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Building a Movement, Haitian Style
By Salena Tramel
August 11th, 2009
I spent the better part of last week crisscrossing Haiti’s arid Northwest with Grassroots International’s partner the National Congress of the Peasant’s Movement of Papay (MPNKP). MPNKP is best known to our allies and friends for their Creole Pig Repopulation project that we have supported for many years, and I was excited to follow up with families in far-off rural areas that our organization has not yet visited.
Throughout our time on the ground together, it became clear to me that it’s not just about the pigs—it’s about the organizing. The pig repopulation project represents this organizing.
MPNKP is the first coalition in Haiti to build a national movement. They boast a sophisticated network of leadership in all 10 of Haiti’s regions—from rural peasants to well-known urban names—all joining forces to make local development a tangible alternative to the status quo of imports and food aid.
Crossing into the Northwest after hours on the road, I appreciated just how difficult it is to organize in that region. The Northwest is divided by Trois-Rivieres, a deep river that cuts the region in half depending on the amount of rainfall. There are no bridges. The only options are risking getting stuck in the river or going ten hours out of the way. We risked it and luckily made it across the river despite the water that came up past the doors of our 4x4. (Welcome to the roads in Haiti.) Aside from that river, most of the region is totally arid, more closely resembling my native Arizona than a Caribbean island.
What Haiti’s Northwest does not have in common with Arizona is the means to provide water to the majority of the people. This is where an integral part of MPNKP’s work comes in. The first projects that we visited there were cisterns that they have built for families and community groups. These water sources provide new lifelines for the people, making it possible for them to cultivate their lands and provide for their families. Many people that I met in the Northwest told me that they often go for eight or nine months without seeing a drop of rain. Holding onto what little rainfall they catch is obviously paramount to their survival, and MPNKP’s network of more than 100 cisterns is making that possible.
The day after learning about these water projects, I took off with some of their regional and national organizers to follow up on the pig projects. The entire native pig population in Haiti was eradicated under U.S. pressure in the 1980s. Grassroots International and MPNKP have been trying to reverse the damage and have made enormous strides over the years.
Haitians benefiting from this project (and other MPNKP projects for that matter) organize themselves into community groups (gwoupman, in Creole) in order to maximize impact. For example, one Creole pig is owned by a fifteen-member gwoupman representing that many families throughout the community. They then breed this pig with another pig belonging to a nearby growpman. The offspring are then split between families and the process is repeated, thus contributing to the goal of reestablishing these life-saving assets throughout rural Haiti.
Haitians see training as the most integral part of their organizing. MPNKP organizes veterinary and technical training to make sure that the pigs remain healthy and continue to reproduce. But even more important is the economic and political training that allows Haiti’s rural majority a seat at the table in rethinking some of the country’s most pressing developmental policies. MPNKP’s projects, from water conservation to access to food, are accomplishing just that.