By Betsy Wall, Executive Director, FIDA
it is a beautiful morning in Fon Batis. The agricultural trainer has just spent several weeks training groups of 20 cooperative members in how to compost, start a nursery and establish a vegetable garden, introducing carrots, leeks, onions, broccoli, and beets. These were the last round of trainings that culminated in the graduation ceremony for this day.
As we rise, we hear the sounds of preparation, the blowing up (and occasional popping) of bright yellow and green balloons (the colours of the cooperative) and lively chatter along the path outside the compound. As it is in Haiti, the celebration starts when it starts.
There are 190 graduates. They begin to fill their designated seating area in the centre of the church. The cooperative development agents, monitors, and presidents are seated to the left. Staff and visiting dignitaries are seated to the right. Through the five doors crowd dozens of children, who then slip in along the walls, eager to observe their parents perform little skits and receive their certificates. Time and time again, the adults would usher the children out until the exercise became of no use.
The celebration is rich with music, beginning with a laborious rendition of How Great Thou Art and a singing and dancing column of women praising the graduates and FIDA/pcH for making this day possible. Presentations from each cooperative follow: BIENVENUE is spelled out. B is for the beautiful sun. I is for institution. E is for education. N is for normal. V is for voluntary. U is for united.
Each presentation attested to the benefits of education: the sick father who was charged $100H for poison dispensed by a Voodoo priest because he couldn't read; a debate between two farmers about the merits of planting trees that bear fruit rather than cutting trees for charcoal; praise for FIDA/pcH because an end has come to signing and "X" for their name, "There is now light in our head. We are not afraid of the X." The benefits of research are also celebrated, of knowing what questions to ask to help solve problems in the community.
But for many of us, it is the last presentation that provides the most powerful statement: "We have chosen to plant. We have chosen to end our misery. We put plants in the earth. We are given life. Our community has life. We have coffee. We have vegetables. Our misery is ended. We celebrate life of all plants. We celebrate our life. This is the festival of plants. We want more and more plants in Haiti. We have chosen to plant. We have chosen to end our misery."
I remind myself of an ancient Chinese saying that helped shape the early constitution of FIDA:
Go in search of your people. Love them, plan with them. Begin with what they have. Build on what they know. But of the best leaders, when their task is accomplished, their work is done, the people all remark, "We have done it ourselves."
The names of the 190 graduates are each called to receive their certificates recognizing three years of rising at 4am and walking up to an hour to the nearest literacy center to attend classes before beginning their work day. The exceptional graduates, who practiced composting, soil anti-erosion, tree nurseries, and vegetable gardening, we all awarded new macehetes, or picks and handles.
Truly, a new day is dawning in Fon Batis.