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Love Has No Language

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Alex: Lila often told our partners in Haiti that the people of Haiti teach us how to care for the world.  I couldn’t think of a more accurate way to describe how much I learned about both humanity and myself from our experience in Haiti.  There really is no way that I can accurately describe the beauty, vitality, and strength of the people and places we saw and the interactions we had in Haiti.  Never before have I been forced to confront such harsh and juxtaposing extremes.  Unable to stop thinking about our partners in Haiti, I return back to America and Vassar more motivated and focused than ever to make VHP as strong a program as possible.  Thank you to all our partners in Haiti, especially Pere Wildaine, Andrew and Lila, and the 2016 Trippers for making this the experience of a lifetime!

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Amaesha: As soon as I arrived in Haiti, I was overwhelmed by the welcoming atmosphere. Whether it was Jina’s unwavering hand as I climbed the mountain or the little girls who braided my hair with such patience and care, I realized that love has no language. Seeing Jina’s face light up as she understood Tic Tac Toe and Mackenson’s face break into a smile as I let him wear my jacket made me realize that the beauty I admired in the surrounding landscapes and Haitian art was the same beauty that I saw everyday in the faces of the different people I interacted with. Having so little but giving so much of themselves, they left permanent marks on my soul. As for my fellow trippers, Lila, Andrew, Pere Wildaine, Quincy, Edson, Benoit & Jimmy, I learned so many important life lessons from these people that I will cherish forever. Every part of our journey helped me see VHP in a new light and helped me to understand myself a little better. As I take part in VHP events, I will continue to visit Haiti in my mind and heart. This is a trip I will remember for years to come.

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Andrew:  

Thank you for living powerfully in the question of who you and VHP are, rather than being stopped by those questions or settling upon one answer.  Thank you for time and time again presencing your higher selves, for coming from love while stepping boldly into the unknown.  Thank you for your incredible willingness to constantly step beyond doubt and outside of your comfort zones.

Thank you for your trust and thank you for tenderly loving and taking care of one another – and for having a blast in so doing!

Thank you also for loving Haiti.

Mwen remen ou anpil.

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Anna: This trip had been a wonderful and inspirational journey. I learned a lot throughout these 10 days about VHP, Haitian culture, and self identity. I had the opportunity to see Haiti in its natural, original form after only being able to visualize it from the words of others. Seeing the different styles of Haitian art, talking to locals with limited Kreyol skills, and forming these new relationships with a culture that is completely different from my own made me treasure every interaction I had; I love Haiti not only for its culture, but because it also constantly tempts us to question, reevaluate and learn the dynamics of life. I know that we are all not the same people after this trip. The experiences in Haiti were mountains beyond mountains. I will treasure these memories dearly, and thank you to everyone for making this trip possible.

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Hao: Before this trip, I had a vague impression of Haiti and what VHP is doing in Chermaitre; but the trip visualized everything. Now I come back with 100 reasons to love Haiti: I love the flowing river, the surprises and happiness on children’s faces, the colorful painting strokes, the sound of nature between mountains, and the people passing by, greeting “Bonjour” with shiny smiles. I appreciate everyone who made this trip possible, and became such a precious, transformative, and fun experience in life.

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Kidus: I truly believed before this trip that I understood what VHP was and did.

I honestly was completely in the dark about both Chermaitre and our work there. There are a million different cheesy lines and ideas that I could convey to describe our experiences or the people there. I won’t claim to know or really understand a culture or people from a 10 day trip, but I do feel comfortable stating that I met some lovely people, saw some beautiful landscapes, and experienced firsthand the inspirations for the wonderful art I took for granted at our art sales.

I’ve learned that the work we do isn’t perfect, but it has had real, meaningful results for our partners in Chermaitre. I hope to continue this work.

Shoutouts to Andrew and Lila for everything you have done and continue to do; to my fellow trippers for putting up with my philosophical tangents; and Pere Wildaine, Edson, and Quincy for not abandoning us on the side of the road after days of listening to us butcher Creole and asking too many questions.

It was grand.

