Saturday, March 5, 2011
" Quiet. Listen. Learn. Lead. Serve" These five little words have become real to me during my trip to La Gonâve this week. When my supervisor told me that we were going to the island located West of Port-au-Prince, I was very enthusiastic but sooooo scared. I heard many stories about sinking boats in the Gulf of La Gonâve. I chased my fear anticipating the exciting adventure ahead.
I took the boat on Thursday morning at 9h00 AM. I looked around… No one had a life vest on. I was the only one who brought one. At the end I did not wear it (Not a smart decision, I know !). I began to chat with the girl next to me. She went to Port-au-Prince to renew her passport and missed school for a week. She’s from Anse-à-galets and her name is Wen.
Wen was a very friendly Teen who started questioning us about our trip. It was obvious to her that we were not from La Gonâve. This curious & sincere girl made jokes about us coming from Port-au-Prince. With a big smile on her face, she described it as a jungle (I really can't blame her). To reply to her question, we said that we are engineers working on water projects in La Gonave. She was not impressed at all :-D She started asking pertinent questions “Why should the community have to pay for the service? “, “Why can’t she have tap water at home?” I remained quiet and listened. Wen who is 16 defended the water rights of her people. She symbolizes to me determination & enthusiasm. She wants to study diplomacy in France. I asked “Will you come back to La Gonâve?” She said “If there’s work there!” We smiled to each other and remained silent. We were both lost in our thoughts for the remaining trip.
Once we got closer… I could not contain my contentment. I survived the ocean & I am in La Gonave !!!!!!!!!!!!!! I looked up… I was shocked. The vegetation was dry & deforestation was obvious. This was not the idyllic place in my dreams. I got off the boat at Anse-à-Galets and rode a moto. It was the three of us on it. While the wind was going through my hair, I remembered that I was not on vacation. Shame on me! I was looking for a paradise while those people were cheerful, and embracing our visit. I brushed off my city girl expectations and began to see La Gonave’s beauty with the heart.
Gonavians are very friendly and welcoming to strangers. A coworker very familiar to the area took me to “Luco Sunshine Hotel” to eat. The food is delicious. They gave enough food to feed an elephant: An entire medium fish, plantains, rice, beets & potato salad, & greens. I said to the crew I will never eat that much food… Well guilty! I ate it all. It was always a real pleasure from breakfast to Supper. J Hats down to Luco s chef !
I met Didi a very cool guy working for our agency. Didi helped me to carry my water buckets. We went together to the water springs to collect water & saw the project site. Ti Source is beautiful… It is dark green, beautiful flowers, birds singing… It has underground water storage. My trip purpose started to become real to me. I had a mission “Provide water to the people of Anse-a-galets”. The peasants brought their animals nearby. Although it is prohibited, I did not say a word and listened to them. It is important for a peasant to supply water to his animals. Gonavians are looking for water, even at night. Didi & the peasants understand very well that the resource is scarce & need to be protected. Didi symbolizes the community from whom I learned a lot. We had feedbacks from people who will be using the system. It has nothing to do with hydraulic simulations. This is the real stuff, where the community has to embrace the project.
We met several partners & local authorities working hard to provide water to the community. Although we had different points of view, we all have a common goal “Empower the people of La Gonave to help themselves” Sometimes you hit a brick when trying to reach out a community. I encourage you not to give up. You have to take the time to learn about their history, past failed projects, and why it can be difficult for them to trust you. Remember always that technique is just one part of the project but community outreach is another part. They are both important and should move at the same speed. Remember to “silent!” your own understanding, go outside the box, learn from the people, and always lead to serve… Reach the community with your heart and Godspeed…