Welcome to the Solution Across Borders blog. Not only for members, this blog is a a Baruch-wide initiative to keep our campus involved in global affairs. Feel free to comment and participate in our discussions here or to come to our meetings on Tuesdays in at VC11-160.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Haiti Teach In

I attended the Haiti Teach-In last Thursday with other members of the club Solutions Across Borders. The teach-in welcomed many eloquent speakers such as Ned Sublette, Lois Wilcken and Carolyn Rose-Avilla. The event was attended by many students as well as faculty and organized a group of concerned and interested people. The questions and answers session ran short of time, but the few questions addressed got a diaspora of answers.

Frisner Augustin opened the event with a powerful demonstration of Haitian drumming which included the active participation of the audience. All we had to do was clap to a beat, but just that involved us in the vibrant culture and spirituality of the music. It may have been interesting to learn more about the background of this type of Haitian drumming, but the excerpt provided in the memo handed out was a great start. La Troupe Makandal and Frisner Augustin work hand in hand to uphold the spirituality of the repertory derived from Vodou here in the U.S.

This serves as a good place to introduce Lois Wilken, who is the Executive Director at La Troupe Makandal. Her short briefing of Haitian culture and spirituality left me specifically with many questions, but at the same time gave me the incentive to further research things which were unknown. Wilken presented a brief history of the origins of Vodou, which translates into “spirit” and described this spiritual belief as the culture of healing. She made the connections between Haitian music and the power of music to heal. This was an interesting correlation which was supported by information on Haitian dance. In most scenarios, we American label all things unknown to us and our culture as “ceremonies,” however, Wilken urged the fact that natives preferred to use just Vodou dance. Whether there was a special reasoning behind this or not, was something which was left unanswered. Vodou dance takes place throughout the night, anywhere from six to seven hours and entails of a unique dance movement and rhythms. The purpose behind these Vodou dances is the belief in “spirit possessions.” It is believed that when music is heard and dance is seen, a higher power chooses someone through which he speaks to a congregation. This activity may leave an individual unconscious.

Wilken concluded her speech with flashbacks from history and films which encouraged the popularity of the word Vodou. At first it was a way to demonize the people of a free black republic around all black slave states; it was an attempt to identify independent Haiti as a “failed state.” Later on, many zombie films such as “The Magic Island,” inspired many other films. These films focused on the doll which was used to hurt or kill your enemy, but in fact, research provides those needled places as pressure points. This may very possibly be another healing remedy which was misinterpreted.

In situations where the world media is paying attention to the same thing, there is room for shaping the story to make it sell! News-media critic Ned Sublette presented us with a fierce representation of what it means to “package a story.” He started off with the term “looting” which was being replaced by information informing people that individual initiatives to survive were taking place increasingly. In many coverage’s, the white male represented the “American hero” and the “hurt black boy represented tragedy stricken Haiti. What cover stories fail to show the American public is the support and aid Haitians are providing other Haitians with in time of need. Instead, they are labeling the Haitian’s helplessness into “looting.” Haitians have to do whatever it takes to make ends meet because the U.S is focused more on security rather than aid at this time.

It is important to recognize the need of rebuilding Haiti, who will lead these developmental goals? Carolyn Rose-Avila from Plan USA has been working for many years before the earthquake to help impoverished Haiti, but today the aid is needed more than ever. She identified the Aid industry transitioning into a corporate takeover. Whether this is a good thing or bad, can only be diagnosed once decisions and actions are made active. Carolyn sees this disaster as a career step for a lot of people, and will encourage a lot of young leadership in Haiti. The youth will be able to decide where Haiti is going in the future and education must continue even in such poor conditions. “It is better to educate now than later!”

Why is it the way it is? People always pose questions like these, but no one really tries to answer them. Professor Carolle Charles from Baruch College presented her answer. She blamed the unequal and unjust society of Haiti. She emphasized the disparity in terms of color, religion and education within the nation. Her concerns were not so much with the GDP of the nation or the economic stance of the nation, but were the lack of human development. She said this is what makes Haiti a failed state. Professor Charles encouraged the promotion of justice and social change by using the state, like her dear friends did. She recognized her friends to have done “politics differently.” It was necessary to uphold the accomplishments made by the Ministry of Women in Haiti and continue striving to push agendas such as domestic violence against women, sexual perpetrator laws, child labor laws and equal pay.

-Suveen Sahni

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