Raising a village – Tom Fame guides Haitians
SALEM – You’ve heard the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
You’ve heard the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In Tom Fame’s case, he’s raising a village. Three villages, actually, and they are all in remote mountainous areas of Haiti.
The Salem allergist is patiently building “people power,” guiding villagers in a five-year process to identify and figure out how to solve their own problems. Already, 3,000 residents in the area of Cabestor, Haiti, have a clean water distribution system, and a school is almost completed.
Fame and other parishioners of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Salem first met their brothers and sisters in the Sacre Coeur parish 16 years ago when the two church communities were “twinned” by the Catholic Diocese of Richmond.
What has happened since is a love story.
The people in that area have no roads, no electricity, no clean water.
Fame is helping change that.
He believes so strongly in helping Haitians to build their own community that he learned to speak Creole and went back to college. Next week, he will receive a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.
And in Haiti, 25 promising young Haitians have been chosen to go to trade schools to learn teaching, nursing, iron working, furniture making, sewing, and agriculture. In order to go to those schools, they have to leave home. There is no higher education – yet – in their communities.
“The idea is we send them to school, and they have to come back,” Fame emphasized, to set up small, sustainable businesses, such as nurseries to grow and sell trees. Haiti has been largely stripped of trees over the years, as people cut them for firewood to use to cook.
When Fame and parishioners from Our Lady of Perpetual Help went back to Haiti in November and January, there were community meetings held where the Haitians began to map their communities.
“We sat and listened some more,” Fame said. “We made sure everyone was heard from, especially the women’s voices.” Afterwards there was a community party, with food and dancing.
The people “created an actual map that showed the location of every household,” he explained. Now the Haitians are creating a questionnaire to give each household “to get their ideas of what the types of problems facing the community can be tabulated.”
The people agreed to appoint a volunteer for every 12 households, to form 15 of the volunteers into community health groups to monitor health.
One of the biggest needs in the community, the Haitians decided, was better health care, so one of the projects will be a small nurse-run clinic and dispensary. That will be done with the Partners in Health hospital system started by American doctor Paul Farmer, whose book, “Mountains upon Mountains,” was required study for the freshman class at Roanoke College several years ago.
Fame talks passionately about the 5-year community plan the journey residents of the Cabestor area have embarked on. In November and January there were community meetings to discuss and begin what he formally describes in a talk he presented at Johns Hopkins on May 11 as “a 5-year-plan to build a sustainable, community-run process to advance health, education, economic growth and improve food resources in the Cabestor valley.”
Fame understands the Haitian people aren’t used to working together to solve their massive problems, so he travels there several times a year to see how they’re coming along. His most recent trip was the end of January. He and his wife, Leah, who is an occupational therapist in Salem schools, will go back in November.
“I visited the schools and checked on work on the water project begun in September,” he said. There are actually two water projects.
One was to build a big cement spring box to collect water from a spring in Roches-Moulatre and protect it from cattle, mules, donkeys and goats, people washing clothes, bathing and other uses that pollute the drinking water.
The other water project was to get water from a large hydroelectric lake pumped up the slopes to the village, Fame explained.
Before, women carried 5-gallon buckets of water on their heads from water stations, a time-consuming process. The project included putting a cement roof on the school to support solar panels that provide power to pump the water uphill.
In turn, the roof provided a patio “where they can have parties,” he said.
Fame’s hundreds of photographs show a bucket brigade of children helping to carry cement and other supplies. “All the building materials had to be brought in by canoes,” he said. Among his photographs are one of him and young friend Zach Zoller, now a student at Washington and Lee, paddling a dugout canoe across that lake. “That’s how we got around,” he explained.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help provides the feeding project for more than 1,000 students in three schools in Haiti. Fame set up a perpetual fund which pays the salaries of 23 teachers at the schools.
Contributions are always welcome, he said. Checks may be made out to the OLPH Haiti Project, and mailed to Fame at 221 Homeplace Drive, Salem, VA 24153. To meet the people Tom Fame loves, and learn more about Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s Haiti project, see tomfame5 – YouTube.