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Back from Chermaitre!

After four intense, productive, and amazing days in Chermaitre, the trippers are back in Port-au-Prince. Read on for a short update from them!
 
Apart from successfully holding a clinic day in the new Chermaitre-Fervil Clinic and meeting the local medical committee, we also conducted a small-scale census around the village, created a beautiful peace quilt with the women’s cooperative, received the cooperative’s first product – coffee from Chermaitre (!), and performed water and soil tests. Our filmmaker Alex had the chance to capture the beauty of the place and the people. The past four days were both physically and emotionally draining, but we were constantly reenergized by games with the children and inspired by profound conversations with different individuals of Chermaitre.
 
After a long day of traveling, we are back in Port-au-Prince. Last night we got to experience the thrill of art-buying in Galerie Monnin – being around all the beautiful paintings was the best welcome gift anyone could ever ask for! Today, we are visiting the Haiti Design Coop and buying fabric for our women’s cooperative, before heading to Jacmel for the last stretch of our trip.
 
We leave you with a quote from Manno, husband of Sharona from the Galerie Issa: “The people who come here are people who step out of the ordinary.” We are so grateful for everyone who has opened doors for us and given us the opportunity to strive for something extraordinary.
 
(Admin’s note: We are aware that our subscribers might have received a notification for a new post about a sale in New England. We apologize for the false alarm! The post is from 2010 and was reblogged by accident due to the trippers’ spotty internet… We would love to have a sale there some time soon though!)
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13 trippers say bonjou from Port-au-Prince! They are hitting one art gallery today before starting their long drive north. Before heading to Gros Morne (the town closest to Chermaitre), they will be paying a visit to Partner in Health’s University Hospital in Mirebalais. They are spending the night in Gros Morne tonight, and will start the hike up the mountain to Chermaitre tomorrow.

“We can’t believe we’re finally here! After months of planning and fundraising, we’ve finally arrived in Port-au-Prince. As soon as we saw the island from the plane, we knew we were in for an amazing journey. Yesterday was quite an adventure; riding through the streets of Port-au-Prince was unreal. The windows of the car framed striking images of quickly moving people, angry drivers, colorful buildings, and lots of rubble from the 2010 earthquake. After stopping at a small gift shop at Holy Trinity Music School, we checked in to Hotel Oloffson, a stunning old hotel. After resting for a bit, we had a “family dinner” in the Hotel’s cafe. We can’t wait to see what today brings!”

There will be no internet access in the coming few days, but the trippers will be updating us when they get back to a city. We wish them all the best, and look forward to hearing all about their stay in Chermaitre!

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The spring project assessment trip to Haiti is happening in less than 24 hours! 13 VHPers will land in Port-au-Prince before making their way up to Gros Morne, to Chermaitre, and finally to Jacmel. Along the way, they will assist in a clinic day in the newly completed Chermaitre-Fiervil Clinic, and buy Haitian arts and handcrafts in Port-au-Prince.

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March 2013: Last year’s trippers at the clinic!

The longest stay will, of course, be in Chermaitre. The trippers will have a long list of goals this year, including but not limited to: determining how well the water filters we recently installed throughout the village are functioning; testing soil quality to assure good reforestation conditions; taking wellness measurements at Ecole St. Paul; and meeting with the new, 53-member women’s cooperative to solidify plans. Above all, they are excited to finally be able to connect with VHP’s local partners and the people in Chermaitre.

While every trip to Haiti is unique in its own way, this year’s will be especially so thanks to the addition of Alex Camilleri to the trip. Alex, a Vassar alum from Class of 2010, currently works in film. While at Vassar, he helped produce several videos about the Vassar Haiti Project. As part of the team, Alex will be capturing the essence of the trip: the journey of traveling to Chermaitre coupled with the daily interactions with the people there, the struggles that inherently come with the nature of what VHP does, but also the many triumphs. His presence will undoubtedly be invaluable.

