, and the nearest post office is two hours and a large headache away. The Haitian custom of warmly greeting each person you encounter at the office is much appreciated, but it can be a burden when there is much work to be done. Even seemingly unrelated problems can be a hindrance; it is tough to work well when there isn’t any water to bathe with, or when hunger sets in because rice and beans have been served for the 83rd consecutive day (and counting).

Mother Nature has her own unique role to play in this game. When tropical storm-force rains hit Haiti last week, the road to Port-au-Prince was blocked by impassable bridges. When I had to travel to the city for work, what is normally a two-hour trip became a four-hour marathon.

As daunting as these challenges may be, they pale in the face of the daily struggles of the peasants of Fondwa. My work hardly compares to their own, toiling under the hot Caribbean sun to produce the rice, beans, and vegetables that are their lifeblood. The weather is often an inconvenience for me, but it is a matter of survival for them.

The Peasant Association of Fondwa (APF), which founded the university I work for, was created in 1988 by local farmers to take on these challenges together. It seems that what allows the members to overcome the myriad difficulties they face is the fact that they have a common goal, the goal of promoting the well-being of the community.

What continues to impress me is the relentlessness with which they pursue that goal, regardless of the numerous difficulties that lie before them. With each milestone that is reached through the efforts of the APF, like the construction of the local school and orphanage, planting of trees, and planning of model farms, the solidarity of the group increases. The more they accomplish as a group, the greater their capacity to work together becomes.

In the same way, I have found that my personal challenges have been a necessary stepping-stone to completing the work that I have been given to do. Without them, I would have no basis for understanding the problems of the people I have come to live with. If it were easy to build a university in the mountains of Haiti, one would already have been built. After two months of blackouts, rice and beans, and periodic flooding of major highways, I think I will be hard pressed to find something I can’t handle. The lives of the peasants of Fondwa won’t be transformed overnight, and neither will I accomplish all that I have set out to do, but the challenges we face today will help us progress tomorrow.


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