Special Issue: Focus on Haitian Women & Artists

Found in Woman Arts: Create. Connect. Change the World.

About WomenArts

WomenArts is a community of artists and allies dedicated to celebrating and supporting art by and about women. For an overview of our programs and services, please see the About Us section of our web site at www.WomenArts.org/about.(Note: WomenArts is the new name of The Fund for Women Artists,
a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.)

Our hearts go out to the people of Haiti this week, and our thoughts are with all the members of our community who are in Haiti or who have family and friends there.

The tragedy hit home here at WomenArts since our Advisory Board Member Lenelle Moïse was born in Port-Au-Prince and is still awaiting news about her extended family members there. Lenelle is a contributor to the WomenArts News Room, and she often writes about Haiti. In our sidebar we are sharing her poem, “Mud Mothers” which was written prior to the earthquake.

Understanding the Haitian Cultural Context

One of the best known Haitian writers is Edwidge Danticat, the Miami-based author of “Krik? Krak!” and “Breath, Eyes, Memory,” and the winner of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.  For an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, she compiled the list below of books and music to help people put the current disaster in a broader context of Haitian history and culture. As the Wall Street Journal points out, “The country’s culture is far deeper than the bleak reports currently blanketing the news.”

  • “The Black Jacobins” by C.L.R. James: A groudbreaking account of the Haitian revolution of 1791-1804 that examines the leadership of the rebel commander Toussaint L’Ouverture. Other slave uprisings in the Americas ended in defeat; James looks into why the slave rebellion in Haiti was victorious.
  • “The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier,” by Amy Wilentz: This nonfiction book documents the period between 1986-1989 when Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was forced to flee the country and mass strikes, government-sponsored vigilante groups, and other kinds of chaos swept though the streets. The book, which blends current events with cultural history, seeks to detail the society beyond the headlines.
  • “Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Trilogy” by Marie Vieux-Chauvet: This triptych of novellas, recently published in English with an introduction by Danticat, was initially suppressed when it was first released in French in 1968 during François “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s Haitian reign of terror. The trilogy offers portraits of people struggling to survive dictatorship and oppression. “Hurricanes, earthquakes and drought, nothing spares us,” says the narrator of the first novella, titled “Love.”
  • Boukman Eksperyans: A “mizik rasin” band from Port-au-Prince that combines elements of Haitian Vodou and folk music with rock and roll. First formed in 1987, its albums include “Vodou Adjae.” The group weaves themes of rebellion into its music, and its 1990 song “Kem Pa Sote” was banned on Haitian radio. You can see a YouTube video from the band here.
  • Ram: Another mizik rasin group from Port-au-Prince. Formed in 1990, one of the band’s singles, “Fèy” was banned by the military because it was seen as an anthem of support for exiled Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide. You can see a YouTube video of the band here.

Writers and activists Kevin Powell and April R. Silver have also compiled a list of resources at: http://www.akilaworksongs.com/helphaiti that includes books and films to give you more background about Haitian history and culture.

They point out that you can text “501501” then type “Yele” to make a $5 donation ASAP. Yele is a foundation created by famed Haitian-American GRAMMY Award winning rapper/musician Wyclef Jean (formerly of The Fugees). Visit www.yele.org for more information.

Relief Efforts Focused on Women and Girls

As Linda Basch, President of the National Council for Research on Women, points out, “As terrible as the situation is  for all Haitians, women and girls face the additional burdens of trauma that will complicate pregnancy, motherhood and the nursing of children, as well as vulnerability to rape and sexual assault, not to mention needs related to personal hygiene and privacy that are often missing from relief work.”

According to Doctors Without Borders, “Haiti has the grim distinction of having the highest maternal mortality rate in the western hemisphere.”

In 2007, Eve Ensler and V-Day helped establish the first shelter for women survivors of violence in Haiti: the V-Day Haiti Sorority Safe House. As they work to reach the women of the Safe House, V-Day reminds us that “at this critical time, we cannot forget the women and girls of Haiti–women who already suffer some of the worst poverty and gender-based-violence in the world.” They have initiated a V-Day Haiti Rescue Fund (www.vday.org/node/1781) for the Safe House and community of women it serves.