There will be limited internet access during the trip, but the trippers send updates whenever possible. Keep checking this blog and our Facebook page to stay in the loop! Before then, check out what trippers have been to this morning…

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February kicked off with a weekend art sale in Setauket, Long Island to raise funds for the final reconstruction stages of Chermaitre’s new kindergarten and community center. Our partnership with the St. James RC Church there was successful beyond our wildest imagination, and we are grateful to have been welcomed so heartily into the community. None of this would have been possible without Jeanine Morelli, a Vassar alum, who first invited VHP to host an event in Setauket. Below, Jeanine reflects on her experience with organizing the art sale.

“I remember sitting in the cold room of the Parish Center at St James Church in early January with Lila, Andrew, Cindy and Tamsin. They had made the two and a half hour drive from Poughkeepsie to see the site for the art sale and meet with me to discuss the planning of the event for the following month. My son, Patrick, a 10th grader joined us after a friend dropped him off so I could drive him home. In retrospect, that unplanned event, was serendipitous as he became an essential part of the team.

Meeting the team for the first time, I was impressed by their seriousness and dedication to this event. They were very professional and experienced. It made me a little nervous to see the investment they were putting into the sale as I was the one responsible for getting the community of  Setauket to attend the event and hoped that VHP would make back their investment. Our meeting ended. Our tasks assigned. It was time to get to work.

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Entanglement by Reynald Joseph

I observed how well the team worked. Work was shared and delegated. I tried to do the same. The banners arrived first. They were beautiful and colorful featuring the Haitian art work, Entanglement by Reynald Joseph. How appropriate! I didn’t know this was the name of the painting but it appropriately foreshadows my entanglement with the beautiful, intelligent, caring, inspiring people of VHP.

I enlisted the junior high school students from our religious education program to help with the event and they did! They distributed 2000 postcards, put flyers in mailboxes, and signed up family members and friends to come, saved coins in their tipa tipa jars (tipa tipa means ‘step by step’ in Creole), baked for the sale, and entertained us with their music during the event.

Meanwhile, the Poughkeepsie team was busy stretching canvases, selecting the art for the sale, determining prices and figuring out the logistics of how to get from Poughkeepsie to Setauket.

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VHP volunteers preparing for painting-stretching in Poughkeepsie

The Friday before the sale, the first group of Vassar volunteers left Poughkeepsie. Their commute on the Long Island Expressway took 5 hours, but my friends arrived in good spirits, not discouraged. Wow, these are special people. I would have understood if they arrived grumpy. They were a little hungry and I’m glad I was prepared with snacks, but no Styrofoam cups this time like our first meeting. Another positive influence this group had on me!

The morning of the sale, another team arrived. At the parish center, the volunteers quietly worked at their stations and I saw the room transform before my eyes. The same stark cold room that we had our first meeting in became a room of warmth and color and beauty and energy.

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The morning before the art sale – volunteers are busy transforming the Parish Center!

Then our guests arrived from the three village community of Setauket, Old Field, and Stony Brook – and they came and came. The guests were fascinated by the beautiful art and handcrafts make by the Haitian artists. Some people ran into old friends. On the second day of the sale, a woman from the community approached me. She came the first day after seeing the banners. She said that while she was there, she had a moment that was overwhelming. She looked around the room and saw the beautiful colors and art work, heard the beautiful music from our Setauket student volunteers, saw these energetic, friendly, helpful college students… It was a moment that spoke to her and stayed with her and nagged at her, and the next day she came back for more and bought another painting. Her story gave me pause because I knew what she was describing.

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After tearing down the sale, Cindy Fung ’14, Lila Meade, Jeanine Morelli, and Andrew Meade share a moment of celebration.

The art sale is not just a fundraiser. For me it was a life event. An experience that taught me that 30 years after graduating from Vassar that I am still part of that extended community. During those weeks that I was busily preparing for the event, I thought that I would be happy when it was over, but no. I was sad when I had to say good bye to my new friends. By giving my time, I felt connected to something bigger than myself. VHP has created something that connects all of us. The poor of Haiti and the affluent of Setauket. The young and the old. Those with gifted talents and those who are inspired by those gifts. Those who are involved with a church and those who are not.

