Monday, June 23, 2014

BuildaBridge & Mercersburg 2014 Report

"Bèl Bonjou se paspò w"
"A beautiful greeting is your passport"

From June 1-10, BuildaBridge International collaborated with Mercersburg Academy for an educational service and cultural exchange project in Haiti.  Under the guidance of INAM (Inyon N a Sonje, AFSAKA, and MJRAV), a group of 9 students and teachers underwent an immersive experience of Haitian culture and language in the rural community of Gwo Jan (Gros Jean).

Gwo Jan is a quiet rural community in the mountains about an hour and a half's drive east of Port-au-Prince. In the morning, residents rise early to sweep the dust and leaves from their front steps. The calling of roosters and barking of dogs generally serve as an alarm clock. Corn grows in between mango, breadfruit, plantain and almond trees. The trees provide shade and shelter from the intensely hot sun. There are waterfalls and fresh springs where local residents gather to collect drinking water, wash clothes, bathe, or just cool off from the heat. A single dusty, rocky road winds through the town. In the evening, farmers walk their cows (on rope leashes) to communal fields for grazing.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

We Will Remember, We Will Learn

This summer, BuildaBridge and Mercersburg Academy of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania will partner for a youth tutoring and educational service project. The project supports BuildaBridge's values of education and cross-cultural exchange and Mercersburg Academy's values of diversity and service. A group of Mercersburg students and faculty will travel to Port-au-Prince, Haiti under the leadership of BuildaBridge personnel. The group will stay at the N a Sonje Foundation in Pétion-Ville and undergo an immersive experience of Haitian culture.

N a Sonje, a Creole phrase meaning "we will remember", specializes in hosting visitors, groups, volunteers, researchers, journalists to share in the history, language and culture of Haiti as well as to connect them with communities, groups, and organizations in order to provide tools for a meaningful, respectful and impactful visit. N a Sonje, in collaboration with national development leaders, also has programs that include micro-loans for women in the Foundation's base community, higher education scholarships, as well as organizational capacity building for itself and local organizations.

Mercersburg students will provide several days of service while tutoring locals students in English and Math. Mercersburg students will partner with local "twins" and have the opportunity of cross-cultural exchange and understanding. As "twins", Mercersburg and Haitian students will learn about each other's culture in a way that transcends conventional stereotypes and viewpoints. Creole lessons, traditional dance, and drumming lessons will allow the students to immerse themselves in Haiti's rich artistic culture. Students will also have the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of Haiti's rural landscape, waterfalls, and beaches.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I Love My Plant: Nurturing Growth

I love my Plant. Children learn about planting corn in Haiti. 

2010.  She smiles at the small corn plant growing from a tin can, with pride. It is part of a class project at the Louis Pierrot elementary school in Ponte Sonde, about two and a half hours from the epicenter of the earthquake that hit Port au Prince in January.

She is dressed in her uniform and the school grounds of the elementary school are swept clean. In the mornings 180 students in this privately operated school line up at perfect attention, salute the flag, and sing the national anthem. They move to their classes with precision and purpose. 

One would hardly know from this picture that thousands were living in tents in the capitol of this Caribbean nation (as of late 2012, 500,000 still lived in tents). But there were signs of the earthquake everywhere, even in this location. New relatives from Port au Prince moved in with the director of the school--adding financial stress on the family. Welcoming and supporting new people to the households was happening everywhere in the country. Petrol and other fuel were very limited and so families purchased and used charcoal delivered on horseback and trucks--the cheapest and most available fuel. This practice depletes the countries last remaining trees. Cost of food was rising dramatically. 

Nearly 80% of the children are educated in privately or family owned schools. Organizations like Practical Compassion, BuildaBridge's alliance service partner with whom we made a site visit for long-term arts intervention projects, provide scholarships, food and teacher salaries. Not all schools are like this one. The 40% of the country's population under 14 runs a serious risk of being uneducated, perpetuating the cycle of poverty in Haiti--true even before the devastation of the earthquake. The following is a report of our site visit to Haiti following the earthquake. 

