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March 17, 2005

Haiti Through My Eyes

Living Room Dialogue with Jeff Hermanski, a student at Marymount Manhattan College

Present : Frances Amando, Laurence Berg, Catherine Dolan, Rshm, Virginia Dorgan, Kathleen Kanet, Jason Koth, Maria Marzano, Dorothy McWhite, Mark O'Brien, Marta Silva, Daniela Pellegrino, Mary Vales, Joelle Viard-Jackson and a couple of other students who did not sign the "sign-in" sheet.

Jeff has been part of the Haiti Plunge Program for 6 years. The program has been running for 20 years. It works with .This program sends high school and college students for 2 or 3 weeks at a time, in the summer and winter school break times to a rural village named Dessables. The program, which operates out of Pittsfield, MA, is funded by a sponsored 24-hr. fast by those young people who go to Haiti. The students present the program in the whole Berkshire region and it is therefore widely known, respected and supported. Though a nun began the program, it is neither religious nor political.

The Haiti Plunge established a co-op in their initial organizing and this co-op serves many communities. It operates on an idea of slow development and an on-going cooperative relationship between the New England and Hatian neighborhoods. . Money is given only for specific projects.

Projects of the Haiti Plunge have included- - reforestation; capping a spring - building a school, church, clinic, bakery, team residence.

The most recent projects were described like this: A work exchange program including teaching English and then bringing those trained to the U. S. for a work project so that they can earn money to bring home and support themselves and their families for a long time.

Raising and selling pigs which they will not consume since their diet is very simple and vegetarian. Selling the meat to the hotels and restaurants in the city however brings great benefits to the community.

The latest project is to build simple houses with concrete floors and tin roofs at a cost of $400/house.

The operating philosophy of the Haiti Plunge is that person to person interaction can change the world. For this reason money is raised by the youth outreaching personally to people in the locale that they come from and then those youth go personally again and again to the people in the village in poverty.

Jeff spent 2 weeks of the winter break working in the project in Haiti. In his presentation Jeff showed photos and told of the life there. Some of the points made were: -1 in 4 children die before the age of 5. -families live closely together in one room houses with thatched roofs or tin roofs. The tin roofs are better. Floors of cement are an improvement to the clay floors which retain dampness and further disease.

Market day is very important for socialization as well as economic flows.

In the community there is a culture of sharing. No matter how little they have they share what they do have.

Mangos are a communal tree.

They walk for miles to the well.

Politically they have individual opinions and they differ within the community. In the recent national political conflict some were in favor of Aristede and others opposed. Even though they differ in opinions they do not consider the other an enemy.

It appears that Haiti has no middle class; there are the haves and the have-nots. They do have access to information and news through American radio since they are only 90 miles from Florida. When the United States began to bomb Iraq in 2003, some Hatians feared that they would also be attacked because the U. S. had attacked them before.

In the conversation that followed Jeff's presentation, one of the participants who was born to a middle-class capital city family said that she was never aware of the poverty that Jeff presented. The class issue – upper, bottom, middle –appears different from various points of view.

One student said that he was "blown away" when he heard the details of his fellow students involvement.

A native born Haitian said that it will be only through small steps of gradual awareness building that the conditions of such people will change

Several participants made financial contributions to the Haiti Plunge.

To contact the Haiti Plunge send mail to : COTY/Haiti, P P Box 745, North Adams, MA 01247 Phone (413) 663-3133.

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