Feed on

VHP in Asian Night Market

On November 7th, the Vassar Haiti Project tabled in the annual Asian Students’ Alliance (ASA) Night Market. The following is a collaborative post from Ruoyu (Lucy) Li, and Thao Nguyen about the preparation and tabling for the event.


Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 19.14.19

The feeling of making a cuisine from home is unexplainable, especially for me when it comes to making dumplings. Every year during Spring Festival, the most important holiday in China, I’d sit with my entire family around a big table and make tons of dumplings for celebration. And this year, I sat with VHP around a big table and we made hundreds of dumplings for the ASA Night Market. I thought I would feel homesick, but I did not. Instead, I felt at home.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 19.14.33

Dumpling making (like working in VHP) is a collaborative and time-consuming work. On Friday November 6th, we started at 6 p.m. and probably finished around 10 p.m. We made over 350 lovely dumplings. We started by chopping everything in sight into tiny pieces, which was a very stress-relieving activity — highly recommended during the more stressful weeks of the semester. Then we mixed everything together, poured in all kinds of seasonings and then mixed them by hand. A thousand thanks to Kidus, our VP for External Events, who sacrificed his hands for the job! Finally, we got to sit together and make dumplings, and I was surprised to find that everyone had their own way of wrapping dumplings. From this, I learned that there are multiple ways to reach our goals, and making dumplings is no exception. Throughout the night, even though we were all working incredibly hard, there was music, conversation and joy.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 19.14.41

Our effort is not only for the Night Market: the money raised by selling dumplings will go to the Education Initiative to support our school and scholarship program in Haiti. When we speak of supporting education in a developing country, we might think of something serious and tiring, and not a happy dumpling-making party. But helping can actually be achieved by doing something small and with personal joy, like what we did that night. Fabulous people, fabulous food and fabulous purpose.

Lastly, I wanted to extend a big thanks to everyone who helped in making dumplings, and especially to Udbhav Agarwal ‘18, the Director of VHP’s Education Initiative. I would also like to send my thanks to Robyn Cox ‘15, Vassar alumni, for the amazing dumpling recipe!

-Ruoyu Li ’19

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 19.14.48

I could not help with dumpling making so I signed up to table during the Night Market. We had dumplings, steamed buns and mini rice balls. The food looked great and tasted even more amazing because of all the love and hard work VHP-ers had put into making them. I was pretty nervous at first because people worked very hard and we had a lot of food to sell. But as soon as the event started and until the very end (2 hours) we were busily selling food to the lines of people in front of VHP’s table. People really enjoyed the food and wanted to support VHP’s work. We even ran out of steamed buns half way through and had to make more for our hungry customers! It was awesome getting to work side by side VHP-ers, talking to more people about the project and increasing VHP’s presence on Vassar campus.

-Thao Nguyen ’18


How to Stretch A Painting

Vassar Haiti Project holds stretching parties regularly before our sales. During stretching parties, we stretch paintings onto wooden frames, giving them the support necessary for display at art sales. The following is a stretching tutorial from Melanie Lai Wai ’16, our VP for Merchandise.


A stretching party is a VHP tradition. Several times every semester, after VHP receives a new order of Haitian paintings, we hold a stretching party where members from all initiatives and committees come together to assemble the painting canvases with their wooden frames and produce the beautiful products that our customers see in art sales.

If you are wondering about what goes on behind the scenes of Vassar Haiti Project, this fun tutorial on how to stretch a painting will give you a peek into our internal activities!

>>Step 1

Prepare the work surface that you will be working on. Stretching a painting will involve a lot of staples so we want to make sure that you do not damage your furniture.

Lay out a thick piece of fabric on the table if you are working indoors or if the weather is sunny, simply bring your tools outside in the yard!

>>Step 2

Gather your tools.

merch 1

>>Step 3

Paintings are usually shipped to us rolled up like giant Swiss rolls and it is our job to lay them out (stretch them) on wooden frames (a.k.a. “stretchers”)

Pick a painting. Today we will be stretching “Village Talk” by Georges Desarmes.


>>Step 4

Measure the length and width of your painting and gather four stretchers of the same dimensions as the painting, one for each side. Ours is a 10-inch by 12-inch painting.