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Lauren: I don’t know what to do with myself now that I’m not constantly surrounded by 12 of my favorite people at Vassar, and the two who made the entire experience possible, Lila and Andrew.  I don’t think I really believed people when they said I’d be processing the trip for the next six months, but I get it now. I think I’ll be trying to understand everything I saw and learned on this trip for the rest of my life. I don’t know what else I can say about it right now, because I’m still exhausted and emotional and can’t think straight, but I just want to conclude that I would not trade my experiences in Haiti for anything. In ten short-but-so-very-long days, I fell in love with Haiti and its people, and I think they deserve anything we can do to support them and show the world how beautiful, powerful, and admirable they are.  My relationship with VHP, and the world, has been forever changed, and I want to thank Lila, Andrew, my fellow Trippers, Pere Wildaine, Edson, Quincy, Mackenson, Benoit and Jimmy, Nurse Rosenerline, the children of Chermaitre, and everyone else I met or got to know for that. Love you all. [Current music: Only Just a Call Away, by The Struts]

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Lila: The level of team for VHP is now taken to a new level.  This trip stretched us all into the question of (ok everyone, sigh) being and who each of us are individually and collectively in caring for this wild and wonderful world we live in.  Thank you all for the laughs, the tears, and the love that poured out for over 12 days.  I shall never forget the moments of the trip where we were one.  And for our family left behind in Haiti, thank you for teaching me that simplicity is the way.  And last but not least, to Pere Wildaine….why didn’t you vote for “our” car to be #1?  You know we were the best…..

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Lily: Before leaving Haiti, I questioned what it would be like to return. How do I respond to the question, how was your trip? A sentence certainly doesn’t do this experience justice. It wasn’t “good.” This trip has given so much meaning to what VHP does, and my work with the organization. Meeting the villagers of Chermaitre, it makes all of the work we do here real, and makes me so much more determined to do as much as I can. Being on this trip with such an amazing group of people helped me to get so much more out of this experience. They inspired me, and helped me to interpret all of the feelings and experience from this trip. Now that I’m back, I know that I will be relying on them to help me readjust. My priorities have changed so much, and I know that this trip has forever altered my perspective and I couldn’t be more grateful to have been a part of this experience.

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Lucy:

“Does VHP really help the people in Haiti? Why do you love VHP?” I asked Shiqi.

“Ask me the same questions after the trip.” she replied.

And now, I am back from Haiti, sitting in the same dorm and in front of the same computer. Yet I am different and all the questions I asked Shiqi have answers. My ten days in Haiti, accompanied by our wonderful team, Pere Wildaine, Edson, Quincy, people in Chermaitre and more, are thought-provoking and unforgettable. The trip contextualized VHP and Chermaitre. Statistics from the reforestation initiative are no longer numbers, but they contain the villagers’ complaints about the soil, PW’s great vision for the program and lovely coffee sprouts in the seedling plots. “Chermaitre” is no longer a name of a village, but it is the kids who danced and sang for us, the people who smiled and said “Bonjour”, the simple lifestyle of the villagers, as well as the poverty and struggle we witnessed. “Do not romanticize smallness, think BIG!” and the trip will keep inspiring me to work harder and have the determination to make VHP larger and better. I am grateful for being on this life-changing trip!

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Melanie: Sitting behind a big screen in the library, I have no words to describe the complexities of this trip. The questions and thoughts that our experiences in Haiti have generated remain in my mind and heart. I would like to acknowledge the openness and friendliness of the people we met, especially our translator and mentor Pere Wildaine, our drivers Edson and Quincy, as well as the people of Chermaitre who made sure that we came back from our hikes in one piece. They made this trip unforgettable, and I will treasure every moment that we shared together.

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Paarul: I’m back at home, getting ready to go back to Vassar, yet Haiti is continuously in my thoughts. Everywhere I look, I see abundance and I’m reminded of the poverty and simplicity of Haiti. As Zoe says, I’m also left with a whirlwind of emotions as I’m readjusting back into life here – and one of those emotions is determination. I’m determined to help us share and act upon all that we experienced and the love we received in Haiti. With another Munchy Monday around the corner, I’m positive that this trip has called us all into action and I’m excited to see what’s next!  

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Serena: People usually say something is unreal to describe its amazingness. And while I would call Haiti “unreal” because it was incredible in so many ways, Haiti is 100% real. The beauty and brokenness, the joy and suffering, all of it. The people there embracingly loved us without resentment despite our privilege to live worrying over status, success, and power rather than food, shelter, and health. Thankful for all the people who we made relationships with and took us under their wing throughout the trip. Grateful to God for bringing me to Vassar to join this project. I hope that Haiti continues to have hope in the promise of Jesus, and we can continue to love our global neighbors and show a tangible hope.

