DAWP in Haiti

Posts from my Kickstarter Project.

Day 1 (originally posted on 6/23)

I’m genuinely pleased with the culmination of the first day of DAWP in Haiti. We had a total of 19 young women in attendance. Again, an excellent job on the part of FONDASYON FELICITE (FF) who recruited girls from local schools and the surrounding area. By ten thirty, the girls were seated in a semi-circle in the front yard of FF. FONDASYON FELICITE houses a library, posters of African and Haitian heroes & heroines, a few computers, a printer, a fax/copier and some chairs.

Guetchline, an FF volunteer started with a name game and a brief explanation of FF’s mission. The first part of the mission entails the process of knowing one’s self (konnen tet ou) which I incorporated into the day’s theme—the process of observing your environment and having the courage to create something new.

I’ve been working with girls and young women for nearly ten years, and workshops usually start out the same—they have their own way of checking each other out and establishing friendships early on. There’s always the talkative few, and the shy and reserved one. But I must say, I had to do away with all preconceived notions with this group. Indeed this is the first time I’ve worked with girls outside of New York City. I knew there’d be some differences, and I imagined that all girls experience growing pains that are recognizable in any culture. But the differences outweighed the similarities with this group of young women. They were kind, humble, humorous, and did way more than required.

Their first activity was a game called the “Human Knot”. They had to stand in a circle and form some sort of entangled web with their conjoined hands. The objective was to disentangle their arms without letting go of each other’s hands and return back to a circle. This is, of course, a fun activity where the dynamics of the group are established. When I do this with girls in New York, it’s usually quick, they get bored with it after one try, and they don’t necessarily want to delve into the lesson behind this game. Quite the opposite with the group in Haiti. It took a long time for both groups to untie themselves. They talked it out, laughed, decided to start over, and somehow managed to form two more smaller groups from the larger group—something I’ve never seen done before. Ultimately, they were able to explain what it all meant. One girl pointed out how while they were able to form another circle, they were unsuccessful because they ended up being divided.

I was met with lots of questions when I presented the young women with our first writing exercise—free writing. What do we write about? French of Kreyol? How long is it supposed to be? After I gave them 10 minutes to just write about anything, most said that they felt liberated to write without instructions. Three girls volunteered to read their very intriguing pieces in either Kreyol or French.

There was a 45 minute break for lunch were FF served huge pots of tchaka, a traditional Haitian dish of stewed beans, corn, meat, & spices. Guetchline explained to the girls that FF only serves those dishes that are on the brink of extinction from our culture. It was served with mabi, a bitter iced tea made from the root of a plant. Some girls have heard of these dishes, but most haven’t. Some girls liked it, some girls didn’t.

After lunch, I walked the girls through a brief meditation where they had to close their eyes and picture themselves in a mirror. They spent the first few minutes giggling, but after a while, all were relaxed and focused. This lead to a writing exercise where they had to describe their physical appearance. With some help from Geutchline and my sister Ingrid, I explained metaphors and similes. They were to be as creative as possible. I was thoroughly impressed with what three of the girls had read.

The last writing exercise, I divided the group into three smaller groups. The first group had to write about their childhood as if they were now old and reflecting back on their life. The second group had to write about their future aspirations in the third person. The last group had to write about themselves, their qualities and flaws, also in the third person. What impressed me the most when 3 of the girls chose to read their pieces was how they insisted on performing them without reading from the page. Each girl that read exuded lots of self-confidence in what they’ve written. Even if at first they were shy about sharing, once given the opportunity, they ran with it.

We ended the session with a circle with each girl saying what pleased them most from the day’s workshop and what they hoped for the next day. Each young woman mentioned how they’ve never experienced anything like this, how they thought it was going to be a boring lecture where they’d be writing long essays and taking notes.
What I noticed when each girl spoke was how they started by thanking all the adults present for this opportunity. Indeed, they showed genuine appreciation, humility, and respect.

Daughters of Anacaona Writing Project, Haiti, teen girls

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