3 4



>>Step 5

Assemble the stretchers.


>>Step 6

Center the painting canvas on the stretchers. Holding the canvas firmly on one side of the rectangular frame, staple it.


>>Step 7

Now flip the painting. We will attempt to staple the opposite side of the canvas. Using the canvas pliers, pull the fabric as much as you can over the stretcher bar and staple it.


>>Step 8

We can now staple the other sides of the painting. Make sure that the fabric is pulled very tightly before stapling it to the stretcher, otherwise the end result will not have a smooth surface. Staple each side as many times as you think necessary; you are the best judge!

However, if you happen to see that the surface of the painting is still loose after adding a staple, fear not! Remove the staple very carefully with a screw driver (don’t hurt yourself!) and start over.

>>Step 9

After stapling each side of the canvas to the stretcher bars, check to see whether the surface of the painting is tight enough (you should feel it pushing against your fingers when you apply a slight force). If it is to your liking, secure the staples by hammering them in.



>>Step 10

Now secure the corners.


>>Step 11

Trim the excess fabric on the sides for a cleaner look.


>>Step 12

The final step is to add a sticky label at the back of the painting, specifying the name of the painting, the artist, the size of the painting and its price.

Village Talk by Georges Desarmes. To see more of his work, please visit our website


Voilà! Our painting is ready to be displayed on a wall!

We hope that you have enjoyed this brief tutorial.


Every year, hundreds of paintings are stretched by VHP volunteers. It is thanks to their dedication and hard work that our art sales look as beautiful as this :


Please stop by if you are ever in the area!

Sahara Pradhan ’15, has been heavily involved in VHP since her freshman year. She has served as the Education Initiative Director, the VP for Outreach, and as the Co-President for Fundraising and Development. She recently came back to Vassar to visit us and took this opportunity to help with the preparation for Setauket Sale.
On October 18th, I met up with a few VHPers at a café in Brooklyn to prepare for a presentation we were going to give in Setauket. We had an incredibly successful weekend sale in Setauket two years ago, hosted by a Vassar College alumnae Jeanine Morelli and her husband Peter. This presentation was for our return to Setauket for the second time, for the upcoming Haitian art sale on the weekend of November 20, 21, and 22.

 I was surprised to get a chance to accompany Andrew, Lila, and our amazing new Vice President for Outreach, Kidus, for this presentation in Setauket.
After a two-hour drive, we arrived at the church and were warmly welcomed by the Morellis once again. It was the church where I had set up the Haitian paintings for sale two years ago.

We gave the presentation to a group of middle school and high school students about our work in Chermaître and in the United States, and talked about Vassar students’ involvements. Then we shared a few pieces of art with the audience.
Lila also conducted a mini “art of the schmooze” workshop, which teaches the art of meeting and talking to new people at art sales – and in life! This workshop aims to help the students develop a sense of confidence and to show them that they are not alone in their fears.

These students will help us spread the word in their community about the Setauket sale, and also help out at the sale itself!

Returning for the first time as a Vassar Haiti Project alum after having been out in the so-called “real world” for several months, I have started to more fully realize the uniqueness and rarity of the depth of my relationships and experience I acquired while being a part of Vassar Haiti Project. Vassar Haiti Project was one of my first homes at Vassar, so returning, even for a short while, was a gift for me.

I was incredibly moved by Jeanine and her community’s hospitality two years ago, and I am sure that with this amazing support we are receiving, the second Setauket sale will also be a great success!

This past September, the Vassar Haiti Project had our first art sale of the school year! This annual sale, which takes place over Vassar College’s Parents Weekend, normally occurs in April; however, for the 2015-16 school year, Vassar held Parents Weekend in September. For the first time ever, VHP’s “April Sale” took place in September. Read about the sale from the perspective of Udbhav Agarwal ’18, VHP’s Director of Education.


Everything that could have gone differently did go differently. As we swung open the doors for the 15th Annual Haitian Art Sale of the Vassar Haiti Project, one could sense the mere nervousness that had encompassed each of us. The sale that had happened ritualistically once every year, for the past 14 years, was now happening twice in six months. Almost every other day, someone would call it the “April Sale” only to be quickly reminded, that no- this wasn’t the “April Sale” but the “September Sale”. The Annual Art Auction that had highlighted each of the past “April Sales” was nowhere on our calendar. Invitations and postcards had been timely delivered, but responses and RSVPs were ambiguous. Indeed, as we swung open the doors for our 15th Annual Art Sale we were prepared to expect a no-show and shut them right back.

