An Upgraded Molino, Increased Water Access, and Transnational Institution-Building
By K. Melchor Quick Hall, Resident Scholar, Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University and IIE Centennial Fellow
When I participated in the Fulbright program as a researcher during the 2011-2012 academic year, I did not anticipate the depth of transformation that would come from the experience. I entered the project, excited to be able to fund my dissertation research. However, I left Honduras with a larger sense of family and a deepened commitment to serving the Black diaspora, taking seriously the leverage that I might have as someone who is a United States citizen. And still I underestimated the transformative potential of this most recent transnational Black women’s food sovereignty project a decade later. Although I would be returning to the Garifuna villages of Honduras, which has become a “home away from home” for me and connecting women’s work there to the work of women in Tanzania, I underestimated the impact of this year’s work on my outlook and future. In this final blog post, I write about both the material impacts of the project in Honduras and Tanzania, as well as building transnational institutions with the communities that have expanded my family and changed my life.
An Upgraded Molino
Figure 1: New Pipes, Motor, Doors, and Chairs
The molino is the workshop where the Garifuna women process cassava in order to make the most important staple food of the community, ereba, or cassava bread. At the molino, they use a motorized grinder to crush the cassava root, and then squeeze out the poisonous liquid using a hydraulic jack. The molino is also a gathering place where the women peel the cassava before processing it and share stories. Historically, they also share songs during this traditional work. With money from the fellowship, they have focused on improvements to the molino, purchasing new equipment and adding indoor plumbing for a bathroom.
Figure 2: Garifuna Women Gathered at the Molino
Increased Water Access
Figure 3: Women Getting Water Restored and Making Liquid Soap
In Tanzania, where the entire east African region is currently suffering from drought, the focus was on water access. At the start of the project, I learned that many women had no access to running water because access was cut when they fell behind in paying their water bills. Within a month of the project beginning, we ensured that all the women in the group had access to running water. Throughout the project, we have continued to ensure water access, which is critical for drinking, gardening, and entrepreneurial endeavors such as making liquid soap. Similar to the group in Honduras, the Tanzanian women cherished opportunities to gather for training (e.g., soap-making workshop) and celebration (e.g., International Women’s Day).
Figure 4: Women Gathering for Soap Making and International Women’s Day
Figure 5: Judith Atamba Checking Out a Rental Property
Transnational institution-building is essential if we are to shift international imbalances in power. It must be done in close collaboration with community partners. We must continue to work together relentlessly, until I’m no longer the (structurally) powerful U.S. American with the capital and influence to change the lives and futures of entire communities. I must give up more resources, as a committed anti-capitalist, and I must listen more deeply, as someone committed to justice and human rights. In Tanzania, these commitments have resulted in Judith Atamba being added to the payroll of African American Education & Research Organization (AAERO), as the coordinator of the Tanzanian girls’ education program.
She is connecting with girls who need educational support; many of the girls are orphans, who received their grade school education at a local orphanage-based school. However, they are now ready for college. AAERO is committed to filling the gap. We have rented a house for the year, so the girls have a home to which they can return during university breaks, and we have paid university tuition and fees for three girls to begin their first years of university education. Although we don’t yet have funding to support the program in the future, the call was urgent and our responsibility to respond was undeniable. This is what accountability feels like. This is how solidarity forms. What other response could there be for an organization committed to Black education? In the coming years, we will work to build sustainable structures that can support the education of girls and women in the Black diaspora.
As I complete this blog entry, I am in a hotel room in Honduras. It is the day before Thanksgiving, and I am heading “home” to the Garifuna villages to look at land for a (future) guest house that could receive women of color on sabbatical from U.S. universities while supporting education initiatives in the Garifuna community. In this way, the work continues, slowly but steadily, closing the distance between “us” and “them,” “privilege” and “need,” “power” and “vulnerability,” one community at a time.