Language as a Problem and a Solution, Culture as an Edge

I had expected that the language difference (me speaking French and not Creole) would be a challenge for me in giving trainings and facilitating groups here. I accepted that this would be a learning edge for me, which would push me to find new and creative ways to facilitate people's learning process.

On my first day at the PDC (which I'm attending as an assistant), during lunch, I asked one of the Haitian students how he was doing. He asked me something like “Could you tell me, exactly what is permaculture?” Having just spent the weekend facilitating an Introduction to Permaculture with a group of 27 people in Ottawa, I was happy to share my understanding; questions similar to this were still fresh in my mind. I started talking with this student, and little by little, our small nucleus of conversation grew until most of the Haitian students were sitting with us, listening. A few of them explained to me that the language was a challenge for them. Neither of the teachers nor the translator are native Creole speakers and some of the students couldn't understand the material as clearly as they wanted. About three-quarters of the Haitian students could understand me clearly in French, so I've been spending lunch and breaks usually with a small group of students, answering questions, clarifying concepts, and giving guidance on their design projects in French. I'm really enjoying being able to offer support in this way and delighted that this gives me a chance to connect more personally with people.

A few of the Haitian folks I've chatted with in class, at the AMURT school and on the street have asked me about Canada and have shared about their lives. I've been excited to hear about the gardens, schools and children's programs people have started, and to know that some of the students in the PDC have ideas about new things they could do. A few people have invited me to visit their homes and the projects they've started in their communities.

Our different linguistic and cultural backgrounds have added a layer of richness for me in listening to Larry's stories. Several times while teaching, Larry shared a funny story, which was met by immediate laughter from the students who understand English. A couple of times, the translator retold the story in Creole, which was followed by a second round of laughter from the Creole-speaking students and some of the English-speaking students listening to the story being retold. I remember that the story about composting toilets translated well into Creole; I think our understanding of minimising opportunities to be in contact with kaka is fairly universal :)

I'm grateful that the “problem”, which was the language barrier, has become an opportunity to slow down, listen, reflect and connect more deeply. The extra time and information I have to share is being transformed into learning for other people. We've found a way to turn the difference in language, the edge of where our French, Creole and English meet, into a new opportunity. In this fertile ground, we are learning about permaculture and each others' cultures, developing friendships, seeding possibilities for new projects and collaborations, and taking care of people. Earth care, people care, and sharing the surplus; I would say that we are touching the essence of permaculture and laughing a lot in the process :)


Earthship building.  The walls are made of old tires and the roof of the big dome is insulated with styrofoam food containers; the outer finish is cement.  Rainwater is harvested into a cistern (structure on left) and used for bathing.  Greywater from bathing is used to flush the toilet.  Blackwater from the toilet is passed through a constructed wetland system and then into the garden beds in front of the building.



Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
Enter the characters shown in the image.