Our Annual Art Sales are arguably the most important dates in our calendar- a grand albeit painstaking culmination of art, efforts and stories. It takes three days just to set the display right- to dare to recreate the vivacity of Haitian Art in our tiny little base in Vassar College, Poughkeepsie. As the artists and their paintings go up- from the scenic “Twin Animals” series of Joel Gauthier to the downright absurd “Fish Man” collection of Andre Blaise- ornamenting the otherwise unvaried walls of the CCMPR, every column boasts a vision and mystery of its own. A successful sale would give the necessary boost to having a fulfilling year for our partners in Chermaître, Haiti. Indeed, a successful sale is imperative to the success of the Vassar Haiti Project.


“Every column boasts a vision and mystery of its own”.

Burgeoned by these concerns and many others, the first day of the Sale began with a slow but eventually assuring start. As faces we had just recently bid adieu returned back to the College Center Multi-Purpose Room- confused but nonetheless enthusiastic that the sale was happening twice this year- our team began work with a renewed faith in our mission. By half day, almost everyone was tired- the whole room was occupied and the art had cast its spell. It took us barely a day to realize that the generosity and admiration that our Haitian artworks were able to invoke transcended minor details such as the fact that we had just had a sale a few months ago. Our worries were not worries at all.

Day 2 began with the reappearance of two of our Executive Board members from last year. As Sarah Oliver ‘15 and Ayodele Parker ’15 returned to help with the sale, the gravity and the mere celebration in the room remained unquestioned. Day 2 of sales was going to be the longest most exhausting day of the lot- not only did we open the sale early in the morning but we were also hosting a gala/student presentation on what VHP meant to us and the community. Once again, as each member (old and new) set into motion, and the visitors opened up about the stories and biographies they had carried with themselves through the years- the true essence of VHP became clearer than ever. Here, in our Little Haiti, in the course of three days, people representing five continents, eighteen countries and thirty-five languages would walk through. They would share their stories and we would share ours. And just like that, a world of difference would be celebrated in our tiny little base at Vassar, Poughkeepsie.

By the time the tear down happened on Day 3- the unvaried walls of the CCMPR were restored back to their original blankness and the artists and their artworks were curated and sealed for next year- it had been a much awaited end to a much awaited weekend. Indeed, as we had swung the doors open we were prepared for a no show, but by the end we were astounded by the generosity and passion of our visitors. Our first “April”, sorry, “September Sale” had been successful and we were prepared for an even more successful year.


The following is an interview conducted with Michaela Coplen, a fellow VHP’er! She shares how her prior experiences led her to the Vassar Haiti Project, along with a poem that she wrote in honor of her trip to Gerin, Haiti.

Jenga, by lantern light
for the people of Gerin, Haiti

Nearby mamá learns a tree timber to bend around her body
and girls fill the spaces between their teeth with coconut and smiles.
In the square, a widower wills new life into drying leaves
and a man does business with the shadows of his hands.
Nearby the sun settles itself into a cradle of palm and promises,
and the village boys outrun their own nakedness.
Nearby a dog begs to be heard,
nearby where the bread scarcely rises.
In the distance, a man traverses the mountain trail
as if he hasn’t given up yet;
a dream falls in the jungle and it doesn’t make a sound.
Nearby a donkey negotiates the terms of its surrender,
and a goat looks wistfully at the rope around its neck.
In the dark, an ocean tries to figure out how it feels to be forever;
the waves teach their children to return, return.
Nearby a rain cloud gathers,
bruised and the color of love.
Inside, a woman latches her door against the moon.

I watch as my sisters
build lace out of blocks of wood,
and I learn the regular pattern of absences,
the size of the spaces between,
the things lived without
within this tentative tower,

the sighing, inevitable fall–
the flurry of hands

1. How did you find yourself in Gerin, Haiti? (…and you may interpret “find yourself” in whatever way you’d like :)).

I was a member of my school’s Model United Nations team, and our mentor believed that it was important to find ways to apply what we learned in MUN to the real world. One way that we did this was through extensive fundraising for an organization called buildOn—a non-profit dedicated to bringing education to every child, in communities around the world. Our school chose to raise money for buildOn’s project to build a school in Gerin, Haiti. Our fundraising was so successful that buildOn invited two students to join them for the first week of the school’s construction—I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of those two.

