Calito Amboise grew up nearly two thousand miles south of Winooski, Vermont, where he’s now a student at CCV. He moved here from a place that faces severe hardship, where large portions of the population struggle with poverty, natural disaster, and disease epidemics. He moved to the U.S. with three years’ experience helping in the massive effort to heal the communities and landscapes of his home country.
Calito Amboise is from Haiti, and he brings with him a remarkable optimism. “Today I help you, tomorrow you help me,” he says. “We can make community. We have to work together. You don’t need a big revolution. Small by small can make the difference.” Amboise moved to Vermont in 2011, then a speaker of three languages—none of which was English. Today, he is taking classes toward a degree in Liberal Studies at CCV Winooski. He works full-time baking bread at a Shelburne bakery. He’s just returned from spending most of January in his home country; he says he tries to visit once a year, if he can.
Watch Calito Amboise in action in Haiti:
Learn more about Calito Amboise’s fundraising initiative.
Amboise has been involved with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Haiti since 2008, beginning with the Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team (AMURT). “Our long-term programs in Haiti typically begin as a rapid disaster response,” reads the AMURT website, “transitioning into long-term capacity-building initiatives.” This idea is at the core of Amboise’s philosophy about aid work in Haiti: provide immediate assistance with basic needs like food and clothing, and also provide long-term solutions, encouraging communities to develop practices with potential for greater economic and environmental stability going forward.
Currently, Amboise is working on a fundraising initiative to provide Haitian families with ecological cook stoves. He says the custom of using charcoal as a cooking fuel is expensive, leaving families with less money for food, and contributes to deforestation, soil erosion, and the negative effects of climate change. These stoves, made of metal, clay, sugar cane, water, sawdust, and rice skins, offer a more efficient means of cooking than traditional stoves. In a similar, previous project, Amboise was involved with implementing the use of stoves fueled by recycled materials, including training people to use the stoves—a sometimes difficult process, as many were reluctant to stray from traditional methods—and also training people for jobs manufacturing and distributing the stoves.
As Amboise describes these projects, it becomes clear that he is determined to teach, to introduce new ideas and techniques, and to transform people and communities through education and empowerment. “My dream is not to just give people food every day,” he says, “but to teach how to cook. It is better to teach people how they can survive by themselves.”
He describes introducing new stoves to communities—work that seemed to turn the act of cooking, and learning new techniques with new tools, into ceremony: Participants would first gather for a demonstration. Everyone would prepare a typical Haitian food like rice and beans. They’d talk about the benefits, both economic and ecological, of cooking with a more fuel-efficient stove. Last but not least, there would be song. “In our culture, people like to sing in any kind of ceremony,” says Amboise. “It gives energy. ‘Let’s eat together. If we get together, we can protect the environment. I eat with you, you eat with me.’ We can make community. We have to work together.”
There are important similarities between Amboise’s life in Vermont and his life in Haiti. In both places, his efforts are focused on community and on education. “I feel like I’m home,” he says of being a student in Winooski. “What I love about CCV is that any help you need, you find it. There’s a spirit of community.” He began his studies at CCV in 2012, and hopes to continue on for a bachelor’s degree after graduating. “I think life in general is a school,” he says. “Every day you can learn something new.”
Calito Amboise will no doubt carry that attitude with him in his work and in his travels. His goal is to bring his experiences in Vermont back to his home country, and bring the experiences of his home country back to Vermont; he wants to be a bridge connecting the two places. “My dream is to have people go there, exchange cultures, see how different things are in Haiti. Invite more people and get more people involved.”