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Thao: The biggest contrast from the trip for me was the poverty and difficult living conditions versus the strength, love, and hope the people of Haiti continuously surprised me with! The interactions, experiences, and memories from the trip have and will continue to give me the strength and hope to love more, dream bigger, and work harder to be able to help more people and improve our work as the Vassar Haiti Project. I believe that my biggest accomplishment last year was joining VHP, and this year I am most proud and thankful to have had the opportunity to go on this trip with all our brilliant trippers, as well as our incredible “honorary trippers” Pere Wildaine, Quincy and Edson. The trip would not have been as perfect without any of you, mwen sonje ou et Ayiti!!!

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Zoe: Reflecting back on our trip from my familiar dorm room, my mind is full of flashbacks of beautiful scenery, moments shared, and a whirlwind of emotions. What stands out to me the most are the connections and relationships we formed; learning Kreyol, speaking with Edson, Quincy and Pere Wildaine, playing UNO and tic-tac-toe, speaking Spanish with Mackenson, sorting beads and playing in the corner of the clinic with Amaesha and the 3 little boys we met. Equally salient is the extreme juxtaposition we witnessed. While sorting beads and having fun at the clinic, a boy was brought in and lay on cardboard with an IV inserted, nearly unconscious because of Cholera. Driving through Port-au-Prince I was entranced by the vibrant colors and beauty of the city, this was contrasted by rubble and damage still present from the earthquake. We danced, laughed and jump roped with children in the Kindergarten/Community Center building that is still under construction. This location also proved to be the location of intense sorrow when I learned that during a storm some of the cinderblocks the building is made of fell on some children and eventually had mortal consequences. These gut-wrenching, emotional moments lit a fire under me and my fellow trippers. We are now more motivated and determined than ever to raise the funds needed for our initiatives – most notably, funds for completion of the building construction and for the books for our friends in secondary school. I hope everyone will join us in our efforts!

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Melanie Lai Wai ’16, VHP’s VP for Merchandise and representative for the Education Initiative in Haiti, wrote this post about her experience meeting a secondary school student in Chermaitre.

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“Wow! Ho ho ho!”
This morning I met the boy with the cutest laugh in Chermaitre. As I strolled out of a classroom in our primary school, ready for breakfast, I saw him standing in the schoolyard talking to Lila. She immediately ushered the Vassar trippers to introduce themselves to him, as he is one of the students from our brand new secondary school program.
Marckenson is eighteen years old and is the first one out of nine children in his family to attend secondary school. After he finishes his studies, he would like to follow in the footsteps of Pere Wildaine, our partner in Chermaitre, and become a priest. Although communication was hindered by my limited knowledge of Kreyol, he was very patient when explaining his situation and his hopes for the future. His parents both live away from Chermaitre: his father is in Port-de-Paix, his mother is in Gros Morne. For years, his aunt Melanie has been taking care of him and his two younger siblings when they went to primary school. A few years after finishing primary school, he decided to pursue his studies because, as Pere Wildaine explained, he wanted to be the light of his family.

I feel truly inspired by his story. It made me think about my own path and how it had never occurred to me that not going to secondary school was an option. His strength and his perseverance exceed by far that of anyone I know. Marckenson may not have a degree, he may not have seen the wonders of the world, he may not have any material objects to share, but in one day he has become one of the people I respect the most.

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If you would like to help support the secondary school students click here!

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Femme Chermaitre

On March 18th,  the second day that trippers stayed in Chermaitre, we had a meeting with the women co-operative, first with the executive board, and then with the general body. Thao Nguyen, as one of the representatives for the women’s initiative, wrote the following post about her experiences.

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It was a true honor for me to have been able to meet with the amazing women of Femme Chermaitre. Despite their difficult backgrounds and experiences, the women carried themselves with so much pride and strength. This was a surprising and pleasant difference from our previous meetings where the people were more shy and reserved. This meeting was lead by the women. They walked us through the challenges the co-op was facing as well as their vision and hopes to better Femme Chermaitre operations. After discussing among themselves, the women collectively decided on new changes and plans we proposed for the co-op.