2. So often, the international development industry portrays poor communities in terms of all the things they lack, which can falsely box them into perpetual inferiority – always developing, but never quite developed. Your poem speaks to this sense of lack (“absences,” “spaces between,” “the things lived without”), but sees more in it than what the international development industry does. Please tell us more about the richness you encountered in Gerin. Did it surprise you?
Gerin is incredibly rich in humanity. While we were working on the construction site, we stayed the nights with host families—I was surprised by how easily they made me feel truly like family. After a long day of work, my host brother would bring a bucket of water up from the river (about an hourlong trip) for me to bathe, and then my host sisters would brush and braid my (and each other’s) hair while I helped my host mother grind corn. As the sun set, we would gather around a table and play Jenga or card games. Lamp oil is expensive, and they had very little, yet they insisted on lighting a lantern every night so that we could prolong our games a little bit longer into the night. The country and the people are beautiful, in all senses of the word. However, something that I tried to avoid in the poem and in my mind was the romanticization of poverty. Haiti and her people are so remarkably resourceful, and rich in their kindness—but still in dire need of things that every human should have: access to fresh water, nutrition, health care, education, etc. What makes the people really rich is the incredible tenacity they have to overcome all of this, and remain so generous in their spirit.

blog 1

Michaela and another Carlisle High School student on their trip to Gerin, Haiti, with one of the women on the school board who helped start the building project. The girls in the foreground are students from the village teaching Michaela a hand clapping game

3. I’ve heard you’re hoping to study International Studies and English (creative writing) at Vassar. For me, Jenga, by lantern light captures so well the possibilities for melding the two areas of study. How do you see yourself negotiating the confluences and/or contradictions of the two?

One of my favorite writers, Chimamanda Adichie, gave a speech in which she talked about the “danger of a single story.” The thesis is this: we understand people based on the stories we have heard of and from them. The more stories you hear, the more well-rounded your understanding becomes; the single story, on the other hand, creates a stereotype. In order to better understand each other, what we need is a multitude of stories from a multitude of people. This is where the intersection of International Studies and English is so important. I want to travel and write about the people I encounter and the experiences I have (melding historical and political analysis with more emotional and personal impressions)—but more importantly, I want to find a way to help others share their stories, across languages and borders.

blog 2

Michaela and her trip-mate, Aziza Yaropa, with their host family and the BuildOn translator, James Jean Baptiste, outside the host family’s home on their last night. Host mother Luzana Robuste and host father Kesnerd Francois are surrounded by their children Beamie, Berlanda, Beremise, Kouseline, and Mikesley and extended relatives.
4. How have you been involved in the Vassar Haiti Project (VHP) so far?

I’ve been working on VHP’s Women’s Initiative. Right now I’m still getting my feet wet, helping out with research and brainstorming ideas in our meetings. I’m really excited about the progress that the Women’s Co-Op in Chermaitre has made, and I hope to get more involved in the next few years.

5. What first drew you to VHP? And what keeps you coming back, especially while you juggle demanding academic, extra-curricular, and professional obligations?

Leaving Gerin was harder than I thought it would be. The people there had been so kind, and treated me so graciously—I swore then that I would find a way to stay involved with supporting this beautiful country. This was actually a week before I moved into Vassar, and so coming across VHP during freshman orientation seemed like fate. I love that VHP is run by students, and fueled by student energy—the collaborative atmosphere and companionship that keeps me coming back.




Jackie Eiting, a long-time friend of Lila and Andrew Meade, was an invaluable participant on the trip to Haiti. She was always looking out for everyone else; always had some new piece of knowledge to share; and even after a long hike, was full of life and more energy than anyone else. We wanted everyone who has been following the events of the trip to also witness Jackie’s wisdom and insight. Below is a short reflection Jackie wrote on her experience. Thank you Jackie for being an inspiration and friend to all on the trip!


