Dreams Grow on the Mountain Slopes of Haiti
“Climbing up this steep mountain slope is one of the hardest thing I have ever done,” said Elsie Saint-Louis Accilien, Executive-Director of the NY-based nonprofit Haitian-Americans United for Progress (HAUP). “But this is most exhilarating and rewarding,” she added. Standing beside her were Ford model Monica Watkins, photographers Kareem Black and Crystal Vinson and some 25 young Haitian-Americans. They had flown from New York, driven up the hills above Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, walked in a rocky and dry riverbed and finally huffed and puffed their way to the mountain town of Masson to reach the children they had come to see. They nodded in agreement: loving and serving Haiti was no catwalk.
For the children of the school of Masson however, walking at least an hour up the mountain slope every day to attend school is the least of their worries. Staying the course, opening up their minds to the creative possibilities generated by knowledge, climbing Haiti’s steep social ladder out of chronic poverty, these are their real challenges.
And it’s challenges like these that HAUP decided to take on when it launched its Love and Serve Haiti project. If this year is any indication, the project — which is now in its second year – appears to be well on its way to meetings its goals. Love and Serve Haiti is designed to develop leadership qualities and potential in young Haitian-Americans, anchor their commitment to community and to Haiti where HAUP provides support to about 600 school children in Masson, Guibert and Sarazin through a partnership with a Haitian non-profit called Pou Solèy Leve. The highlight of the project however is a comprehensive field visit to Haiti over a 10-day period, during which the participating youths are exposed to Haitian history, culture and politics and get to interact with the children. Upon returning home, they are expected to become advocates for their community and Haiti, and help shape the next group of young Haitian-American leaders.
This year, Ford model Monica Watkins, founder of Art in Motion, teamed up with HAUP and is leading efforts to showcase the talents of the children. The energy and enthusiasm Monica brought to the project has been nothing short of contagious. Top model Dani Evans and LoveJones NYC founder J-Harris joined her to offer support at a fundraiser prior to the Haiti visit. Radio Tele-Ginen, one of the major news and entertainment broadcasters in Haiti offered its sponsorship. And the reservoir of good will kept building up. The August 7 fundraiser featured several young artists freely giving of their time and talent to entertain the guests and entice them to follow their lead and donate as well. Haiti’s Consul General. Mr. Charles Forbin, was so delighted with the event that he moved quickly to ensure that the upcoming visit to Haiti met the expectations of the organizers.
On August 13, over 200 children were brought in from Guibert, Sarazin and Masson to take part in Art Day. After a brief orientation which included being subdivided in accordance with their age group, they were provided with art supplies and given free rein to self-expression. In the afternoon, eighty of the best self-portraits were selected for further refinements and the children were then grouped according to their areas of interest: singing, painting, dance, writing, poetry and marshal arts. Rose-Anne Auguste, Minister of Human Rights and the General Director of the Ministry of Social Affairs graced the day with their presence. The next day, August 14, children were outfitted with designs from Petit Catou Wear.
Ensuring that the school children continue to get improved educational support and quality instructions during the school year is the commitment of everyone who participated in the Love and Serve mission. “I liked the fact that, everyone from the youths to HAUP’s leaders were actively engaged with the children, not keeping their distances while professing best intentions,” said Monica Watkins at the conclusion of her trip. “I am totally committed to the project and I believe that many will join me in helping the children of Haiti reach their dreams. Their mind, ingenuity and talent are too important to waste.”
Submitted by Jocelyn McCalla