The first thing I noticed about Williamson WV is its similarities to my home country Haiti. In fact, if you are looking for a tourism hotspot, neither Haiti or Williamson will be among your top choice. You will not get a good impression of those places by browsing the Internet or by watching the news. Haiti is typically described as a very poor country with public safety issues and political instability. However, our rich culture and impressive history are overlooked. There are countless attractive places to visit as a tourist in Haiti. It is the same situation for Williamson. When I was selected among the 10 Fulbright students to go there for a week of service learning, I googled it to have a general idea of the city. It is typically portrayed as a very wild place with not many interested things to do or places to visit. But, as soon as I arrived at Tug Valley Inn, I realized it was the same stereotype as Haiti. Not only the people are very welcoming, but also the city is very quiet and attractive. This trip was an opportunity for me to discuss with some community ambassadors, to know deeper their story, the city’s goals as well as the strategy used to reach them.
Generally, when people are telling the story of Williamson, they reduce it to its economic ups and downs. Devasting floods, the coal-mining industry’s collapse and de-population are solely highlighted. But, the internal effort that is being made to recreate a sustainable city is overlooked. In fact, many organizations are striving to rebuild the city’s economy. They have a “holistic community health model” which embodies several activities (Healthy in the Hills, Tuesday Night Track…) aiming to keep the population active and committed. They teach people how to eat healthy and encourage them to work out by using incentives. The belief is maintaining the population healthy and bonded is important to boost the economy.
One of their most appealing activity is the “Tuesday Night Track”. It is a running activity carried since 2012 to increase the people physical activities. Every Tuesday, tens of residents gather together at Belfry High School to run for about 30 minutes. With 9 other fulbrighters and Amizade’s staff, we participated with the community in the running which deeply touched them. “I am very thankful for Fulbright’s participation in this event” said one of the participants from the city. Through this specific experience, I have learned how to serve a community by simply listening, being present and empathetic.
These activities have also started to increase the people’s trust in the city. When I asked this 39-year-old resident how he envisions the future, he replied: “the new generation has started to develop a sense of hope in the city’s future”. This was something I learned which can be hardly found in the news and the Internet. I was thus happy to spend this week in Williamson. There is a lot from it that can inspire my fellow citizens on how to build trust in Haiti.