Heading to Matenwa

January 2003

I went to Haiti for the first time in 1995. Partially because I had a lot of questions in my head about oppression, injustice, anger, violence, beauty, and privilege. Partially because I liked the music. On that trip, I lived for a month in a rural village near Hinche, and on my return, I shared a ride to the airport with Chris Low. We spent an intense, word-filled couple of hours together, sharing and and processing our experiences in Haiti.

What I remember most was her saying, over and over, and in so many different ways. "If I believe what I believe about education and justice, why am I teaching in Cambridge? Why don't I just go to Matenwa, set up shop, and do what I do there instead?"

Two years later I got a letter from her. She had done exactly that.

I've been to Haiti twice over the years. I got involved with Konbit Pwof, an organization which brings volunteer teachers to Haiti each summer to conduct a two-week workshop for Haitian teachers. The mission of Konbit Pwof is to provide training to teach in ways that inspire, respect, and nurture children. I participated in two Konbit Pwof workshops over the years--in Milot, and in Les Cayes.

In Les Cayes, it became apparent to me that I had exhausted all of my personal credibility for talking methodology with Haitian teachers. What authority do I have to talk to these teachers about what should--or could--occur in a classroom without any long term experience in a Haitian school myself? Yes, the quality of education is woeful in this country where staving off starvation is the basic work of many (most?) of the people. When the need is so great, it's easy to think up things that other people ought to do.

Meanwhile, I kept receiving letters from Chris in Matenwa, the village in the mountains on Lagonav, an island just off Haiti's coast where she moved in 1996 and has lived ever since. Through the efforts of AAPLAG (The Association of Community Organizers and Peasants of Lagonav), Matenwa boasts a community school and an arts center with programs for children and adults. "If I build it, I sure hope they come, " Chris said to me once on the phone. They've come in droves: educators, artists, health professionals, human rights workers. My decision to go there and pitch in was a no-brainer.

What will I do there? I don't know. I have some skills. I've been a teacher and I know how to make goat cheese. I'm a gardener, and I've set up solar electric systems. There'll be plenty to do. Chris suggests having an agenda like that of the Apprenticeship in Shared Living program of the literacy organization Beyond Borders which first led her to Matenwa. Spend some time, develop your language skills, get to know people. After a couple of months, you'll have good ideas for projects.

My departure is immanent. It's certain to be interesting.

February, 2003

Some pictures


©2003 Nancy Casey