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We showed the women our video of Femme Chermaitre with footages from our last year’s meeting with them. We were filled with joy to see their smiles as they saw themselves the way we see them. From a certain point of view, these women have nothing, no riches, for most of them not even decent education. But from our point of view, they are the richest people. Their wealth comes from their pride (in themselves, their children, Chermaitre) as well as their kindness, love and care for the community. These women took responsibility upon themselves to work hard, create a business, support their families and Chermaitre. We’re in awe of their motivation and incredible strength. These beautiful women of Femme Chermaitre inspire and empower us everyday to continue the important work we do with the Vassar Haiti Project and also give us strength and faith to pursue our own dreams of caring for the world.

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First Blog Post From Haiti!

March 13, 2016. 9:31 am.

Reflections From the Plane
Bonjou!
We have now boarded the plane and are eagerly (and sleepily) awaiting take off! The 5 other trippers next to me are all asleep, heads nodding and mouths wide open. We loaded the vans and left Chez Meade around 4:15am this morning, managed to wrestle 26 bags through the airport to be checked (not including our carry-ons) and now have approximately 3.5 hours before we touch down in Port-Au-Prince.
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We are all filled with a swirl of emotions to varying degrees, I would guess predominately mixtures of excitement and apprehension. Whatever we are individually picturing about Haiti, we know that we can count on encountering moments that are unexpected.
Selfie on the plane!

Selfie on the plane!

 

Along with the new language, different landscape, unfamiliar smells and hotter temperatures we know that we will have to adjust to a differently structured schedule and concept of time, particularly coming from a very rigorous and regimented week of midterms. We will try to practice just being and living in the moment.
We also know that we can count on this being an unforgettable trip that will tie us all together for years and years to come. This is evidenced by the wonderful messages that have filled our inboxes both yesterday and today from past trippers (students who have already been to Haiti with VHP). We’ve received e-mails from Nairobi, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam and other places around the globe.
It was exciting to hear other travelers engaging in conversations in Kreyol, we pointed these out to each other and tried to pick up some words that we learned in our lessons. One we definitely recognized was “Ki kote…” which means “where”.
Pack day yesterday was very successful, much less stressful and chaotic than I imagined it would be. We split up into 3 different teams: cooking, packing, and logistics. Even though there were a few hiccups and moments of distress we worked like a well-oiled machine; I was astounded by the attention to detail, intricate inventory sheets and elaborate tape system used to label our luggage. There were moments when people stepped up as leaders and also stepped back, listened to others and played a more supportive role. We felt like we bonded more, struggling together in those hours than we did in the previous months combined.
Our quote book has already been filled with numerous entries and we are looking forward to many more to laugh and bond over. A favorite so far includes:
Andrew: We’ve done this trip so many times now… It’s like when you go on a roller coaster for the first time and you’re going up that incline and you realize you can’t get off, you’re scared. But after the 6th time, you’re not scared anymore.
Lila: I would be.
Stay tuned for more posts! We will be updating as often as possible through out our 10 days (when we have internet connection). You will be seeing posts from every tripper eventually but for now, here is a short update from everyone!
Some comments are from the plane, while others are reflections from the hotel or from the restaurant where we are currently waiting to eat dinner.
Alex: I am SO excited to finally be going to Haiti after months of planning and anticipation!  It is nerve-racking that Haiti will be different from the “Haiti” that I have in my head now, but it is comforting that we will all be discovering the culture together.  We have such an inspiring group of people together, and I couldn’t think of a better family to embark on this journey with!
Amaesha: From the rustic charm of the hotel to the old stories I heard at the art gallery, Haiti has already found a place in my heart. The bonding between the trippers has been so great and I’m looking forward to creating many more memories in this magical place!
Andrew: What a thrill it has been to see Sharona at Galerie Issa, Toni’s son Ti Michel and husband Michel at Galerie Monnin, and Giselle at Comite Artisanal … and through them to give our money to dozens of artists and artisans.  The trip is just beginning, but already I feel home, surrounded by the wonderful sights, smells, and sounds of Haiti.  And this is just day one!!
Gallerie Issa
Anna: After months of hard work, it is so exciting to be able to begin a new journey in Haiti and spend time learning more about Haitian culture. Looking forward to making great memories! :)
Hao: Looking back to all what we’ve done so far for the trip, from all the Munchy Mondays and fundraising events that bond us to work together, meetings at 7am before all my morning classes, and the long packing day that we just had, it all seems magical and I couldn’t imagine any of these happen without my fellow trippers. I am more than excited for the coming trip and ready to embrace Haiti!
Kidus: Hi, everybody! I’m doing great!
Lauren: I didn’t think I could physically make it through airport security after waking up at 3AM. But we all made it somehow! I’m getting less tired the closer we get to Haiti. Current music: “Coming Down,” Halse
Lila: We’re “Coming Home” to family that many of us have not even met yet.  Such a privilege.  We are ready to create.
Lily: After months of fundraising, meetings, check-ins, and planning, it’s so amazing to finally be on the plane on the way to Haiti. It’s been a long road, or at least it feels that way, and I’m so excited to be sharing this experience with such amazing, dedicated, inspiring people
Lucy: Colors and arts every where! The gallery we visited was every different from i expected. We got to touch the paintings and looked at them really closely. The day was long and tiring, but filled with joy and beauty.
Melanie: I am absolutely thrilled to finally be going to Haiti after having spent all my years at Vassar with VHP. As I am writing this message, we are already on the plane to Port-au-Prince. Yet everything still doesn’t feel real…
Paarul: Memories come flooding back as I land in Haiti and arrive in Port-au-Prince once more after two years. Haiti has changed – you can see it everywhere in the city, via countless posters and overhearing conversations of the new interim president. Yet smaller and arguably more critical aspects of Haiti remain the same, such as the rubble on the sides of the road from the earthquake.. We’re enjoying the bustle and the color of the city, but we’re also gearing up to begin our journey out of PAP and into the beautiful mountains of Chermaitre…such a privilege to be back!
Serena: Grateful for the people I’m with and the people who have been taking care of us thus far. I don’t think I’m prepared for the rest of the trip yet but I know it will be amazing!
Thao: The trip is something special that ties us all together, even though we don’t know all of the past trippers personally they are still sending their love.
I can’t wait to land, but also know that I should savor the moment as it is an important step in our journey – a time to rest, reflect and organize or thoughts for the coming days. I am ecstatic to see how the trip will unfold, judging from the dedication, teamwork, organization, passion (and other admirable characteristics) I have seen displayed from all of my fellow trippers, I am sure it will be inspiring. This of course will not be without critical reflection on our time and the impacts we have in Haiti.
Bisou from Haiti!
Zoe & The Trippers
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Living in the Question