I still don’t know if I can put a name to it. What was that moment that the woman described? Was it the knowledge that we are all connected? Was it love? Was it hope? Was it God’s presence? I am not sure, but it lingers with me. Like the boats and the sails in Reynald Joseph’s Entanglement, I have been caught in those fishermen’s nets, and the boats tossed me around a bit, but like the fishermen on those boats, I am at peace and will always be so grateful to be connected to the people of my community, the people of VHP, the people of Chermaitre, and all of God’s creations.”

Photos from our weekend in Setauket can be viewed in our Facebook album here.

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Below, an update from VHP president Tamsin Chen about our organization’s most recent trip to Haiti, undertaken by Andrew and Lily Meade.

“What a start to 2014!

In January, Vassar Haiti Project (VHP) Co-Chair Andrew Meade, and his daughter, Lily Meade, met with our partners in Haiti to continue to strengthen our relationship with the village of Chermaitre.

We’ve collaborated with the people of Chermaitre for about thirteen years now, but like all relationships, it is a collaboration that requires continuous attention and care. Andrew and Lily’s trip to Haiti illustrated this more clearly than ever: VHP’s priority this January was not to check off boxes or crunch numbers, but to go back to basics and nurture this relationship. “Tande pa di konprann pou sa” in Haitian Creole means “To listen is not to understand,” and the January trip certainly served to solidify our commitment to deeper mutual understanding.

At the same time, the trip also paved the way for our fourteen-strong team going to Haiti in about a month’s time!

The priest-in-charge, Pere Soner, and the school director of Ecole St. Paul de Chermaitre, Msye Clairvoix, confirmed that the nineteen water filters provided by Pure Water for the World are currently in use. Towards the end of 2013, Pure Water for the World conducted in-depth training with heads of households and teachers from Chermaitre, and we are all hopeful this will translate to cleaner water for roughly 500 members of the village! In March, we intend to run some water tests to measure the efficacy of the filters.

The lunch program is still going strong, providing hot meals to the 304 students at Ecole St. Paul. In addition, we are conducting a survey with the schoolteachers to better understand their teaching practices and find out how best to support them so they can reach their fullest potential as educations.

Andrew and Lily also had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate a whopping seven baptisms and two weddings in Chermaitre over a single weekend! Working daily as we do across complex linguistic, cultural, and geographic borders, perhaps what translates most seamlessly are simply the joy and love of life.

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One of four multi-village choirs participates in the baptism festivities. The villages of Molas, Fiervil, Chermaitre, and Treille were all represented.

Lily made the climb up the mountain despite a case of tonsillitis severe enough that a doctor advised against it. Our partner Pere Soner looked after her with great kindness, and praised her courage during the baptismal church service. “Lily was for us an inspiration,” he said later. “She was so courageous!”

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Wedding in progress!

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The wedding celebrants prepare to process down the mountain trail…

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A very impressive wedding procession indeed!

“Sharing the journey with my daughter Lily was unforgettable.” said Andrew. “She grew up with VHP all around her, and to have her finally have the chance to connect all our art sales and activities with the actual experience of Haiti was just wonderful.” Lily exclaimed to her mother Lila upon return that Chermaitre “was the most beautiful place [she] had ever been, and [she] had been to a great many places!” Lily looks forward with great anticipation to her next trip.”

We cannot thank Lily and Andrew enough for their tireless work on the trip, and for carrying the rest of the VHP team in spirit along the way.

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Thanksgiving Sale

On Nov. 25-26, VHP hosted its annual, on-campus Thanksgiving Sale. Below, VP for Activities LeeAnne Taylor ’15 muses about the sale’s connections to Vassar community life.

“For each of the past several years, VHP members have spent the last few days of November putting on the Thanksgiving Sale. This sale takes place in the College Center; instead of the usual sights, passersby are met with big tables bursting with vibrant Haitian handcrafts. This is what is beautiful about the Thanksgiving sale to me– it exists within the everyday lives of the Vassar community. While we were still setting up on the first morning, a Vassar employee began excitedly looking through the displays, telling us which items she’d gotten in years past and what she wanted to find this time. VHP’s relationship with the Vassar community is so important to what we do, and the Thanksgiving Sale is a really nice way to be reminded of the presence we have here at home.

