Life in Fondwa

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A true piece of Fondwa history

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Last week I was introduced to a genuine piece of Fondwa history. Early Friday morning I set out on a trek along with Eugenio, Danny, and Missy that eventually took us down to the depths of the Fondwa valley, across a river at two points, and up the slippery slope of the mountain on the other side. Our destination was the house of Minik Nocent, the first President of the Peasant Association of Fondwa (APF), which founded the university I work for.

Minik was born in Fondwa in 1934, the last year of the 19-year American occupation of Haiti, at a time when the area was much more productive. He recalls his parents planting crops that farmers don’t even try to produce anymore because of the degradation of the soil they cultivate. He comes from a family of nine children, with some in Fondwa, some in the United States, and some who have returned to Guinea (which symbolizes Africa, the Voodoo version of heaven). When Fr. Joseph Philippe, who had gone to Cananda and the United States to finish his theological studies, returned to Fondwa in 1988, Minik was amongst the group of nine leaders that he called together to consider their common problems.

The group, which included two of Minik’s children as well, decided to form an association, which the called the Asosyasyon Peyizan Fondwa. Their first move was to construct a small building for meetings with a bit of money that they each put into a common fund. All they could afford was wooden poles and coconut leaves, but as they say in Creole, “A house of leaves can’t block the rain, but at least it can block the sun.”

After that, the 9-member committee decided that if there was no road to Fondwa, there would never be development. The still didn’t have money, but the residents of the region came out in force to participate in a project that responded to their needs. Nine groups of twenty people each began work on the road, which was built with picks and hard labor. Today part of the road had been paved with help of the Inter-American Development Bank, and it serves as Fondwa’s access point to the major highway that crosses the mountain above.

The APF soon began working on the most pressing issues facing Fondwa peasants, such as tapping water sources, reforestation projects, and providing agricultural formation. They looked abroad for help from the beginning, working with international NGOs that had Haiti branches and a French NGO called CEIPAL that provided extensive help to buy a truck. While there was much work to be done, not everything went exactly at planned.

Minik’s son Ismit, also a former President of the APF, participated in a prayer group around the time of the APF’s founding. The group wanted to get involved in the development work that was going on, so they put 15 gourdes together and thought about what kind of a project they carry out. They decided to buy tobacco in bulk and sell it in small sacks, so they chose a ti machann (market woman) to sell the tobacco at market. They counted on doubling their money, but hadn’t counted on the ti machann’s husband smoking all of the tobacco. It took months to get the money back, but when they finally did a new ti machann was able to make 45 gourdes.

One of the group members took the money to buy soap, again ostensibly to sell at market. She ended up using it to do her washing, and the group was only able to get 25 gourdes back. The other members, refusing to be discouraged, continued to put money into a common fund and approached Fr. Joseph for help. He helped them find 500 Haitian dollars (2,500 gourdes) to begin a real cooperative, which today has 200 clients and has offered nearly 700,000 gourdes worth of credit this year. The path isn’t always straight and narrow in Fondwa, but that’s only because we have to build it with picks and hard labor.


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