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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.

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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.

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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!”


It’s hard to believe the day is finally here, but the trippers are currently preparing to go to Haiti in less than 24 hours! Today has been jam-packed with shopping, cooking, packing, and bonding (and yes, going a little crazy). It has been a busy day, but everyone is just excited for the travels and adventures ahead! When we arrive in Haiti, we will be posting periodically, so stay tuned for more stories. Until then, here are some of the tripper’s reflections on the day’s events:

Sarah: Wo hoo, we are going to Haiti!

Clairiola: Carpe diem is tomorrow!

Siennah: Lost 30 pounds! Sleeping bags!

Juleen: Putting my life in zip lock bags!

Anna: We have been packing forever, but it was actually fun! I always feel at home at Andrew and Lila’s house!

Robyn: Shopping at Walmart was interesting!


On February the 14th, as Valentine’s Day dawned on the Vassar campus, the Education Committee found it to be a perfect occasion to do some fund-raising for its Education Lunch Program. During a recent crisis of inflation, Haiti experienced a precipitous rise in food prices, one that not only affected the lifestyle of all the members of Chermaître, but also jeopardized the chances for students to get a subsidized meal as part of the education lunch program. The lunch program not only ensures a nutritional proclivity in the student’s diet, but also increases attendance rates of students: two consequences that the committee cannot afford to compromise. Eying a prospective venue to table, the committee found the Cupid’s Flea Market, a joint event presented by Vassar Greens and the Sustainability Committee to promote the sustainable use of resources, just the right place to start at.

The planning process started two weeks in advance. After getting approval from the Vassar Haiti Project Leadership Team, the Education Committee made the project a top priority. It was surprising, to observe, how much the committee could achieve in barely two sittings. What would we sell, who would table, what payment options would be accepted, what should be our financial goal- were just some of the many questions that the committee was quick to identify. Given the nature of the Flea Market, it was decided that food items, along with Haitian art, could make for some lucrative transactions and greater payment options meant greater comfort for our ‘customers’. No goal was set, any monetary help would have been appreciated. A spreadsheet was quickly set up and the plans were put to action.



When the final day arrived, the education team was well-prepared. All the cooking had been done, cupcakes were ready and recipes for Haitian desserts had been tested. The set-up process began sharp at 11:00, an incredible feat considering we were the first booth to set their cash-boxes ringing. The baked goods, including Haitian peanut brittle, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, red velvet cupcakes and salted caramel brownies, were our high-sale items. Thanks to the attractive set-up of our booth, many customers came and looked through our artworks; and even though art sales were pretty rare, we did manage to sell a few post cards. When the time for clean-up arrived, I think all of us unanimously agreed, it was a day well-spent.

Though we just earned $50, given how cold the day had been and how preoccupied everyone’s Valentines’ Day schedule must have been, in retrospect, the sales went well. In this assessment, we really could not account for all the new people we had met, and all the awareness we had spread about our project: an action point that we consider as necessary as any monetary gains.

In conclusion, the amount we fund-raised through our bake sales, in the fall with HEL Comedy Group and in the spring with the Flea Market, may seem small to us, but it did translate to five lunch programs (i.e. four meals per week all year for five children!): an achievement that really means a lot to us. As the first event for the Education Committee comes to an end, we look forward to the rest of the semester. The Education Committee is excited to present the ‘Education and Sustainable Development Dialogue’ coming up on 2nd of April: a discussion-based approach to issues of non-profit international education efforts and critical ways to get involved with education initiatives abroad.

Hoping for the continued success of the Vassar Haiti Project,

The Education Team.


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Women are everything,” Toussaint Vina (secretary of the co-operative) reminds us in the video.

That’s the reason we believe in the importance of the women’s initiative, and the potential of the Femmes de Chermaitre women’s co-operative to succeed. Femmes de Chermaitre is made up of the women in the community who have experienced significant personal and economic hardships and came together in late 2013 to formalize their support networks and create a co-operative, in hopes of collectively improving their livelihoods.

Many of them have lost more than one child to what should be preventable illnesses. There are also women who have had to give up their children as restaveks (domestic servants) because they are not able to financially support them. And yet, these are the same women who continued, without pay, to cook school meals for 383 children in the village school. They are the ones who took action to organize themselves into their very own co-operative.

Men anpil, chay pa lou – many hands make the load light.

Men anpil, chay pa lou – many hands make the load light.

They strongly believe in the power of women working together, and have an incredible network of solidarity. We are certain that their growth will reverberate through the entire community: they will be able to afford and grow more food for their families, send their children to school, and realize their goals of sustainable, thriving livelihoods.

Since their formation, they have been making coffee, producing peanut butter and jams, as well as fabrics, handcrafts and jewelry for sale in regional and U.S. markets. This year, VHP successfully began selling their richly aromatic organic coffee, hand-sewn napkins and artfully beaded earrings at our Haitian art and handcraft sales. We have been very heartened by the results.

Our crowdfunding campaign will help Femmes de Chermaitre hit the ground running by purchasing their own coffee plants and more equipment, and finish the construction of a multi-purpose community centre to house the co-op’s activities.

So far we have successfully “tipped” the campaign – which means that the women will receive the contributions pledged by all of you. We have three days left in the campaign, so if you would like to make a donation now – YOU STILL CAN!  We are SO thankful for everyone’s support and excited to see what the future brings for Femmes de Chermaitre.

They have big plans to jumpstart their operations, and now they can!

Click Here to Help Out! http://startsomegood.com/haitiwomenscooperative

– Robyn Yzelman


Recapping 2014!

Wow, what a successful year it has been for VHP!

And we have everybody – our partners in Chermaitre, Haiti, students, community volunteers, and all our supporters (YOU!) to thank for that.

Recapping 2014 in pictures:

  1. Art Sale at St James Church in Setauket, NY

    Sharing a laugh with our wonderful new friend and partner, Vassar alum Jeanine Morelli

  2. Our March trip to Haiti!

  3. And who could forget our April Sale and Auction?

  4. We went back to Sag Harbor again for another successful art sale!
    …and this was also where the October Fete video was filmed!
  5. October Fete!
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    With all of your generous support, we raised thousands of dollars for our 5 initiatives. Throughout October, there were worldwide and cross-country parties held to raise funds for Chermaitre!

  6. The October trip to Haiti with Dr Dan Katz (Medical Advisory Board) and Carly Ritter ’05

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  7. Art and Soul 2014

    With the help of the medical community in the Hudson Valley, we successfully raised  2/3 of the annual operating costs of the Chermaitre-Fiervil Health Center!

  8. Crowdfunding Campaign for Femmes de Chermaitre

    YouTube Preview Image A video which will surely make your heart smile :-)


    We are proud to end the year with our crowdfunding campaign for the women’s co-operative, Femmes de Chermaitre. So far, we have raised 40% of our tipping point, and are getting closer and closer to our $9000 goal.

We began 2014 with all of the above as merely vague ideas and dreams we had.

But they were all successful exceeding all expectations, and now, we have ended the year with so much growth, partnership-building, and even more ideas for 2015 and beyond!



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