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LeeAnne ’15, left, with Jenna ’16, a fellow volunteer. 11.7.13.

The sale is also a rare chance to draw unexpecting students, employees, and visitors into the wonderful world of VHP, and it never gets old to watch someone new learn for the first time what VHP does. Even knowing that the sale was put on by the Vassar Haiti Project, many times someone would pause as they were picking out their purchases to ask who had made all these beautiful pieces. And they would begin to hear about a world of Haitian artists, spring break trips, and a village called Chermaitre. As breaks from school are a prime time for high school students to tour colleges, we got to talk to more than one prospective student visiting Vassar. As my fellow VHP-ers and I told them what we were doing and helped them pick out their favorite handcraft to bring back home, I could almost see in their faces the moment when they began to realize the kinds of things they could be a part of soon.

All in all, it was another successful Thanksgiving Sale that will make our yearly trip to Haiti possible, due to the hard work and unfailingly cheerful participation of so many people. From sorting through mountains of crafts in the days prior to pick out the perfect pieces to baking cookies to sell alongside them to staffing the tables all day long, the help of many caring hands made this great event a success. In true VHP tradition.”

– LeeAnne

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Water Initiative Update

James Landreth generously updates us on the activities of the Water Initiative, of which he is the director. 

“This year, the Water Initiative has been excited to move forward on two major projects. Our committee has four awesome, dedicated members this year–Simeon Busano, Teddy Stanescu, Zheng Bian, and myself. In addition to our own work we are hoping to work more closely with Grants this year to look for alternative sources of funding.

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James at Haiti Cherie, 10.4.13.

This Fall we’ve sent down the materials for round one of our Pilot Project which includes testing a new set of portable filters. We’re currently in contact with Chermaitre to monitor whether or not these filters work well and to see if we should make them a part of our future plans there. In addition to this project, we’ve been working with several local Rotary groups to try and raise funding for an expansion of our cistern as well as for a permanent filtration system. In between presentations and dialogues with these Rotary groups, who will be helping us to raise funds, the Water Committee has been researching the pros and cons of different filtration systems that have been used under similar conditions in the past. We hope to establish a solid groundwork for our plans before semester’s end, and look forward to starting the next phase of our work when we return after break. We’re lucky to have had such an awesome year thus far :-)”

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Below, Reforestation Initiative Director Tim Boycott ’16 describes his committee’s accomplishments this year, and explains what they hope to achieve moving forward. 

“The semester has flown by for most people at Vassar. The leaves are already down in the Catskills, and almost there on the farm. Such a rapid passing of time has seen much action on the VHP front — especially with the Reforestation Committee. This academic year saw the formation of a brand new reforestation team, whose dedicated and enthusiastic students are carrying out the research for and the planning and execution of the initiative’s projects. We meet once a week to share updates about each of our various projects and set future goals.

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Tim, Director of our Reforestation Initiative, with a guest at Art & Soul. 11.7.13.

One of the Reforestation Initiative’s well known projects is to plant 100,000 trees on a plot of land in Chermaitre. We launched this mission in 2008/2009, and so far we have purchased around 10,000 seedlings using funds raised from VHP art sales and donation cards. This year, we’ll continue with this reforestation plan using our recently secured Do-something grant to purchase equipment for planting and transporting seedlings. Recently, we’ve also submitted a grant proposal to American Forests that, if secured, will go towards buying and planting our next set of seedlings.

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Wildlife in the Chermaitre mountains. 

The figure of 10,000 seedlings planted appears impressive, but we know from more recent trips to Chermaitre that only a fraction of those seedlings have survived. Many perish on the long journey from nurseries to Chermaitre, and many more are lost once planted, as the soil conditions in the village are less than optimal. As a result of this realisation, we began researching reforestation practises used in areas of poor environmental health that have improved tree survival rates. Our searching soon led us to the field of agroforestry.

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Students on our 2013 March Trip. 

