Nou Dwe Sel Mèt Bout Tè Sa a

I took my first steps on my grandmother’s 69th birthday on November 13, 1993.

That date also marked the tenth day of my 19-year old stay in the United States.

I am a member and a child of the Haitian Diaspora.  I am proud to be a member of the ‘tenth department’, and I am proud of my heritage, my nationality, and the fact that my story will – and does – make up one part of the larger Haitian narrative.  In Haiti, there are nine departments (analogous to states in the United States).  Members of the Diaspora, or the large-scale emigration abroad, are referred to as the tenth department.  It is estimated that nearly one in every six Haitians lives abroad[1].

I believe that being a member of the Diaspora comes with a degree of cultural rootlessness, of liminality.  For me, my existence on the margins of two societies is a direct result of my upbringing.  My subjectivity has grown out of my experience of marginalization and unstable relation of difference in the dominant society in which I live.

Furthermore, geographic distance and an inability to travel have compelled me to reconstruct the object of my affections as an imagined place, a pastiche of other people’s memories, pictures, and offhand comments.  The Haiti I know is both real and unreal; it comes to life through my lived experience, but I have never known the physical island itself, only in what it has produced.

On January 12, 2010, I was the first person in my family to learn of the earthquake.  As I sat idly before a computer, periodically pressing the browser’s refresh button, a new headline appeared that I took to be another typical NYT human interest story.  The stories written about Haiti were always infuriating to read:  bent on providing one-dimensional tales of woe and famine for a largely removed Western audience, the articles did much to further stereotypes and perpetuate an oversimplified narrative that did not do much to further real progress.

And at first glance, the article seemed to be just that.  It was more of the same paternalistic writing on Haitian catastrophe that would provide another opportunity for pity and profit for the opportunistic, but it wasn’t personal.  My rock-solid belief in my family’s immunity from tragedies in Haiti portrayed in the media helped me stay removed from the events unfolding before my eyes.

But when my aunt called with the news that our family house in Port-au-Prince had collapsed, things quickly changed.

It has been three years since my grandmother’s body was pulled from the rubble of the house we thought would never fall.  Three years, a cholera epidemic, a few hundred thousand tents, innumerable volunteers and donors, hundreds of simultaneously indignant and mournful articles, panels, symposiums, and millions of words.

We must not let our lust for progress, nor our desire to be seen as something other than a country fit only for disaster tourism, cloud our eyes to the risks in recreating a purely tourist haven that lacks productive industries.

As members of the Diaspora, we have a duty to lend our strength and knowledge to efforts to invest in our homeland.  But we must form our vision in partnership with those who have remained in Haiti. It is not money that will make real gains, but cooperation and institution-building in place of bric-a-brac nonprofit efforts.  BrandHaiti is a valuable organization in that it provides an invaluable platform for people who can help to bring about real, sustainable change in Haiti: businesspeople and entrepreneurs, young professionals, students, academics, and Haitians at home and abroad who would like to change the dominant perception of Haiti.

However, we must remember that for our country to succeed and for the status quo to change, we cannot allow exploitation to be the price of progress.  For all those who lost their lives on January 12, let it one day be said that 2010 was the beginning of the end of our unnatural disasters.

Image

~Ketsia Saint-Armand

Questions and Hope for the Rebuilders of Haiti

natalieOn the day of the earthquake in Haiti, I had returned to high school after winter break and had just finished sending out a slew of college applications. I heard about the disaster through a friend’s text message, and learned that the devastating earthquake, as it is constantly described today, had killed thousands upon thousands of people and had wrought indescribable damage in Port-au-Prince and other affected areas. Men, women, children, fathers, mothers, siblings, friends, Haitians, Americans, UN volunteers, doctors, laborers, teachers, students, and entrepreneurs were lost in less than a minute. We do not even know the true number of deaths, with numbers changing between the Haitian government, the UN, and various development agencies. The emotional shock felt around the globe was then followed with an enormous response, with countries around the world pledging millions of dollars in aid, non-profits and NGOs donating tons of food and medical supplies, schools hosting fundraisers, and celebrities taking part in televised phone-a-thons. Haitians living abroad, including my father, sent money to the Red Cross or Partners in Health while desperately trying to get a hold of loved ones. What I remember most about this time was feeling enormous distress for the Haitian people, yet even more so I was overwhelmed with a novel desire to better understand this island nation to which half my heritage belongs.