BuildaBridge has made a long-term commitment to the people of Haiti in fulfilling our mission to bring hope and healing to the most vulnerable people in the toughest places of the world through arts-integrated education and intervention. We engage and train artists for service to these people and places. We ask you to join us. 

A four-member delegation from BuildaBridge and Pennsylvania-based Practical Compassion (PC is a BuildaBridge alliance partner) made a four-day site visit to Haiti April 16-20. Our goal was to meet potential organizations with which we might assist in a service/mission alliance and to better understand the needs of people. We met with representatives from four organizations with more than 15 years of programming within Haiti: Mennonite Central Committee-Haiti, North Haiti Christian University, Haiti Partners (Beyond Borders), and Practical Compassion. 

Four basic continuing needs were observed:

Health. The country of Haiti and its people were still in crisis. Though medical reports indicate that critical emergency health needs have been addressed, children continued to suffer with malnutrition and dehydration; and both children and adults experienced persistent trauma related to the earthquake.

Environment. Massive tent cities in and around Port au Prince give evidence of homelessness; and the internal migration of people to rural areas is placing increasing demand on the poorest of people with very limited resources. The potential for conflict and violence exists especially in high density areas. Deforestation continues to be a major problem, as charcoal is the major source of cooking fuel.

Education. As the picture symbolizes, the educational system in most places is broken. Children are receiving limited education. There is a 50% illiteracy rate in the country.

Experience. While many desire to be of assistance, help from trained people and organized groups with experience remains a need. Authorities say too many are responding without a plan or experience.

Haiti Basic Facts

The Earthquake The earthquake occurred on Tuesday, January 12, at 4:53 p.m. The epicenter of the quake was located 16 miles from Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti. The earthquake measured a 7 on the Richter scale. The death toll is estimated between 50,000 and 200,000 people. The Red Cross calculates that 3 million have been directly affected by the quake. Country Haiti is a Caribbean island nation that is roughly the size of Maryland. It is a democracy marked by political instability.

The country of Haiti makes up the western one-third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean. Hispanola is between Cuba and Puerto Rico, and the eastern two-thirds of the island is the Dominican Republic. Population: 9,035,536. One third of the population lived in Port au Prince at the time of the earthquake. People Haitians are a resilient, friendly people. Ninety-five per cent of the population is of African descent; 80% are Catholic, 16% Protestant and 50% are reported to practice Voodoo. Forty per cent of the population is under the age of 14. Poverty While 80% of the population lives below the poverty line, 48% live in abject poverty. (The annual salary of a school teacher is $700). Non-literacy rate is 48%; HIV/AIDS, typhoid fever, malaria and hepatitis are prevalent. Life expectancy is 60.

What BuildaBridge is Doing in a Ten Year Commitment


  • Direct service with kids through trauma-informed arts camps 
  • Artist teacher extended service in Haiti 
  • Teacher training in arts-assisted curriculum 
  • Scholarships for Haitians to attend the Institute 
  • Literacy through art-making 


  • Peace-making and conflict resolution through drama in conflict areas 
  • Creative arts therapy for amputees in local hospitals and for traumatized children everywhere 
  • Training local artists in therapeutic art skills 


  • Incorporating sack gardening and composting in all work with children and youth 
  • Tree planting and landscaping 
  • Improving the aesthetic environment through murals, sculptures and other outdoor art 

Work To Date 

  • Recruiting and training Artists on Call. To date over 40 artists and creative arts therapists have registered to assist in this effort. 
  • Adding arts relief training at the BuildaBridge Institute. 
  • Forming alliances with established organizations in Haiti. 
  • Networking with Haitians in Philadelphia and US. 
  • Translating our materials into French and Haitian Kreyol. 
  • Providing scholarships to Haitians for training in Philadelphia.