To Li Deng ’10, the custodian in Whitman College was a friendly man who had helped her move boxes and given her a lift on a golf cart when she was on crutches. Only in her senior year did she learn about all that Josue Lajeunesse had done for his other community — the one in Haiti, where he grew up.
That year, Deng saw a campus screening of the 2009 documentary The Philosopher Kings, featuring Lajeunesse and custodians from other universities. The film showed how, since 2002, Lajeunesse and his brother in Haiti had been building a water system for their village, La Source. Without it, villagers had two options when they needed water: Hike up a steep mountain to collect clean water from a cistern, or drink dirty water from the river.
Lajeunesse moved to the United States in 1989, but sent money home to build the water system while his brother worked in the village, and together, they had been able to pipe clean water into many homes. They had not managed to reach all homes, extend the pipes to outlying areas, or finish building cisterns and public fountains in town.
After the Princeton film screening, Deng and other students decided to help Lajeunesse complete what the brothers had begun. “Josue was so close to home,” said Deng. “There wasn’t an option of not doing anything.”
Ben Kung ’10 and Lexi Meyer ’11 coordinated a pair of benefit concerts. Deng helped to coordinate a program in which students gave up one meal a week, donating the money they would have spent. Leanne Duhaney ’11 and Christina Laurenzi ’13 worked on a meal-donation program in campus dining halls. Laurenzi also recruited students to perform at a recital series benefit in Whitman College. Hundreds of students helped by donating meals, telling their friends, or assisting with events, Deng said.
Together, the students raised about $20,000. Along with other support that stemmed from the project’s appearance in The Philosopher Kings, it allowed the Lajeunesse brothers to complete their work. Without the money, Josue Lajeunesse said, “It would have taken a few more years to finish it.” He already is thinking of the next steps for his village: electricity, a school, and a medical center.
And the students who had been so moved by the film? Their story has moved others. La Source, a new documentary about the Lajeunesse brothers that also highlights the Princeton students, is expected to be released this year.