Driving east out of Jacmel in south east Haiti, the paved road hugs the coast offering stunning views of the blue water beyond. The view inland is equally impressive as rugged, green covered mountains look down on you.
This region is one of my favorites in Haiti and it was nice to be back. On this particular day we were heading to the village of Figue to see firsthand how this community took the lead in a recent project.
Figue is located high up in these formidable mountains and several kilometers from the paved road along the coast. To get there we followed a gravel road that steadily narrowed as we climbed. The journey alone to some of the rural areas World Concern works is an adventure in itself.
Eventually the gravel disappeared and the road’s surface became rocky and soggy from the rain that falls each afternoon this time of year.
At one point Robert, our driver on the trip, stopped the truck and got out to lock the differentials and turn on the four wheel drive.
“Okay now we are ready,” he said.
Looking ahead I could see what he was referring to. There was a particularly steep section that was incredibly narrow (can the truck even fit through that?) and the road dramatically dropped off on the passenger side (which is where I was sitting).
With my heart pounding in my chest, Robert expertly navigated the difficult section, as he has many times before, and then laughed out loud as a way to lighten the situation and celebrate his small victory. At this point all of us couldn’t help but laugh too.
We continued on and soon reached the village of Figue which is surrounded by dense vegetation and rugged terrain. There are 125 families in Figue with “five people per family minimum” as one man said.
In 2012 Figue suffered tremendously due to a harsh hurricane season. In addition to crop loss, the village’s only church was completely destroyed.
“The wind was so strong during Hurricane Sandy,” explained Pastor Samuel Bonnet. “The church was flattened.”
Pastor Bonnet has pastored the church in Figue for 32 years and his father pastored before him. Although no one knew exactly when the church began, it’s obvious it has been serving Figue for some time and World Concern wanted to see that legacy continue.
While World Concern provided the materials and some technical support, it was the community of Figue who rebuilt their church.
“We built it!” They chimed in unison when asked about their church. It was clear that the community possessed a high level of ownership which is a beautiful thing to witness.
The new church building is an eye-catcher. Not because it is flashy; in fact it is quite simple. However it is the obvious strength of the structure that grabs your attention. The old church was made of rock and dirt. The new church is built with cement, ensuring it will serve its’ 200+ members well for years to come.
In addition to a new church, Figue now has access to consistent potable water thanks to the construction of a new water system. Similar to the construction of the church, World Concern provided materials and technical support but the system was entirely built and managed by the community.
The primary water source is a spring a steep 10 minute walk from the main road passing through Figue. Once the source was capped, piping was installed to carry the water down the hill to a reservoir. This reservoir holds the water and once it reaches capacity, the water is piped further down the hill to a fountain on the main road.
64-year-old Amedene Tibo, a widow and mother of seven, has lived in Figue her entire life. “Although the source was only a 10 minute walk from the road the path was bad and if you are carrying water you will fall,” she said.
She is not joking. After scrambling to reach the reservoir a few of us continued further up the hill to the actual source. Even for a young person such as me, it was no easy trek. The path itself is not clear and I was constantly slipping on the wet rocks that littered the ground (even though I was wearing low top hiking shoes with good traction).
Thankfully that difficult walk is not needed anymore.
As I sat listening to different people share about the water system and what a blessing it is I thought to myself, “What if it breaks?” All too often systems such as this one end up rusting away as soon as something breaks if there is not a pre-determined plan established beforehand.
When there was a break in the chatter I asked that very question.
“If there is a problem with the system each family has agreed to give a little money so we can repair it,” explained Frednel Rimny, president of the local water management committee.
It was encouraging to hear that the committee understood the importance of creating a plan and had put one in place.
The progress in Figue and the community’s hard work should be celebrated. A safe place to worship for the village’s church goers and a new water system are wonderful contributions that will certainly bless the people of Figue for quite some time.
This doesn’t mean Figue and other rural communities don’t face more challenges. Poverty is complex and multi-dimensional. This theme came up often in our discussions with our travel companions. We’re learning that not everything can be “fixed” or perfected; and that’s okay. Instead it’s about walking with people and helping them move forward one step at a time. This is a slow process but one that World Concern is committed to living out.