Agroforestry suggests planting trees and shrubs on plots of land that already support crops and livestock. It thus combines agricultural and forestry techniques to create a more diverse, healthy, and generally ecologically sound system. This sustainable method ultimately increases productivity. VHP had not employed agroforestry techniques in its reforestation efforts, even though Chermaitre enjoys a level of agriculture. We were initially far from experts in the field agroforestry, and sought a collaboration with a knowledgable organisation that practises these techniques.

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A look at the land. 

Our search for information soon led us to Smallholder Farmer’s Alliance, a Haitian organisation that uses agroforestry techniques for their small-scale community based projects. VHP met with the organisation’s heads, Timote George and Hugh Locke, at one of their NYC events. One thing led to another and, on our trip to Haiti in October, VHP representatives met with Timote George once more to discuss routes forward. Now, a VHP representative from Chermaitre is due to meet with Timote to get a tour of the organisation and its projects. We think our relationship with Smallholder Farmer’s Alliance will prove a valuable one, and that it will contribute to the introduction of sustainable agroforestry techniques in Chermaitre. The successful reforestation of the land, as well as the associated benefits of increased agricultural productivity, will be highly beneficial to the people of Chermaitre.”

– Tim

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Art & Soul

One week ago today, VHP hosted Art & Soul, our second annual fundraiser for Medical Initiative operations. Below, Paarul Sinha ’17 describes her first experience with the event.

“Before the actual event, Art & Soul, to me, meant consistently checking the RSVP list and patiently waiting for it to grow, which would ensure a successful event. As the date neared, I got excited to finally match a face with all the names on the list. Finally, the day of Art & Soul arrived and all the planning that went into the event paid off.

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Paarul, 11.7.13.

Personally, I took my place in front of the entrance and welcomed each guest with a bright smile as they walked into the Vassar Alumnae House. The location itself was beautiful, and all the vibrant paintings, unique handcrafts, and colorful scarves truly brought the spirit of Haiti to Vassar. Soothing jazz music from fellow Vassar students filled the space and immediately lifted the mood, as did the much applauded a cappella performance from the Vassar Devils. With all the preparation and delivery from Vassar students as well as the delicious food catered from Twisted Soul the event, in my opinion, was a huge success. Guests were entertained by the wonderful art, great music, and simply by being in the presence of so many people interested in both the current state and future prospects for Haiti.

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The Vassar Devils perform.

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A guest at Vassar’s Alumnae House admires the artwork.

Even in the midst of all the food, music, and art, no one failed to forget the main reason we had all gathered there – for Haiti. We were there to appreciate all the work of the artists and to do our part in fostering a healthier future for the people of Chermaite. We plan to do so with the money raised, and I am thrilled to be actually part of this process. As a member of the Health initiative, I get to assist in deciding how to utilize the money, which is an incredible learning experience. Therefore, this event, for me, was definitely both a memorable and enjoyable evening.”

– Paarul

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A few of our 30+ student volunteers celebrate a successful night.

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Undoubtedly, VHP could not function without its many passionate volunteers — some of whom are Vassar students, but many of whom hail from the Poughkeepsie community at large. Sara Friedland, a student at our local Spackenkill High School, represents the latter group. Below, she discusses her memorable experience at our Haiti Cherie event, her first sale.

“The moment I walked through the doors of the All Saints Episcopal Church and entered the lively and invigorating world of the Haiti Cherie Sale, I instantly knew how fortunate I was to be a part of it. I had never before experienced a Vassar Haiti Project sale, but the smiling faces and welcoming atmosphere made me feel right at home. The bright colors of the paintings and vivacious Haitian music filled the room with joy, which quickly spread to all who were there.

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Sara, Oct. 4 2013. 

The artwork was incredibly diverse. From small handcrafts to enormous detailed paintings, there was something for everyone. The artists incorporated the Haitian landscape and people in their works of art, giving each painting or craft a unique personality. These artists are truly exceptional and their art provides a new understanding of Haitian culture and lifestyle.

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The selection, Oct. 4 2013. 

In addition to the amazing art, the volunteers made the Haiti Cherie Sale extra special. Without everyone’s hard work and helping hands, it could not have happened. I feel truly privileged to have worked with such an enthusiastic group of people. Haiti Cherie was a huge success and an unforgettable experience.”

– Sara

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