There was nothing we could do. And I hated it.
I had received the money generously donated by my friends and family to help start a rice milling business in Ligorio and was excited to begin working on my primary project. I called the village together for a meeting and they were ecstatic to hear that we reached our fundraising goal for the rice mill – no small sum of money for the Saramaccans.
At the meeting, an elderly man named Philippe (pictured below five from the left in yellow) respectfully interrupted to say how much these altruistic gestures mean to him, especially considering the donors were Americans who have never met Saramaccans but were still willing to help them improve their lives. It was one of the most powerful moments of my Peace Corps service and I was overwhelmed with pride.
But that didn’t change anything. We were in the middle of an intense dry season and the river was too low for the community to uphold their part of the bargain. We had already agreed; I would raise the money for the rice mill and they would donate all of the transportation, material and labor costs needed to build a shelter for the mill. Additionally, the community of Ligorio would provide transportation, room and board for the mill’s manufacturers who would travel to Ligorio to give technical trainings on how to install and maintain the mill.
And so for months and months we waited and waited for the river to rise. Thanks to the personal responsibility of a select few, in particular one man, Frank Majokko, the project gained momentum. Frank organized women to dig sand, a task that can only take place while the river is low, and carry it to the shelter’s location (the sand is required to mix with the cement to make the floor of the shelter). While the river limited our ability to bring heavy supplies, such as bags of cement and zinc roofing, out to Ligorio, Frank and I began meeting daily so that I could give business lessons, where we discussed setting goals and objectives, designing action plans, bookkeeping, pricing and marketing.
I loved those informal meetings. Frank’s desire to help his community is simple and genuine, pouring through his enthusiastic eyes and cheerful chuckle. The conversations were open, free to discuss anything that came to mind, and together, we discovered what it will take to properly run a business. We would give each other “bauxite” (the Saramaccan version of “pound”) as we came up with new ideas and I can’t tell you how many times we would walk away from those meetings with huge smiles plastered on our faces, both of us having learned something new and excited by the prospect of a successful business. Even more importantly, we were becoming good friends who could trust each other.
FINALLY! The rain began and I jumped at the opportunity to remind the community that the time had arrived to fulfill their promise. After receiving some money from the women’s organization of Ligorio, Frank dug into his own pockets to cover the rest of the costs, travelled to the city and bought all of the supplies needed to build the rice mill’s shelter. After transporting the supplies to Ligorio, Frank worked in the jungle where he cut all of the wood by hand and then carried it to the village with the help of some boys.
Since then, Frank and I spent three days building the house and we are now ready to transport the rice mill out to Ligorio!
Here are some pictures of the progress we have made:
Lucky (Frank’s son) was my little apprentice, much like I was Frank’s.
It’s amazing to remember that Frank cut all of these 2×4′s by hand from one tree.