Jackie with Sarah, Siennah, Lan, and Kremena

I really resisted going to Haiti…I just didn’t need to ‘fall in love’ with another ‘third world country’. I kept thinking “really, what could an almost 70 year old woman do in Haiti that would actually make any difference to anybody?!” BUT when Lila said, “Jackie we’re counting on you…you will be the only other non-student (read older person) on this trip” I succumbed! As I was making my reservations it occurred to me that this journey would change my life, one more time….and it didn’t disappoint!

Our first drive through Port Au Prince seemed familiar….Dante’s Descent into Hell came to mind….the rubble, the bumper-car traffic, the stifling heat, and the everywhere chaos hid what was obvious to me 7 days later when we returned. Port au Prince was simply a struggling, amazingly alive city, on the precipice of daily survival.

We stayed that night on the floor of one of our student’s family’s home. Clairiola’s extended family, already squeezed, over flowing into this house, opened their arms and resources to us with unbelievable generosity.

At this point I was making the slow transition from “what AM I doing here?” to “This is Haiti, I am here”.

I realized I came ill prepared in 2 ways however. I had all the stuff for sure; the right clothes, 98% Deet Spray, Malrone etc. But I had not even the simplest of Creole phrases to say “hello, thank you, how are you?” I was essentially a mute with no way to express my overwhelming gratitude for such generosity. Secondly , I didn’t know these beautiful young women who were my traveling companions and clearly much better prepared than me. They were already bonded to each other and Haiti. This however became the most powerful secret sauce of the trip for me, the cherry on the Haiti cake: to meet, get to know and deeply love these special young ‘leaders in the making’.

Watching them work, playing with the children of Chermaitre, climbing up and down the mountain, taking water and soil samples, listening and being deeply moved by the woman of Chermaitre’s heart achingly sad stories, not complaining about the lack of water and being clean, and laughing so hard with and at each other about all the hard circumstances, I became increasingly happier and relieved about the possibility and future of our planet.

Knowing Andrew and Lila for so many years I did know that VHP was a special organization. I do and have always trusted their integrity and ability to make a huge difference in anything that they touch. What attracts me now so powerfully to VHP is the ability to contribute directly to a place, a village, a community, i.e. people, the children of Chermaitre   AND the fact that the VHP experiences leaves an indelible mark on these young students, these truly’ global citizens’ who are transformed by their work in Haiti. Each one of them will never forget this experience and each one will go on to use this experience to keep making a difference in this world.

As some wise person said to me “you get what you resist’… that is true… I got Haiti and I got a life- long commitment to the Vassar Haiti Project! Not a bad deal!





After a relaxing couple of days by the beach, and some successful handcraft and iron sculpture shopping in Jacmel, we finally arrived safely back in New York. Everyone is exhausted, but already missing Haiti. It was difficult to say goodbye, especially to Pere Wildaine who stayed with us the entire trip.

There are not enough words to express how grateful we are for his presence, leadership, and especially his words of wisdom for every situation. During the hikes in Chermaitre, all of the trippers would try to encourage one another by saying they were “djanm” or “strong” in Haitian Creole, but it was Pere Wildaine who reminded us that we also have to be “djanm” in our minds.


The ever-talented Pere Wildaine

As we settle back into our daily routines, Pere Wildaine’s advice is at the forefront of our thoughts. We all have to be “djanm” in order to face the challenges ahead of us in our personal lives and in Chermaitre, and we thank Pere Wildaine for giving us the courage to do so. His partnership has been a gift and a privilege.

Below are some further reflections on the trip to Chermaitre. The first is by senior, Sarah Oliver, and her experience at the clinic in Fiervil. The second is by freshman, Siennah Yang who shares her knowledge of the music sung at a church service (led by Pere Wildaine) in Molas. Both are “djanm” individuals to the fullest!