One year passed, then two. I began studying at Columbia University where I chose to pursue a degree in Sustainable Development, a new field that satisfied my desires to learn the environmental and economic issues plaguing countries like Haiti. I took French courses when I could, fighting to maintain my sometimes-awkward French skills. I got involved with cultural clubs like the Haitian and Caribbean Students Associations. I even uploaded an app on my iPhone to help me learn basic Creole phrases. In the spring of my sophomore year I learned about BrandHaiti through my activities. I subsequently began to assist CEO/Founder Marie-Gabrielle Isidore with the BrandHaiti social media efforts and outreach, causing me to meet people at the Columbia Earth Institute and become familiar with their initiatives in Haiti. It became my overarching goal to help Haiti, even though it is a country I have never seen, filled with a people with whom I cannot truly communicate in a beautiful culture with which I am vaguely familiar.

Yet my lofty dreams became jaded in this two-year period due to my coursework and disappointing news from the Haitian development world. There were the many complaints asking why there was still so much post-earthquake damage and so many people still living in tents when international donations had totaled more than a billion U.S. dollars. A cholera outbreak—likely accidentally brought in by those trying to “help”—further undermined the slow improvements. Wyclef Jean was found to have misused donated funds meant for charity work through his Yéle Haiti organization. Through my own coursework, I became more aware about how the vast occupation of non-profits and NGOs in Haiti proved to be both helpful and restricting to Haitian development. While they provide many services that are definitely needed on the ground in hard-hit areas, they often do not collaborate with Haitian organizations nor other non-profits based in Haiti in their reconstruction plans and end up missing their targets and wasting money. Occasional news articles or media stories on Haiti often focused on foreign non-profit projects, Haitian governmental corruption, or summarized the damage and lack of progress in the Poorest Country in the Western Hemisphere. Minimal coverage highlighted the recent improvements and positive sides of Haitian culture and people. Fellow Sustainable Development majors told me of their internships with the UN and other organizations and how they quickly realized methods of development learned at school could not be as easily implemented in real life.

As a mere 20-year-old junior in college, I learned that there is no perfect solution to any country’s distinct obstacles, just questions that could push development organizations to attain the best possible results more efficiently. How can we make sure the money we donate is not misused and squandered on useless projects and unnecessary expenses? How can we be sure that every development project consists of sustainable, responsible methods that push Haiti to be self-dependent? How can we create real change when major organizations are slowed by their own bureaucracy and red tape? It is an unfortunate reality that non-profits have turned Haiti and other poor nations into testing grounds for various development strategies. Only now, three years later, are they realizing that they need to seriously rethink their operations in Haiti and begin to “listen”, as one Christian Science Monitor article put it, to Haiti and its unique needs.

Of course there are many organizations and businesses that are doing valuable and needed work in Haiti. Working with BrandHaiti has shown that hope is not lost in this beautiful country. In fact there is good news every day, which I post on BrandHaiti’s Facebook. New hotels are being constructed, gold has been discovered, an industrial park recently opened, fashion shows are being held, and innovative technology is being implemented. I feel BrandHaiti and other organizations like us are doing the right thing by refusing to allow Haiti’s disadvantages to weigh down its advantages, specifically in its tourism industry. The more people hear good reviews of Haiti, the more they will realize that Haiti has so much to offer the world and has offered so much already. Just think about W.E.B Du Bois, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable (founder of Chicago), Edwidge Danticat (literary author), Jean-Michel Basquiat (artist), Alexandre Dumas (author of The Three Musketeers), and so many others. As global citizens we must work to help preserve and rebuild this small nation that is symbolically priceless despite its poverty.

