Of all the lessons Haiti has taught me over the years, one of the most important is how to look ahead.

Lessons on Planning: The Lafontant Archive

Pere Fritz Lafontant, showing Deborah McGrath and Sewanee students a large collection of family photographs in his bedroom. Port Au Prince, Haiti. May, 2015. [photo: Pradip Malde]

Pere Fritz Lafontant, showing Deborah McGrath and Sewanee students a large collection of family photographs in his bedroom. Port Au Prince, Haiti. May, 2015. [photo: Pradip Malde]

Of all the lessons Haiti has taught me over the years, one of the most important is how to look ahead. This is a place where flexibility is key, as there is usually some variable that wasn’t accounted for, but that can derail the best laid plans. As anyone who has lived or worked in Haiti can tell you, scheduling is a nightmare. Obviously though, without a plan very little can be accomplished, especially if working with constrained time and resources. To be effective here one must learn to strike a delicate balance. You have to be able to look far into the future and decide, based on past experience, the best way to go about doing whatever it is you’re have to do. You cannot however become overly attached to any decision or plan, as you will often, at a moment’s notice, be forced to abandon them and quickly readjust. You must be ok with moving slowly, a difficulty for many Americans. Conversely, you have to develop the capability to think on your feet and make lightning fast modifications. What I’ve found is that the product of this strange kind of planning often turns out to be a better and more durable solution that what was originally imagined.

The development of the Lafontant Archive Project has certainly followed this pattern. The work was begun last summer, and is aimed at compiling a photographic and oral history of the region. Father Fritz Lafontant, an Episcopal priest integral to much of the development of the area, has amassed a collection of thousands of photographs throughout his life. Students from Sewanee are working to digitally preserve his collection, as well as gather stories and memories related to them from community members. We are building a photographic social history of a region with very little record of events other than what those who experienced them can recall. The Lafontant Archive has been built slowly, through trial and error, and carefully made guess work. Figuring out software and protocols has been a collaborative process based around a slowly building understanding of the best practices. As the bulk of the archive as well as the community members we interview are located here in Haiti, the Sewanee team has had to make the most of the time we have here. Once we have reached a new decision which allows us to progress, we must forge ahead in order to accomplish our goals.

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