– Ilse Heine ’15

An except from my journal on the day I spent at the clinic (March 20, 2015). In short, it was a beautiful and inspiring day and I really want to be a doctor. ~ Sarah Oliver ’15


Wow! I have so much energy today, even after working in the clinic all day. It has been my favorite part of the trip by far. I sat with Dr. Gueslin for over 6 hours, writing his prescriptions in neat handwriting for the pharmacy to clearly understand. We saw over 65 patients. It was incredible. Dr. Gueslin was incredible. Even though there were so many people, he had the patience to talk to and examine each one, making sure to hear their concerns and make the right diagnosis. Many of the people had tinea capitis (a fungal infection in the scalp), worms, and/or scabies. We gave every patient multivitamins because many do not have proper nutrition. Many also received a prescription for Tylenol because these families don’t have the access and knowledge of OTC medications, so need a prescription for these “basic” things. A couple of the women were pregnant and Dr. Gueslin was able to find the baby’s heartbeat and let Clairiola and I listen to it. Ah! I just want to be a doctor right away!

I found it really interesting that Dr. Gueslin would only prescribe 2 weeks (at most!) of medication. This way, he could monitor how well the patient took their meds; it also forced them to come back for a follow-up. He would also write prescriptions for exams/lab work that either needed to be done at a later date or done by a specialist at the nearest hospital (1.5 hour walk away). I think that’s an excellent way to track patients and help them understand their care. I realized that the clinic is spatially organized in such a way that the patients wait outside the examining room. Many times the patients get antsy or impatient (some have been waiting for hours) and come into the examining room, demanding to be seen. Dr. Gueslin would first tell them to wait outside, then, if they persisted, he would move them to the front of the pile. At first, I thought that was unfair, but now that I think about it, it is actually his way of doing effective crowd-control. He knows that some people need to be seen urgently so that they continue to come to the clinic and take charge of their health. Dr. Gueslin also did not wear gloves most of the time. From my US-medical perspective, this is crazy! However, when I asked him why, he said it was for humility. In some way, that makes extraordinary sense. He did use gloves or hand sanitizer when the patient was infectious, but otherwise that barrier was removed.

The clinic day today felt very full-circle for me. I ate dinner in the very spot that I thought about becoming a doctor, exactly 3 years ago. I’ve seen this place transform from a temporary clinic with just the foundations of the building I’m currently sleeping in, to a lonely building with limited medications and potential nurse and doctor, to finally the fully-operating medical dispensary with a full-time nurse, a doctor 4 days per month, a stocked pharmacy, and patients who are starting to understand what is means to have access to healthcare. At our debrief tonight, I cried because I became so emotional about this place. I can’t wait for the freshmen to be seniors and for this clinic to have transformed into something greater. We are at a stage with so much potential and it excites me to think about the future. I want to come back as a medical student, with a completely different perspective and see where this clinic, this entity that has so shaped me as a person, is in its path to being the best source of primary care for the people of this region. This place is possibility, and that possibility is palpable tonight.

Siennah Yang ’18


As my harmony professor quoted in class, “music has powers to unite men’s souls.” As a Christian and a musician, I always pondered the power of music to express feelings and to worship. The Molas service, though I don’t understand a word, truly empowered me to worship collectively with the Haitians. The service started off with a musical procession along the hilly way leading to the church. Throughout the service, the two choirs, one in the congregation and one in the upper nave alternatively sang and led the crowd. The musical worships were accompanied by the blind musician we saw in Chermaitre on keyboard organ, and a bass player. Everyone sang with a lot of passion and intensity– music filled the entire room with people dancing, praying, holding hands with one another. I was surprised to hear familiar hymns like the Doxology and the Lord’s Prayer sang in Creole. Yet, the accompanied walking bass and the somewhat offbeat, 5/8 feel chordal organ accompaniment made every song a blend of the Western hymnal tradition and the Haitian percussive and dance-like musical roots. Even after the service, I heard conga 5/8 drumming and konpa, the Haitian dance music, ringing in the mountains as we hiked down to Chermaitre. Perhaps with Haiti’s ever-changing socioeconomic and political scenes, music serves to connect the religious importance of Haitians abroad and in the country, Haitians in the countryside and in the city and Haiti’s past and present.


Chermaitre- Part 1

Where to begin? The group has arrived back in Gros Morne after four days in Chermaitre. Writing today are Anna (senior) and Siennah (freshman) and though we cannot speak for everyone’s personal experiences, we think it is safe to say that we are not the same people we were when we left this same hotel a few days ago. A few members of the group have been to Chermaitre before, but for most of us, this was the first time. Seeing the Vassar Haiti Project working in its actual context gave a whole new layer to the project that many of us had imagined back at Vassar, but could not fully comprehend.