I do not think I know enough to say what is the right way to improve Haiti, and I do not think other more experienced individuals know either. I do think, however, that asking questions like those I posed above will help guide us into stumbling upon novel methods of development that will maximize beneficial results as much as possible in the future. In this constantly changing world, collaboration, honesty, and flexibility are required from all parties involved in order to bring about significant results. I hope that people in America and around the world will not forget Haiti even though it is not always in the news as it was in 2010. Haitians and those with Haitian backgrounds abroad should be proud of their heritage and try to see if they can become a part of the Haiti reconstruction efforts if they haven’t already. Helping BrandHaiti by sharing our posts on Facebook and Twitter and showing your friends a positive side of Haiti is a major project that will work only if everyone gets involved. For myself, I look forward to working more with BrandHaiti in helping to create and implement programs that will promote sustainable and responsible development in the country that I love! 

~Natalie Paret

Genevieve d’Adesky LEMKE, a Prisoner of Hope

ImageMy thoughts as we get close to the 3rd year Anniversary of the Devastating Earthquake of January 12th, 2010:

My name is Genevieve d’Adesky Lemke—though everyone knows me simply as “Genie”—and I am the Director of Wahoo Bay Beach Hotel, located on the “Côte des Arcadins” in Haiti.

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of the earthquake is the gripping fear that constricted my stomach. My husband and I had just traveled with relatives to the United States the day before, and we were receiving alarming messages of the tragic earthquake as events were unfolding. Our instant reaction was utter disbelief. We were unable to fathom such a disaster striking our beautiful home. Yet, tragically, it was true. Just remembering that stunned moment still gets my heartbeat racing, my stomach and heart tight, and renders me frantic. We were anxious to know if our loved ones were safe: son, mom, sister and brothers, family, friends, colleagues, employees, staff…our only thought was “Dear God, please let everyone be ok!”

We finally got through to my brother, Jeff, who was safe at his home that had withstood the earthquake. He was on Skype communicating, as just a few minutes after the earthquake most phone and cell lines went down. One by one, we started to locate everyone, and relief slowly flooded in. However, I was still filled with major anguish, as there was one person for whom we had no news: our son, Michael. The last we had heard, he was at work in his office in downtown Port-au-Prince, the epicenter of the quake.

Minutes seemed like hours, and it is unfathomable what can run through the minds of the distressed. At that moment, we could have cared less about our business and our home. “We can start over, we can rebuild,” I thought, “ but I cannot replace my son. Please, God, please let him be ok!” I remember vividly the gripping fear, the tears, the words of prayer that came out of my mouth until my husband opened the door of our room to tell me the news.

“Gen,” he said, “we have news of Mike. He is fine!” My husband reported that Mike was still at the office ensuring everyone was safe and had a way to get safely home to their loved ones. The school opposite from his office had collapsed, and he could hear the screaming cries for help, so he made phone calls for doctors, ambulances, police, whomever he could find to assist the victims. It was only then, that he remembered “Oh my God, Mom must be freaking out if she doesn’t hear from me!” So he sent a young assistant by foot to my brother to get the message to us that he was safe.

While I was—and am—eternally grateful that my prayers were answered that day, I could not—and cannot—help but to think of so many others who were grieving their losses that day. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, husbands, and wives—over 300,000 people perished on that horrific day. How do we cope with such a tragedy? What have we learned? How are we moving forward? What do we see for the future of Haiti?