The Vassar Haiti Project and the Vassar Club of Washington DC hosted a sale of Haitian paintings and handcraft at St. Mark’s (Capitol Hill) Episcopal Church on February 5, 6, & 7, 2016.  As the co-founder of VHP, Lila Meade shares her being in the art sale.

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It all starts with one’s word. Jackie Eiting came to Haiti with the Vassar Haiti Project (VHP) last March. When we got back home, she simply declared, “I want to do something for the people of Chermaitre”. And that was it: a simple declaration that probably would have gotten lost in the world of today.

 

But Jackie is a woman of her word and made the impossible happen. Jackie has her own consulting practice specializing in executive coaching, team development and leadership development. She comes up to Vassar and works with the VHP leadership team to coach us in thinking bigger.

 

It took Jackie a few months to find a partner in Washington DC to agree to host an art sale with complete strangers. College students, no less! And from that one little “yes” all things became possible.

 

Kidus Girma’18, Yujie Feng ’17, Andrew and I trekked down to DC and were introduced to our new partners who were (naturally) not sure of what to expect. Maureen Shea and other committed members of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church near the Capitol building showed us the space where we would host the sale. How should we make all this work? We made our promise to have the event be great and we had no idea how that would enfold other than our underlying pure intention that we want to support education in a rural village some 1400 miles from New York.

And then it began.…how would we get people from DC to the sale….how do we get the students to the sale…..how do we get the art to the sale…..where do we stay when we get to DC (we don’t incur hotel expenses if possible)….how many students….how much artwork….? Well, I think you get the idea. The questions never stopped unfolding until the minute we departed some four months later.

 

Judy Lem, Class of 2003 and Chair of the Vassar alumnae club in DC met with us and offered the possibility of having the club support our work in Haiti which she has followed for years. She enrolled the VCDC alum committee and from that moment on, the questions continued: how do share our work with the alums, how do we get them to get our work? how can they assist us during the sale? Well, I think you get the idea again. Months later, before the sale, we realized there were more than 20 alum volunteers and panicked about what would they all do to help us during the sale?

