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A Continuing Struggle

by Schuyler Engel

Hello again from Ile de Lagonav. Life here continues to be a struggle for most and nearly impossible for others 2.5 months after the earthquake. Homes that cracked will only get rebuilt slowly as people are able to save the money. Unfortunately, accumulating any savings now will be even more challenging than in the past as food prices, which really jumped here after the quake, have not dropped much. From an informal overview of the area in and around Matènwa many families don’t have adequate shelter and with the rainy season soon here I am unsure how they could possibly manage.

The Matènwa Community was already involved in providing financial support to complete 22 homes. But for many living so close to the bone, this collaboration does not always mean success. For example one family has their foundation almost done but the process stopped when the family became so poor they could not provide the builder with meals while he labored.

In the context of such sustained poverty I have been priviledged to witness many wondrous moments of hope and strength. Last Sunday I attended a meeting of women. At least 200 ladies from all over the island attended, some walked 2+ hours. One of the most interesting portions of the summit was a dramatization that about 10 of the women presented. The subject was inflation and how much harder it is now to make a living than it was before the quake (hard to imagine). They used props and wore costumes. One was a charcoal seller, another a cabbage and carrot merchant, etc. The dialogue and physical humor were adlibbed and inspired. The entire room was attentive and echoing agreement and cheering on the actors at various moments. Why don’t we do dramatizations during our meetings?

Prior to departing the states, Chris managed to purchase and arrange delivery of 200 bags of rice and beans (100 pounds each) (no small feat working the system from Cambridge to get food transferred to Matènwa from Port au Prince especially during such a time of chaos) and these are being sold by the school cheap to the market ladies who then sell at a price lower than would otherwise be.

School is back in full swing. Although the main building faired well during the quake, inevitably there was fear about entering the structures that had cement roofs. Some are corrugated tin. Classes were running even the week just after, but within a few days the government made radio announcements that until cement roof buildings were formally inspected, if there were further injuries or deaths, the schools would be held responsible. This increased the fear on the part of parents and staff. Now you may ask, are there such inspectors? Right. No. At first a compromise solution was to hold a kind of camp. Lunch was served each day. When Chris and I arrived most of the community’s concerns were diminished. It was clear to us amateurs (I do have some architecture training) that the structural integrity of the schools buildings were intact.

A “One Laptop Per Child” pilot program has begun here with some representatives from Waveplace doing the trainings. Mentors from around Ayiti are here learning the Etoys programs and preparing to take the laptops back to their hometowns and train other trainers and teach the children in their own communities.

I have spending much of my time helping in the library. While we were in Port au Prince Chris bought new books. It’s not easy to find books written in Kreyòl, but one particular publisher, Kopivit-L’action Sociale, makes it a point to print Kreyòl textbooks and literature. Although from the French-speaking elite, the president of the printing house has spent his life advocating for the use of Kreyòl at all levels of society. Mostly I’ve been cataloging all the new books and organizing some new systems.

The laptop group is here until the 2nd of April. On the 14th teachers from the Fayerweather and Cambridgeport schools from Cambridge, Massachusetts are expected. I am certain that the Matènwa community will provide the same warm welcome it does to all visitors.

P.S. The boys are playing soccer outside the library in the school yard. They’re playing with a small hairless tennis ball. Must get word to the next visitors that soccer balls are invaluable gifts.

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