UNIFEM and CARE have both pledged to pay special attention to the needs of women and girls in their relief efforts.

Recommendations from the Ms. Foundation

As you seek ways to share your own solidarity and support, below are recommendations-based on the Ms. Foundation’s experiences in the U.S. and around the world-to help guide your giving, as well as a preliminary list of social justice, community-based organizations that are accepting donations.

Consider Funding:

  • Community-based organizations with strong relationships on the ground that are best positioned to mobilize humanitarian relief for those who need it most.
  • Local organizations with a social justice lens that are more likely to deliver effective, immediate relief within the context of a long-term strategy to rebuild.
  • Grassroots organizations with a gender lens that know how women are uniquely and disproportionately affected by disaster and can identify the best ways to meet women’s needs and elevate women’s solutions.

Lenelle Moïse

Mud Mothers

the children of haiti
are not mythological
we are starving
or eating salty cakes
made of clay

because in 1804 we felled
our former slave captors
the graceless losers sunk
vindictive yellow
teeth into our forests

what was green is now
dust & everyone knows
trees unleash oxygen
(another humble word
for life)

they took off
with our torn branches
beheaded our future
stuck our breath up on pikes
for all the world to see

we are a living dead example
of what happens to warriors who –
in lieu of fighting for white men’s countries –
dare to fight
for their own lives

during carnival
we could care less
about our bloated empty bellies
where there are voices
we are dancing

where there is vodou
we are horses
where there are drums
we are possessed
with joy & stubborn jamboree

but when the makeshift
trumpet player
runs out of rhythmic breath
the only sound left is guts

& we sigh
to remember
that food
& freedom
are not free

is haiti really free
if our babies die starving?
if we cannot write our names
read our rights keep
our leaders in their seats?

can we be free
really? if our mothers are mud? if dead
columbus keeps cursing us
& nothing changes
when we curse back

we are a proud resilient people
though we return to dust daily
salt gray clay with hot black tears
savor snot cakes
over suicide

we are hungry
creative people
sip bits of laughter
when we are thirsty
dance despite

this asthma
called debt
legendarily liberated

– Lenelle Moïse
©Lenelle Moïse 2009
Used with permission.

Here is a preliminary, but by no means exhaustive, list of groups organizing an immediate and long-term response to the crisis in Haiti that the Ms. Foundation recommends:

The Global Fund for Women (www.globalfundforwomen.org) is trying to assess the extent to which their five Haitian partner organizations have been affected by the disaster. You can donate to support their long-term work to address gender-specific needs resulting from the earthquake through their Crisis Fund.

Grassroots International (www.grassrootsonline.org) supports global movements for social change. They work with four main groups in Haiti and have a long history of providing emergency relief. Their Haitian partners, closely connected to the needs of their communities, are in a “key position to rebuild.”

Lambi Fund of Haiti (www.lambifund.org) strengthens civil society by channeling resources to community-based organizations that promote the social and economic empowerment of the Haitian people. They are currently helping peasant groups get food and essentials for their families and will help rebuild over the long-term.

Partners in Health (www.standwithhaiti.org) has worked in Haiti for over two decades to bring sustainable, community-based health care and social justice to Haiti’s poor. They’re mobilizing their more than 120 doctors and nearly 500 nurses and nursing assistants in Haiti, setting up field hospital sites in Port-au-Prince, bringing in supplies through the Dominican Republic, and ensuring that field sites beyond the capital are equipped to address the needs of those fleeing the city.

About WomenArts

WomenArts is a community of artists and allies dedicated to celebrating and supporting art by and about women. For an overview of our programs and services, please see the About Us section of our web site at www.WomenArts.org/about.

Please feel free to reprint any portion of this newsletter, but please give credit to WomenArts. (©WomenArts.org 2009)

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