And then there were the VHP student volunteers. So many students wanted to come to DC from Vassar! We had fifteen current VHP students join us, mostly our student leadership. And that’s in addition to the many VHP alums who are now working in DC who came and joined the party. Ready as can be, they juggled class work and job work, heading to our art sale, ready to take the baton and run.

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It seems as though the last fifteen years of our Project’s existence was a dress rehearsal for this art sale. We arrived after 9pm on Thursday night, unloaded the van and wondered who we would all be staying with? Jackie arranged it all and our welcoming hosts showed us to their respective digs. Friday morning: OMG, where do we begin? And the living questions became answers, one at a time.

 

Ti pa ti pa, wazo fe niche li” one of our resonating mantras in Haitian creole, begins to manifest itself. Little by little, the bird builds its nest.

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I wish you could have seen us in action. The team moves seamlessly through each phase of the setup process. Andrew (Meade) orchestrates each step of the way with facility and calm. Team leaders work with alums – complete strangers – as they enter the room and ask, “What can I do?” It’s amazing to see this process and as the day unfolds, we become family. The alumnae poured in to support our work that day and night…many said that they hadn’t been part of Vassar events for a long time and it was great to have them dance with us. Three days later, many connections were made, and we made a lot of money for our programs in Haiti. And we had so much fun. Never to be forgotten.

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We left St. Mark’s that Sunday, all a bit different. Maureen told us that her neighbors were texting photos of all the items they bought to each other, proudly showing off their new paintings. Our students talked to DC residents and alums who work everywhere from the World Bank to the White House and everything in between. Alums ask to be put on our volunteer list. And as we leave, embracing the new friends who were strangers just days before, we wonder, “how can we ever repeat that?”

 

And we remember that it all starts with one’s word.

 

Lila Meade, Co-founder

Vassar Haiti Project

2.29.16

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Back from Setauket Sale

On November 20, 21 and 22,  the Vassar Haiti Project had our second Haitian Art Sale in Setauket, New York.  In the following post, Alexandra Ng ’19 shares her perspective from the art sale.

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As a freshman member of VHP, seeing the sale in action was a transformative experience that introduced me to the strength of the VHP family and meaning behind our various projects.  Each student had a specific role during the day, from host, introducing our various initiatives to customers, to cashier, art wrapper, and usher.  Seeing every member embrace their role and embody the VHP mission as their own was not only impressive, but also beautiful.  I was proud to show off our beautiful paintings and handcrafts to customers and even more excited to learn how many customers attended our art sales annually. With each art sale, the bond among us deepens, and we understand that teamwork and trust are essential for producing a successful event.

 

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After three long days of selling art, little sleep, and interacting with hundreds of customers, we were all physically exhausted, but energized and satisfied by the results of our art sale. The final push came with the “tear down” of the art sale.  I was amazed to see how quickly and efficiently 13 VHP members were able to rapidly transform the room from a vibrant Haitian paradise back to a church multipurpose room.  The spirit and heart of the VHP family was apparent as we loaded our U-Haul van with considerably fewer pieces of art and handcrafts than when we began the trip.   I will never forget the collective sigh of relief we all shared when the room was restored, satisfied with the effort we put into the entire weekend and excited with the new resources we could offer our partners in Chermaitre.

 

The success of this art sale was much due to the efforts of Jeanine and Peter Morelli, members of the St. James Church (and a Vassar alumnus, Jeanine!) who graciously hosted us in their home and ensured we had a never ending buffet of various baked goods.  Their overwhelming hospitality and commitment to making the art sale a success was commendable.  Thank you, Jeanine and Peter, for opening your home, your church, and your hearts to the VHP family!

 

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The sunset on the ride home was simply the perfect ending to a transformative weekend. The sky was illuminated with vibrant pinks, purples, and oranges that rivaled the bright and vivid colors of our Haitian paintings and handcrafts. As Lila and I admired the sunset (everyone else in the car was in a deep sleep), I was overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment and pride in the success of VHP. I am so grateful to VHP’s members for enthusiastically welcoming me into the the family, and I look forward to many more art sales!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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>>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.

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>>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.

 

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>>Step 5

Assemble the stretchers.

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>>Step 6

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

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>>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.

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>>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.

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>>Step 10

Now secure the corners.

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>>Step 11

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

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>>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

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

We hope that you have enjoyed this brief tutorial.

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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 :

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Please stop by if you are ever in the area!

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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.
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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!
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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.

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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.

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“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.

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