I don’t know that one person or one family can change the whole of Haiti, but as a survivor of that day, I know that we can certainly contribute to making a positive difference. Our hotel was not damaged and it became a haven for so many, including volunteer medical and missionary groups from abroad rushing to help. The fact that our countryside beach hotel is located away from the dusty rubble and massive destruction of the capital city, along the lovely coast an hour north of Port-au-Prince highlighted Mother Nature’s natural glorious splendor, as if telling us “Life will go on, do not give up!” In the aftermath of the earthquake, known as “Goudou-Goudou” for its terrifying growling-rumbling sound, we felt that we must become a soothing, quiet resting spot where people came to take a brief breather, get re-energized, re-focused, and re-organized to promptly return assisting with the victims and uprooted survivors.

A few months later, our daughter, Jennifer, came back with a degree in Hospitality Management and 4-years of working experience in South Beach, Florida to join us as a Manager. We agreed that the moment had come to now move forward with what had long been financially hesitating plans. Despite Haiti’s straining economic and political challenges, we decided to work towards attaining higher international standards. We immediately began to renovate the 22-rooms in our 20-year old main building, and implemented a new “boutique” design. We were quite pleased to see how our clients were delighted and appreciative of WAHOO BAY’s “rejuvenating” renovation efforts, and hope to continue them into the future.

340076_238611959538638_133685076697994_635973_913154259_o

During this same time, the six neighboring hotels along the coastline of the beautiful Côte des Arcadins teamed up to form a regional development council known as CRCA (“Conseil Regional de la Côte des Arcadins”), affiliated to Haiti’s Tourism Association, known as ATH (Association Touristique d’Haiti). We meet regularly on jointly solving regional and community-related challenges and issues, keeping competition friendly and always striving to help each other.

This past year, the CRCA council has signed a contract with the USAID-financed WINNER Project that regroups the area’s farmers as a cooperative, from whom CRCA members have agreed to source locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, to great success. Furthermore, a new Hotel, Restaurant, and Ecotourism Training School will be inaugurated on January 16th, 2013, providing current staff and aspiring hotel and hospitality workers to receive professional training.

Image

Additionally, there is also a longstanding relationship with the fishermen of our area’s famous fishing village of Lully, who supply all of the hotel-restaurants with locally caught fresh seafood. The CRCA hotels also have an agreement with local vendors to sell their handcrafted jewelry, sculptures, straw hats, paintings, fresh coconuts, etc. on their premises, which provides them the opportunity to earn revenue in support of family and community. The CRCA’s “win-win” implication of all stakeholders is contributing to the region’s harmonious tourism and community development, and helping to rebuild a country ravaged by a natural disaster.

We are also delighted to have teamed up with BrandHaiti in October of 2011. This enthusiastic young organization’s mission is to contribute to improving Haiti’s image, and we absolutely want to be a part of this positive movement. Haiti’s positives far outweigh its negatives, and we are determined to convey and share this truism to the world. With BrandHaiti’s founder Marie-Gabby Isidore, we have developed a spring break program that brings university students to Haiti to discover all aspects of our “Haiti Chérie”. While they remain at Wahoo Bay, we will have guest speakers to address interesting topics about Haiti and the development of Haitian businesses. When these students return home, they will become ambassadors of Haiti, and share their unique experience with the world. We are very enthusiastic and optimistic about this project, and are planning to have our first group of “Spring Breakers” in March 2013!

Our Minister of Tourism, Mrs. Stéphanie B. Villedrouin, is actually in Canada signing a contract with the well-known Canadian Charter Group, Air Transat. Canadian tourists are scheduled to arrive on January 23rd, 2013 for their 5 to 7 days sojourn, which will include excursions around Port-au-Prince and the Côte des Arcadins. Like the students who will arrive in March, we hope to show these tourists that Haiti is not just an impoverished, disaster stricken country, but that it is a nation full of beauty, wonder, entrepreneurship, hope, and love.

Three years later, although we are still mourning, we are ever more resilient and motivated to persevere in our efforts to contribute to Haiti’s development and positive image. We hope that you will join us.