This is one aspect of the project that is unique and unusual. While most college students are only able to imagine the work that their campus non-profits are involved in, we actually get the opportunity to come to Haiti and see firsthand non-profit work, and the challenges that projects like ours face.


So, it all began with our departure from Gros Morne. It took two bumpy hours of off-roading across riverbeds and over boulders to get to the base of the mountain—then, we started the trek up the mountain. We were always aware of Chermaitre’s remote location, but as the hours passed on our climb, the reality set in.

Chermaitre is many, many hours from paved roads or any other connection to the wider world. But when we arrived in Chermaitre, we were welcomed into the village like family. The children were in school and rushed out to meet us, singing, dancing, giggling, and taking in the new faces. Up to that point, most of us only knew the school through pictures, but in person, it was full of life. Some of our students mentioned having the impression that life in Chermaitre was not so hard based on our first encounters—the children were happy, smiling, dressed in tidy uniforms, and learning. But this was only the first glimpse, and the challenges of life in the mountains of Haiti became very apparent as the days went on.


The next several days were filled with meetings, including with the teachers, the women’s cooperative, the water technician, the agronomist, the village leaders, the school children and the families in Chermaitre. These meetings were difficult, because they showed just how many challenges there still are to overcome, but they were not without hope. Our partners want the best for Chermaitre, and they push us to do the same. We all struggle, but we are willing to work with one another, ti pa ti pa, or “little by little” in Haitian Creole.


These meetings would not have been possible without Clairiola, who not only translated from Creole to English, but was also a master communicator. She worked tirelessly throughout our stay in Chermaitre, and we are very grateful for her dedication and leadership. Each of the students also had individual opportunities to hone their leadership skills. Some led the meetings, which many agreed was intimidating, but also an opportunity to find new inner strengths. Robyn led the meeting with the Femmes de Chermaitre whose members expressed their eagerness to develop more business opportunities. Siennah and Kremena led the meeting with the teachers. Kremena says, “meeting with the teachers was one of the most challenging experiences, but at the same time, it felt so amazing to see a group of brilliant, hardworking people doing their best to change the future of the children of Chermaitre.”


It was also wonderful to watch our friend, Benoit look to the hills and people of Chermaitre for artistic inspiration. Each day, he worked on one painting, which gradually progressed from a pencil outline to a landscape bursting with color. He even included the school of Chermaitre at the top of the mountain. In general, Benoit gave us so much assistance throughout our stay. On the days when many were suffering from fatigue, Benoit was a source of strength. He was always ready for a new experience, and especially invaluable on our arduous hikes. Benoit and Jimmy also took a few of the students on a “plant expedition,” and pointed out all the various plants, fruits, and natural medicines in the mountains. Clairiola, who is doing her fieldwork in Haiti for the Biology department at Vassar, said that it “was incredible to learn how plants are used in the village. They are used for health, beauty, and nutrition, and I was generally amazed by the people’s knowledge of the land.”


We felt extraordinarily grateful for the people of Chermaitre, who gave us so much and yet, have very little themselves. Their generosity and warmth extended to every part of our stay. Even though we were strangers with a limited understanding of their daily lives, they welcomed us into their homes, and always seemed willing to share a piece of their lives with us. Lan, who with several other trippers met some of the families in Chermaitre during a census, was touched by their “sincerity and humbleness. They talked about their difficult lives with the most beautiful smiles.”


This was only a snapshot of our stay in Chermaitre, and as we spend the next couple of days in Port au Prince and Jacmel, expect other blog posts on the trippers’ experiences.


Day 2  3.17.15

As we prepared to leave Clairiola’s house, her family sent us off with a hearty breakfast, which included delicious coffee, peanut butter and bread, and fresh eggs. We couldn’t have asked for a better first day in Haiti, and we are truly grateful for their hospitality.


After saying our goodbyes, we traveled to Galerie Monnin, an art gallery in a cozy corner of Port au Prince. Everyone was in complete awe of the elegant art display, and we ended up buying multiple pieces for VHP. We also had the opportunity to meet one of the artists, Martelly. Immediately upon meeting him, you knew you were in the presence of a unique and creative mind.


