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Haiti : Miragoâne citizens doing it for themselves!

By Fleurival Ladenson [1]

Miragoâne, 18 july 06 [AlterPresse] --- In Miragoâne, around 100 kilometres south-west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, groups of gallant men and women have decided not to wait any longer for the Haitian State to act - they have taken education, health and sanitation into their own hands.

Two times a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, twenty or so women, assisted by several men, clear up the rubbish that blocks the streets of Miragoâne. In the communal sections of Fonds Jean Simon, Carrefour Desruisseaux and Berquin, these valiant men and women work hard for several hours under the burning sun to make the provincial capital of the department of Nippes a good place to live.

"Thanks to this work to clear the rubbish, the town will be clean and attactive", rejoiced an employee of a hotel situated near the entrance to Miragoâne. "I am proud to be able to contribute", exclaimed a peasant in a big, black coat, who was standing near by.

A resident of Carrefour Desruisseaux enthusiastically added, "It is we ourselves who have provided all the necessary equipment".

Their tools are primitive - hoes, brooms, rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows - but they do the job. What’s important to them is to clean the town.

If most of the population applaud with both hands, certain residents on the contrary shout insults or bluntly mock them. "Have you nothing else to do at home that you have to waste your time in the street?", they say, as they throw more rubbish into the air. Their incivility is such that sometimes the police have to called to calm them down.

For Marie Carme Sinéas, the head of the Miragoâne Women’s Movement (Mouvement des femmes de Miragoâne, MOFAM), an organisation of 300 members and whose activities involve around 30,000 people, there is no choice. Founder of the movement just a year ago, Madame Sinéas says the community couldn’t wait for the State to intervene.

"It’s voluntary work," she says, revealing her love for the region. "We don’t receive any help from the State, nor the Town Hall. The people who do the work don’t receive any pay. They do it because they are proud!"

The proprietor of the Robsi Hotel in Carrefour Desruisseaux, the MOFAM coordinator has travelled extensively abroad, and has seen for herself the way that diverse communities organise themselves to maintain a clean environment. Madame Sinéas hopes to see these activities continue long after her death. She believes that as many educated as illiterate people are in her organisation.

Cleaning the streets is not MOFAM’s only activity - far from it. It is also involved in re-foresting hills and valleys as well as producing health care information, notably about HIV/AIDS, which effects about 9% of the local population, significantly higher than the national rate of 4%. MOFAM benefits from the experience of an agronomist who gives free advice about re-forestation to peasants, as well as that of a nurse.

Fortunately, MOFAM isn’t the only peasant organisation to take an active role in the development of the region. Also in the Nippes department, the Community Schools Federation of Nippes, (Fédération des écoles communautaires de Nippes, FECON) is taking charge of the primary education of a good number of underpriveleged children.

"There is a lack of schools in the area, and the majority of inhabitants live in the shadow of poverty, on less than one US dollar a day," said Lequel Adinord, joint coordinator of the FECON. "That’s why we have set up 70 schools in the communes of Miragoâne, Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes, Paillant, Fonds-des-Nègres and Anse-à -Veau".

As far as the FECON leaders are concerned, educating children is a citizen’s duty, as well as a way to put something back into the community. The teaching is more-or-less free, as all the pupils pay for a year is the modest sum of 250 gourdes (around US$6). The teachers are local people, and their work is more voluntary work than a real livelihood, as is the case in many of Haiti’s rural zones. In effect, it’s rare to find a teacher who makes more than a thousand gourdes (US$25) a month. The locations where they carry out their quasi-voluntary work are the shade of reed matting or the open air. Benches are few and far between. There is little in the way of educational material. In short, it’s a long way from the luxurious buildings found in developed countries....

"The FECON does not include all the community schools in the department," adds Lequel Adinord, who is also the departmental correspondent for Radio Galaxie. "Nippes has 177 community schools coming to the rescue of the disadvantaged population. Certain households are so poor that when one offers to provide a uniform or a school-book to their children, they immediately ask if we can’t we also provide shoes. Unfortunately, we don’t have the means to do that."

FECON’s teachers are not resting on their laurels, and are constantly looking for funding to benefit pupils in primary education. The Canadian International Development Agency has provided FECON with 11.4m gourdes for 2005-2006, with which to rehabilitate 15 schools and provide books and educational material to pupils at 20 community schools.

As in the rest of the country, books are seldom found, and that is why the the Nippes Peasant Collective (Konbit Peyizan Nip, KPN) has set up a public reading library. Called "Tomorrow’s light", it serves the school community in Chalon, the first communal section of Miragoâne and surrounding zones. Established in a little three by four metre room in a house on the route nationale du Sud, it is the only reading place in the whole commune that has some 10,000 schoolchildren.

"People come to read every day, especially novels, and for the younger ones, comic books," says Anicette Haïmie, the library organiser. "We have just created a reading club for the chilrden in order to give them a taste for reading and to save them from the clutches of delinquency. We also offer - thanks to the support of the Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL) - library training to our 229 members."

"All the organisations are doing good work", commented one inhabitant of Miragoâne. "If they continue to educate the children and clean the streets, our young people won’t have to emigrate to Port-au-Prince, and the whole country will gain!" [lf ca apr 18/07/06 17:00]

[1Originally: "Des Miragoânais se prennent en main", translated from French by Charles Arthur