Visiting Fondwa, Haiti

I watched as a young girl loaded her five-gallon bucket of water on her head, picked up another gallon jug, and headed up the hill towards home. She carried nearly 50 pounds of water ---more, I think, than her body weight. A few minutes later, I trudged up the hill along the path she had taken. After perhaps 10 minutes climbing, I came upon her. She had stumbled and spilled the bucket of water. Back down to the spring she'd have to go.

I had the opportunity to see life's daily struggles in Haiti when I spent May 25--June 5, 2000 [and again in the summers of 2001 and 2002] with the Association of Peasants of Fondwa (APF). I particularly wanted to learn about water projects in the area, plus APF's community development program. After walking up and down hills to see springs and cisterns, meeting with peasant leaders, and visiting the school and clinic, I've decided to try to bring a student group next year. [We went.] The program with APF is the best I know of for learning about rural Haiti.

The first thing I learned about is simply the difficulty of getting around. Walking a couple of hours per day for water is nothing unusual for the women and children of Fondwa, nor is walking three to four hours while sick in order to yet to the clinic. On market day I was awakened at 3:00am as lines of people carried their goods past the Visitors Center up the hill to Tombe Gateau. The walk is easier now than in the past because of the dirt and rock road built by APF, the road being the peasants' highest priority for developing Fondwa. That road is soon to be widened and paved, and then a tap tap (public transport) may speed the trip uphill.

Only a decade or so ago, the walk up the road was shaded. Now the landscape looks more like Utah. Many of the trees were cut during the U.S. embargo of Haiti, They were used for making charcoal, which was used in turn for cooking, baking bread, and making rum. Today, deforestation of Haiti has grown to over 95%. With it has come increased soil loss, declining agricultural productivity, and fewer water resources.

Reforestation programs in Fondwa are attempting to reverse the trends. However, you can't eat a tree, and it takes up land that could be planted with corn and beans. Ultimately, reforestation depends less on planting trees than on reducing poverty and increasing literacy. APF is addressing both through economic development and education programs. APF created the first secondary school in Fondwa. Its bakery is a tremendous success, providing jobs not only for its employees but also for the numerous ti machann (small merchants) who resell the bread throughout the area.

If you want to learn about Haiti, come to Fondwa. The International Guest House program provides not only a pleasant base for your learning, but jobs for local peasants in the house and as interpreters and local sources of information. The cost of the program is reasonable. The education is invaluable.

Dale Easley
Department of Natural and Applied Sciences
University of Dubuque