~Genevieve d’Adesky Lemke

Daphnée Karen Floréal on her line “Bijou Lakay”

All women know jewelry—the final touch of an outfit—has to be carefully selected. Just like a cake topper, a piece of jewelry shows your personality. Daphnée Karen Floréal is the founder of her own line of jewelry, Bijou Lakay. The uniqueness of her pieces draws inspiration from geometrical forms and famous personalities. To encourage decentralization, each piece is made from bullhorn sourced from different farms from around the country.

Daphnée is a spontaneous individual and lover of beautiful things. Her goal is to create better jewelry everyday, never letting the customers leave her mind. Her passion for jewelry goes beyond her full time job and leads her to always focus on style, comfort and quality. Professional women find Bijou Lakay jewelry to be versatile; worn at work or adorned for a night out, you will stand out beautifully.

“When things go wrong, I create a piece, and when things are great, I create even more,” says the designer who started to make her first pieces while still at university. Even though designing is like oxygen to Daphnée, she creates time to have her hair done, go to the gym, read a book and go on dates with her boyfriend, even though her day doesn’t end before midnight. Read on, as the native Haitian tells us a little bit more about her line.

Why the brand name “Bijou Lakay”?

It was my mother’s suggestion. I was looking for a Creole brand name. I sell jewelry that is called “bijou in Haiti.” The word “Lakay” means in our mother language, from Haiti, from our earth.

We all know how hard it is for a young designer to emerge. What would be your advice to a young designer like you?

Never give up, always remind yourself of your real goal in life. Consider that every step in life should be an experience for you.

Bijou Lakay participated in many fairs, in Haiti as well as outside of Haiti. Tell us about the experience and the foreigner’s response to your designs.

Always good and enriching. The experience is positive and the foreigners love my design. Naturally, I select some pieces depending on the public.

Do you have a favorite piece in your collection? And why?

For my 2012 collection, my favorite piece is the circles necklace. The combination of different circles of different sizes proves that people can always innovate just by ordering small pieces in different ways.

A Chance to Brand Haiti: The “Experience” of a Lifetime

 

Image

As I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed for about the 50th time on May 5, 2012, I noticed that Haiti’s Minister of Tourism, Ms. Stephanie Villedrouin, had announced the logo winner for the branding contest. My heart was full of happiness when I saw the logo that they selected.

Le Ministère du Tourisme d’Haïti choisit son nouveau logo et son nouveau slogan pour une campagne de communication visant à relancer le tourisme de loisir en Haïti.

[The Ministry of Tourism of Haiti chooses its new logo and new slogan for its communications campaign aimed at boosting tourism in Haiti.]

The choublak, a red hibiscus! What a beautiful logo design by Xavier Delatour, I thought. I was incredibly happy about this decision. I was filled with joy, even though my logo didn’t win, because it represented tremendous progress, from the professionalism of the contest to the final decision.

As I scrolled through the post (in French), I scanned…

Le slogan qui a été retenu est “Experience it !” de Diana Pierre-Louis.  Ce slogan résume parfaitement  l’expérience  forte et intense souvent vécue par les visiteurs qui découvrent Haïti pour la première fois. C’est une belle invitation à découvrir par soi-même la multitude des richesses du pays et les sensations intenses qu’elles procurent. C’est  une version raccourcie de la proposition originale de Diana qui était – “Experience it yourself!”.  Diana  est passionnée par Haïti, son art, sa culture, ses plages.  Elle aime partager son expérience d’Haïti avec les autres et cette image positive qu’elle véhicule incite d’autres personnes à en faire l’expérience.  Lors des campagnes de communication s’adressant aux communautés francophones, créolophones, et hispanophones, ce slogan sera traduit en francais par “L’expérience!”, en créole par “Se la pou’w la”, et en espagnol par “La experiencia”

[The slogan that was chosen is “Experience It!”, by Diana Pierre-Louis. This slogan sums up the powerful and intense experience felt by visitors who discover Haiti for the first time. It is a beautiful invitation to discover for oneself the myriad riches of the country and the intense sensations they provide. This is a shortened version of the Diana’s original proposal of “Experience it yourself”. Diana is passionate about Haiti, its art, its culture, and its beaches. She enjoys sharing her experience in Haiti with others, and the positive image it conveys incites others to experience it. For communication campaigns aimed at Francophone communities, Creole, and Hispanics, that slogan will be translated into French as “L’expérience!”,  in Creole “Se la pou'w la”, and in Spanish by “La experiencia”