After a calm perusal through the gallery, we took a short drive to our next location, which was a street bursting with art vendors, and very eager salesmen. The walls along the street were covered from top to bottom with vibrant and colorful paintings. The scene was made even more tremendous by the backdrop of homes dotting a large hill. It was as if the painting’s fictional contents spilled over into our own world. The energy, to say the least, was frenetic. All you had to do was set eyes on a piece of art or jewelry, and the vendor would rush up to you, and ask if you were interested in purchasing it. It only took a few seconds, though, before everyone started to crowd around Lila. She clearly knew exactly how to navigate this chaotic venue. She commanded each negotiation by grabbing a couple of paintings, stating her price, and moving onto the next person. With Lila at the helm, we managed to buy a number of beautiful paintings that will be a wonderful addition to VHP’s collection.


It took some prodding and a little fortitude, but after finally making our way back to the vehicles, we settled in for a long five-hour drive. We watched the topography gradually change from a bustling urban scene to a rural one. On one side was the sea, a shimmering blue reflecting off its surface, and on the right, tall, rolling mountains, which mimicked and moved like the waves to our left. Less comforting was the portion of the drive where we traveled on unpaved, very very (did I say very?) rocky roads. After that experience, we were quite relieved to arrive at our Hotel, and get a good night sleep before our long anticipated trip to Chermaitre.


This morning we are all packed and ready for our five-day stay at Chermaitre. We were so happy to be visited by Jimmy, a former student at the school in Chermaitre, and an incredibly talented artist, and Benoit, also a talented artist from Gros Morne with big dreams to have his own art school one day. We are very excited to have Benoit join us on our hike to Chermatire.


We won’t have Internet access for the next couple of days, but we hope to update everyone upon our return. Until next time!


Day 1: 3.16.15

After a challenging 3:30 wake up call, a rough car ride to the airport, and assistance from generous airport employees who waived the fee for our extra luggage, we are finally here in Port au Prince! It all began to set in when we were sitting on the plane, and the gorgeous Haitian mountains gradually loomed into view through our cabin windows. We hadn’t even landed, and the country already enchanted us.

We were greeted on our way out of the airport by the sound of energetic Haitian rhythms, and a sudden wave of hot and humid air. We all agreed (at least at first) that it was a nice change from the cold winter weather back in New York. We met up with Pere Andre Wildaine, who couldn’t have made us feel anymore welcome with his friendly demeanor and bright smile.

After Pierre Wildaine helped us settle in, we made our way through busy traffic to our next stop. To the inexperienced eye, the rules of the road seemed chaotic and a little frightening, but as Andrew Meade said, everything in Haiti works like a perfectly choreographed dance. After gracefully weaving through the streets, lined with an assortment of foods, vendors, and busy pedestrians, we reached our long awaited destination: The Artisan Business Network.

We walked in to a vibrantly colorful room with many different kinds of handcrafts, paintings and were excitedly greeted by Nathalie Tancrade, who runs the business end of ABN. We gathered and had a meeting to talk about the possibilities to establish a partnership between Chermaitre woman co-op and ABN. Throughout the meeting, Robyn dazzled us with her knowledge and skillful presentation of the woman’s cooperative. Everyone was inspired by VHP’s work and Tancrade immediately asked one of the employees, Sebastien, to climb up the mountain with us on Wednesday!

Tancrade said, “When you come to Haiti, you leave a changed person.” The trust and passion that the ABN crew had amazed everyone of us, and we see a great prospect for the women co-op’s art to grow and expand in the local and international market.

After our successful start to the trip, we arrived at Clairiola’s house (one of us trippers, as we like to call ourselves) to have dinner and spend the night before we leave Port-au-Prince. The familial relationship and warmth that Clairiola had reuniting and embracing her family members touched all of our hearts. This was her first return to her homeland, Haiti, since the earthquake. We were served with delicious rice and beans, lamb stew, onion salads, plantains and juice. Hospitality truly takes on a whole new meaning in Haiti.

“Love” and her baby brother came around and played with all of us. Even though we struggled to communicate because of the language barrier, we sense their innocence and humbleness. It has been a day full of memories, and as Robyn said, “we have already been through so much, and there is an infinite amount more!”


Older Posts »

Social Widgets powered by AB-WebLog.com.