Imagine boom-box music that rolls day & night and inspires the feeling of dance – Haitian dance, West African dance, and dance of the spirit. At night, when the boom-box has been turned off, the night sounds emerge: a barking dog, frogs so loud you have to question if they are really frogs, singing birds, and at 11pm, the silence that ensues as the generator is turned off for the night. These are the sounds of LEAF International Haiti…

 

“LEAF Festival is really special. LEAF & Vancouver Festival are my favorite in the world. At LEAF, you treat everyone the same- we all feel so good & taken care of regardless of what level of musicians. We are all the same.”  
-Bwa Gris, LEAF International Haiti Culture Keeper
 
Overview and Purpose of the Visit:
Prosjekt Haiti Summer Camp has become a treasured tradition for the kids in St. Louis Du Sud as well as for Norwegian and LEAF visitors. The purpose of the visit is always to check in on the progress of the LEAF programs, and to see it live, in action, and to create more opportunities for cultural exchange and connection. This cultural expedition crossed many borders and ultimately created a dynamic cultural exchange: Haiti, Norway, America, Iran, and Ivory Coast.
The LEAF Program (as they call it) now is an integral part of Prosjekt Haiti. The revered LEAF Culture Keepers not only teach they also empower older students to mentor the younger kids. Most youth have siblings in the program and once they enter at 12yrs old they stay through graduation. They have so much PRIDE as they share their new skills with the camp kids. 
This adventure into cultural immersion brought together youth, culture keepers, teaching artists, musicians, volunteers, supporters/donors, and special guests. The LEAF crew included: Jennifer Pickering, Schree Chavdarov, Adama Dembele, Regianna Jackson, Farhad Javidi, Hannah Javidi, and Katie Collins.
 


 “Before LEAF, we didn’t dance. We didn’t drum. Now it is so part of all of our programs and life & we know our culture.” –Anie Jeff Joseph, Prosjekt Haiti-former student & now director of Camp & programs

Cultural Expedition at a Glance:

July 1-2: The LEAF International Cultural Expedition to Haiti started off with a spontaneous exchange when the LEAF Intore Cultural Troupe video called via Whats App all the way from Rwanda. The LEAF Intore Cultural Troupe sang a special song of Rwandan greetings to Prosjekt Haiti. In return, Prosjekt Haiti drummers spoke an international language with the rhythm of the drums as LEAFers sang and danced a song of appreciation in six different languages (English, Spanish, Norwegian, Farsi, Turkish, & Creole).
Next, the group jumped right into history as all visited the Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien – a museum featuring the heroes of the independence of Haiti and the Haitian history and culture. The group continued historic museum discussions on the route to Boutilier – a neighboring town that perches its visitors 3182 feet above Port Au Prince giving a spectacular view of the bay, ships & small fishing boats, and the bustling city.
Shortly after the informative cultural excursions, the crew gears up to head to the coastal, country-side of Saint Luis Du Sud.

 

July 3-4: July 3 marked the first day of Prosjekt Haiti’s annual summer camp. The summer camp is a source of joy and enthusiasm among the students and creates to strong ties between the students and the volunteers. This summer, camp activities included: Haitian dance & drum, futbol, English as a second language, mathematics, jewelry making, drawing, computer logistics, swimming, and volleyball. 75 anxious youth participants lined up early Monday morning to honor the day by stating the Haitian and Norwegian songs of allegiance.

In the evenings, the group of 7 Norwegians, 7 LEAFers, and 6 Haitians visited neighboring villages – Baie Dumelsea remote area with potential to be a heavy tourism site due to the beauty and easy port access, Oliver’s Fortress – the old French fortress that was identified as the perfect location for a collaborative festival, and Careme – where the community is in the process of building a new school. Baie Dumelse is a port town by the sea where the community is building from the ground up. This village was the first location suggested for a possible LEAF/Prosjekt Haiti festival, but the remoteness and lack of access to electricity seems to be very large obstacles to overcome. Oliver’s Fortress is set up in a central location in the town and has a perfect main-stage view that would be overlooking the Caribbean Sea. This location would provide smooth leeway in a festival setting. Careme – This 7 – mile hike brought us to a village that lost most of their crops, including avocados, during Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. Once we reached the peak of the village, we discovered

something truly magical and breathtaking. A large group of youth, no older than 12 years of age, grabbed buckets & pots, then proceeded to make harmonious tunes while a group of young girls started dancing. Due to the remoteness of their village, these kids have never been taught how to drum or dance, yet, the traditional Haitian cultural runs deep through their veins and was displayed for hours on hand. These same kids use their buckets and pots to carry dirt up a steep mountain in preparations of helping to build a new school…phenomenal community engagement at its finest!

