DAWP in Haiti (Day 3)

Originally posted on June 25 on my Kickstarter project page.

While FF volunteers and I were scheduling the workshops, I wasn’t aware of some of the pitfalls in planning an event for the evening. Bayyinah Bello had informed me that events where young people are involved are not held during the evening and there’s always the problem of electricity. I had drafted a letter with Regine Roumaine from Haiti Cultural Exchange to go out the school administrators where FF would be recruiting the girls. The workshops were held during the school day, so the young women had to miss school. In that case, the culminating reading also had to take place during the school day. So the final day of the workshop was only 2 hours long so that the reading could be held in the afternoon.

After only 8 hours with each other, they were laughing, joking, and excited about this afternoon’s evening. We had told them to look their best, and they certainly did (even though most of them had changed, redone their hair, and added make-up by the afternoon). I wanted them to write one more piece to be included in the anthology.

Last year, each of the participants of the first summer of DAWP wrote a Haiku about sisterhood. One of the topics that dominated many of the conversations was about how difficult it was for most girls to form close friendships with other girls. Four out of the nine girls had gotten into fights. One of the participants had been attacked by a group of neighborhood girls after coming home from one of the workshops. It’s a conversation I always have with any group of girls I’ve worked with. It something I have to bring up especially when I work with a large group in order to avoid any conflict. This is why I have them play games, have group exercises and create an atmosphere where they don’t feel judged and have to hold back in any way.

I tried to explain all this to the group of Haitian girls, but they immediately told me that this was not the case with them. Guetchline assured me that there is certainly drama, but not to the extent that girls are constantly fighting each other. I was reminded that a majority of the schools are not co-ed and that some of the girls even attend boarding school where they day may not even see a boy for days.

So when I gave the assignment of writing a Haiku entitled “Sisterhood”, the translation was instead “Soeur de Coeur”. It was harder to explain the concept of counting syllables in either French of Kreyol than it was to explain what sisterhood means; quite the opposite with my New York girls. There are certain one syllable expressions in Kreyol that they had to discuss whether it was a word or not. I had to explain that a syllable does not have to be a word. It was interesting to watch them count off syllables with their fingers. I think the ones writing a Haiku in Kreyol had somewhat more of a difficult time. Kreyol is a spoken language that has only recently been put into the written mode. And to break it down into syllables is a study in and of itself. Nonetheless, they wrote some truly beautiful pieces. I realized that the labor wasn’t in counting the syllables, but in making sure that what they wrote had depth and meaning in keeping with the 5, 7, 5 stanza.

At this point, they’d written 9 pieces and they had to choose one to read and one to edit and submit to me for publication in the anthology. I divided them into groups of 3 so they can help each other revise, practice what they’d be reading, and give support. I collected their revised and polished pieces before they broke for a lunch of cornmeal with red beans and a turkey gumbo stew.

DAWP, Haiti, teen girls

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