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How We and You became Noumenm

The first day I entered the classroom for our “active community” workshop I looked into 12 unknown faces and didn’t know what to expect. Chilean Fellow Cristina Mardones and I stood inside a house made out of sticks and a white plastic awning. Usually this shelter was used as a church, but for the next five days it would be our space for the workshop. The plastic awning offered us some shade from the tremendous heat of the sun.

The place was simple but functional. Behind us was a wooden board, ready to be filled with information about group objectives and team roles. In front of us were 12 Haitians – 10 men and 2 women – between the age of 20 and 50, sitting on wooden benches in a semi-circle. Some centimeters above us on the roof beam were four curious geckos, evidently disturbed by our workshop, running from one corner to another. Cristina and I were a bit distracted by those little reptiles, while our participants sat silently and rigid on their benches, waiting to start.

“Expect the unexpected” is a Melton advice for dealing with intercultural work; easier said than done. In retrospect, I think Cristina, Ricardo[1] and I did well in our preparation. A set of different exercises and games for each topic made us flexible to adapt them on previous knowledge and learning styles. Quickly we found out that our participants were used to teacher-centered instruction and it took us some days to create the confidence that eased self-consistent and more open activities.

Games with rhythm and melody caught on our participants. Even at 104°F, our most tired attendees became swinging dancers and singers. I had never seen before someone dancing and singing with such a lust for life than in Grand Boukan, Haiti. Cristina and I got elevated by this energy and suddenly we made the connection we needed to learn together.

During the five days of the workshop “we” and “you” became “Noumenm”, the former two blans (Creole word for ‘foreigners’) and 12 Haitians turned into a productive group, able to concretize its ideas into well-defined projects for the community of Grand Boukan. We made a strategic plan to help improve the situation of agriculture and education.

After a week in Haiti we left our group, our friends of Grand Boukan, knowing that with their energy and willingness to develop they will build up an even more lovely and fruitful community.