Today was the day for packing up, mentally decompressing, and making connections with important people.
We drove from Cange for about 45 minutes to Corporant, to the campus of CFFL (Centre de Formation Fritz Lafontante). Gillane Williams, a native Australian and current Greenville resident who spends much of the year in Haiti, gave us a tour.
CFFL was developed as a trade school to teach three disciplines: agriculture, woodworking, and construction. The focus now is mainly on agriculture, as the other two disciplines closed because the students couldn't find enough jobs after graduation, and also because teaching farming techniques is the school's most important mission. The school opened in 2010 with major funding from the Upper SC Diocese, Zanmi Lasante/Zanmi Agricol, and Rotary Greenville.
The building is light, lets in a constant breeze, and is clean and nicely decorated. There's a fully updated computer lab and plenty of classrooms, and beyond the building are about 40 lush acres of fruit trees and crops.
Gillane (she later told me) got involved in Haiti after she was asked to translate for Pere Lafontante when he visited Greenville (she is fluent in French). She first came to Cange in 1999 as an English teacher, but was struck by the malnutrition she saw. She asked people why they weren't growing certain foods, and they said they just couldn't. Experienced in agriculture herself, she asked for room in Cange for a garden, and was given an area below what became the external clinic. Gillane used it to teach people how to grow various plants.
In 2004, a person showed her the land in Corporant and asked, "Do you want this?" She got the 40 acres and planted 14,000 bananas by hand the first year. Her team went on to grow food to give local people by inviting villagers to collect the harvest. In 2010, the earthquake struck, and they started growing and producing on all the land that had never been plowed. One key task CFFL does is grow and shell the peanuts for Nouramanba, a healthy, calorie-dense peanut butter for kids. CFFL students grow the peanuts, then it is sent elsewhere for added vitamins and minerals. The end product has a long shelf life for mothers to take home to their children. It's so effective, it is prescribed by doctors.
During our tour, we were met by Marie-Flore, Pere Lafontante's daughter who is carrying out his legacy of helping Central Haiti. She took us to her new compound in Ledier. She and her crew left Cange when the new priest replaced her father in 2015. Her work was previously part of Zanmi de Education but became Summits Education in 2015 upon leaving Cange (Summits is based in Boston). The group went to Corporant for two years but didn't like the small space. Last year, an employee suggested she look at an abandoned compound that an Italian group had built in Ledier to house workers who were building Highway 3. The Italians had left it for families to use, but it was destroyed. Marie-Flore moved in in December and started renovations. We were therefore visiting a very nice, clean, bright and lovely conference-center type place that has been operational for only a few weeks.
This place houses Summits Education, and Abel gave us the full tour. Summits (Sommits in Creole) oversees the operation of 40 primary schools (some are a 6-hour walk away, others are nearby), all K-6th grade. They work with about 300 teachers and 4,000 students. They hire the teachers, train teachers, arrange teacher transportation, and send student snacks, among other jobs. So their compound acts like a conference center, a superintendent's office, an administrative office, and a dorm. There are also a few houses here, where the Lafontantes and Gillane and her husband, Charles, stay.
Tourism and Leisure
We arrived at the Summits compound around 10:45 a.m. and settled into our rooms. Compared to Cange, it felt like a luxury hotel, as we all got our own rooms and bathrooms (though we're still sleeping under mosquito nets, taking cold showers and drinking only bottled water). Abel gave us a tour, and we met several members of the administration. We also saw workers tilling a field with hoes and picks, and workers installing an iron-bar fence where a wall had been in order to create a view of the river from the patio.
We enjoyed a very tasty lunch (veggies, creamy potato salad, and flavorful chicken thighs) and then headed out for the only real tourism part of this trip: a drive to Saut D'eau (Sodo in Creole) to see a sacred waterfall. We drove about 30 minutes though the busy, colorful and urban town of Mirebalais (and by the amazing hospital we'd seen on arrival day) and into Sodo. At the gate to the site, Haitians entered for free, but blancs had to pay $5. We learned the waterfall is considered a sacred place in Voodoo because the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel (Voodoo version Erzulie) had been seen once on a palm tree there. Haitians now visit to wash in the falls for luck/healing, and they burn candles and make small shrines (mostly out of repurposed bottles) around it. On the Virgin Mary's day, July 16, we were told the falls are so packed you can't get near them, and the town is completely overrun by thousands of people making a pilgrimage.
The falls themselves were beautiful: very steep and powerful, surrounded by tropical plants. It was almost a scene you'd expect from deep in a rainforest. And yet...this is Haiti. There were steps to the falls inlaid with tile, but they were crumbling in places, and trash lined the sides (there is a LOT of litter in Haiti). Boys and some men aggressively descended on us and tried to make conversation and help us with the steps in an effort to get tips. Several women were bathing in the falls, so it felt uncomfortable to appear to have paid money to see naked women. The old burned bottle candles were tucked into every rock and tree around the falls. It was jarring to see a site that is sacred and important look trashed and chaotic. I suspect those $5 tolls go right into a pocket and do not pay for upkeep.
We returned to Summits for a bit of rest and showers, then joined a lively cocktail hour Marie-Flore had arranged on the newly built patio with a view. We had beers and Haitian rum with Cokes, and everyone seemed to relax and smile in a way we hadn't all week. Soon, a live band started up, playing banjo, drums and guitars, often involving several of the male guests in singing/repeating lyrics. We talked more with Gillane, with Kathy (a retired English professor from Vermont who is helping to write a strategic plan for CFFL) and with Marie-Flore, who was clearly proud of her new home base. A wonderful meal of shrimp in a cream sauce and purple cabbage was served, and we got to try carrasol juice for dessert (a frothy fruit juice, maybe soursop in English?, that Fritzlene had raved about. It was tasty!). Soon the staff and all our crew were up and dancing, and the night was just perfect.
A few of us left to stargaze (stars without light pollution are always worth admiring), which made for a lovely and positive end to this big adventure we just had.