“Experience it?!?” I screamed in excitement—that was my slogan! At first, I couldn’t believe it. Is it really true?, I thought, reading the announcement over and over. I even went to Google Translator to make sure I was reading it correctly, but there it was—it was my name spelled out, my slogan right in front of my eyes.

I immediately called my husband, followed by my mother, my two biggest fans. They both were overjoyed as I kept repeating, “Can you believe it?!” That moment was very humbling for me; I had never before won a contest of this magnitude, nor had I ever even entered a contest about which I was so passionate.

Soon, I was contacted by the Ministers office and got a heartfelt congratulation from Mr. Martin, who works for the Minister. He informed me that there would be a very special ceremony with the Ministers office, ambassadors to and from Haiti, and President Michel Martelly on June 1, and asked if I could be there. Of course, I said yes, while trying to contain my excitement and remain professional.

June 1 arrived quite quickly. My husband, his mother, my brother-in-law, his friend, and I all landed in Port-au-Prince on May 30. That night, we picked up the invitation cards to the ceremony and I was told that I’d have to make a 2-3 minute speech in front of the audience at the ceremony. Again, while attempting to contain my excitement, I confirmed my presence and my willingness to speak, while beaming from ear to ear.

ImageAs we arrived at Karibe Hotel on the evening of the reception, I nervously walked into a beautifully decorated area with the logo and slogan everywhere. There were large, beautiful choublak decorations attached to the trees outside; popup banners with different pictures of Haiti that said “Experience wilderness”, “Experience the South”, “Experience the North”, and more; beautiful choublak pins which we were handed to  wear; bags and shirts with the logos on it; and even women with the logo and slong on their dresses. It was truly a beautifu sight, and I encourage you to browse through some of the photos on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/TheRealHaiti

At the reception, we were welcomed by Ms. Joliceur, the Minister of Tourism’s cabinet member, who had been helpful and friendly to me since the first day I spoke with her before the event. She showed us to our seats and informed me of what to expect in the ceremony. I nervously waited as the ceremony guests arrived, preparing myself for the start of the event. Once it had begun, I repeated to myself, “If you speak from the heart, the words will come naturally…”, which is something my husband always reminds me. I was ready to make my speech and tell Haiti why I chose “Experience it!” as the slogan. A full video of the speech has been posted on my blog: www.TheRealHaiti.com

Xavier and I were each given plaques by President Martelly, and he, his wife, the Minister, and Ms. Joliceur congratulated us each personally. The ceremony ended with a rara band (a high energy, festival band that uses metal instruments and is usually performed in the streets ) as we all danced and celebrated Haiti’s new logo and slogan. Xavier and I were also given hand beaded flags by the president, a treasure I will keep forever! What an incredible experience…

As a writer by profession, there still aren’t enough words for me to describe the entirety of the experience I had with this contest and the trip. The contest was professionally launched online and very easy advertise; it was easy to read and user friendly; the phone call inviting me to the ceremony was genuine, warm, and honest; the hospitality I received once I got to Haiti and at the convention center was unforgettable; the ceremony and the opportunity to be on stage with the Minister and the President of Haiti is impossible for me to describe; the celebration of Haiti and the new logo and slogan was a blast; and the outpouring of support from my blog followers, family, and friends has been amazing.

Thank you to everyone for the support, and thank you to the Minister of Tourism and President Martelly for this opportunity. Haiti is on its way to being a desired tourist destination by many, and once people experience Haiti, the people, food, culture and music, there will be no turning back.

Thanks again!

 

By Diana Pierre-Louis, founder and author of www.TheRealHaiti.com