Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, founder and executive director of the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), a UUSC partner in Haiti, has a favorite saying: “Men anpil chay pa lou” (in English: “Many hands make the burden light”). From its humble but determined beginnings in 1973 through its growth to an organization with more than 61,000 members throughout the country, MPP has been on a mission of social change. MPP strives to empower Haitian peasants through community organizing and education, protecting the environment, revitalizing organic agriculture, and increasing access to alternative energies — and this week (March 17–23), they celebrate 40 years of this essential work.
To mark the occasion, MPP is convening a congress of 1,000 member delegates from all over Haiti. The gathering’s theme, MPP: 40 Years Later — A Sovereign MPP within a Sovereign Haiti, highlights a goal they are continually striving for: sovereignty. The week will include a thorough review and update of organizational priorities, strategic planning for the next five years, and a march for national sovereignty on March 22. They expect at least 20,000 people to participate in the march.
The foundation of MPP’s work is a model of popular education, adapted from the work of Paulo Freire, that fosters individual and collective empowerment through community dialogue. MPP creates intentional collective working groups called gwoupman, comprised of approximately 15 members each, to take on projects such as sustainable cultivation of a piece of land, production of solar panels, or the raising of livestock. Over the years, MPP has trained over 1,000 community organizers (they call them “animators”) to work with the various groups throughout Haiti.
Jean-Baptiste reports that a new organizational priority likely to emerge from the discussions held during the congress will be adult literacy. MPP members are saying that illiteracy is a major factor that keeps them, especially the women and girls among them, on the margins of Haitian society. As in many countries in the Global South, illiteracy tends to be linked with gender and the right to water — girls are often denied education because their days are spent carrying water for their families. MPP has an ongoing water program to address access to clean water by constructing wells and cisterns that gather roof runoff.
The congress will also highlight the eco-village project, a joint venture of MPP and UUSC that has created a model of sustainable living for people displaced in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. UUSC has been heavily involved with this project from the start, funding two of six villages and, through the UU College of Social Justice, sending ten groups of service-learning volunteers to help construct the villages. Ten families moved into the first completed village in December 2011. After the completion of the sixth village in 2014, the cluster of villages will make up a community large enough to have a school and clinic. The model includes alternative technologies such as solar well pumps for potable water and irrigation, alternative charcoal created from agricultural waste products, and innovative agricultural techniques that are ripe for replication throughout the country.
Following the congress, representatives from MPP will travel to Washington, D.C., to join with several alumni of service-learning trips to educate members of the U.S. Congress about the realities on the ground in Haiti. They will share their experiences and knowledge about successful models of recovery such as the eco-village while emphasizing the importance of including the voices of Haitian civil society in the conversation about Haitian reconstruction.