“This (music) is in the kids DNA. They don’t have to be taught what they already know, they just need to be supported and guided.”  –Luc Edwin Ceide, Mayor of Saint Luis Du Sud

 

July 5-6: Summer camp activities continued as the number of youth grew little by little each day. Some of the LEAF crew participated in dance, drum, and jewelry making sessions, while the others taught volleyball, swimming, and English as second language. On this day, Stephany Laforest, friend of LEAF International Haiti, came to co-teach a traditional Haitian dance workshop. As Stephanie taught, she included cultural dance context such as: The rhythms of Ibo, which are traditional dances of freedom & independence and movements that symbolized breaking the chains of oppression in Haiti. These rhythms were hard, intense and had all sweating to the beats of the Asoto’ drums {Asoto’ means mother of all drums}.
During the evening, all took a site visit to the remote island Fort Des Anglais – which means the English beach with an old ancient fortress. The fortress is ready to be restored, as it sits in the middle of a deep blue sea that encompasses beautiful beach land from every angle. The crew enjoyed an evening of futbol, swimming, and relaxation. “Haiti has some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen,” reflects Schree Chavdarov.
 
July 7-8: The final day of the first week of camp was a complete success. LEAF and volunteers from Norway gifted donations of daily essentials to kids at the summer camp. Both organizations had been simultaneously collecting donations since the hurricane last year. The kids were elated with joy and excited to start the next week of camp.
The day officially ended with the Manman Troll graduation. Manman Troll focuses on competence building and vocational training for women. With over 200 supporters in attendance, the women’s grouping of more than 20 proudly accepted their diplomas of achievement. The celebration included ceremonial songs, an eye-catching fashion show, dances of freedom by LEAF International Haiti, and special words of solidarity by Prosjekt Haiti co-founder Ingvill Konradsen Ceide.

 

Fun Facts:

  • Check out this sweet video that captures all the laughs, smiles, and of course DANCES https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=xAYO7TMvWm4&feature=vm
  • LEAF Schools & streets youth, Regianna, taught the Haitian youth how to swim during the first camp week. The youth were very afraid of the water and unprepared to swim. Regianna displayed patience and compassion while guiding each kid into the water at their own pace and showing the how fun the beach can really be!
  • LEAF Schools & Streets culture keeper, Adama Dembele, taught the Haitian drummers West African rhythms, while the Haitian drummers taught Adama different beats with parallel similarities to African culture. An instant West African/Haitian cultural exchange Adama’s thoughts, “I love the music exchange; it was good to work with the Haitian drummers and kids. Music is always my favorite part. This was a very different style of drumming with these guys. The older guys are good players, and as they grow they will learn more endurance so they can play longer. Drumming looks easy, but takes lots of endurance.”
  • Hannah & Katie taught the whole camp of 100 + Haitian kids & 10 Norwegians the Cotton Eyed Joe dance to a very popular Haitian hip hop song. On the last day of camp, Hannah & Katie did a final collaborative dance with about 30 summer camp youth.
  • Where’s Cash and Gregory?! These former LEAF International Haiti super stars have successfully launched themselves into respective professional careers. Cash taught himself the ins & outs of graphic design and is now working for the top graphic design company in Haiti. Gregory is pursuing a very fruitful music industry career, keeping the vision of the LEAF Haiti ONEmic studio
  • Lolo & Manze (and their daughter Gabriel) of Boukman Eksperyans stopped by the Saint Luis Du Sud for a special visit. While in town, they shared music from their latest album – to be used this fall during their touring season. Most of the songs they played for us have never been heard by the public! What a complete honor to share the love of music and the spirit of Haiti with this inspirational group of musicians.
  • Haiti = Land of high mountains
  • Asoto = Mother of all drums

 

More about Global Arts Education: LEAF International is a global arts education program, with a focus on cultural preservation. LEAF focuses on providing students cultural arts instruction as a supplement to formal schooling, cultivating life skills and learning through modalities of movement. Programs encourage learning traditional music instruments, customary dances, and songs that hold cultural context.