Life in Matenwa

Everyday challenges faced in Matènwa

Life in Matènwa, a Haitian town located in the remote mountains of La Gonâve, is spare and hard. Women and children travel miles to collect precious drinking water and to sell vegetables in open markets. There is no running water or electricity, no doctors or dentists, no decent roads, no street signs, police or town centers. Like many of the island towns, the population of Matènwa is only a few hundred, and there are many more children than elders. For a long time generations survived by helping each other cultivate the hillsides for planting. They marketed animals and slowly cut down trees to make charcoal to sell as cooking fuel in the bigger cities. But it became more difficult to survive doing things the old ways in a region largely abandoned by a government engaged in its own unstable struggles. Even now the price of rice, fuel and medicine grows as extreme as growing city populations. Mounting poverty in Matènwa compels farmers to make and sell more charcoal, creating a downward spiral of deforestation and drought. Rather than replenishing life, the rains erode away topsoil washing down to the sea, gouging out travel roads and killing off edible fish. Children think rocks grow, and the elderly say, “The mountains are showing their bones.”


Persistent efforts by community members and the Community School have helped galvanize action.

Farming families are becoming more educated about the long-term effects of their dilemma and their choices. A renewed interest in maintaining food gardens, composting areas, tree planting, social advocacy, literacy and better education has taken hold. Into this necessary dream came the art center. Change isn't easy or fast, but we believe in the power of small local efforts with support and vision.