Port-au-Prince, Haïti — My fourth consecutive trip to Haïti in response to the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, ended Oct. 5, 2011. During the past three months I have had the awesome opportunity to launch a pilot cultural exploration program entitled “Mwen Renmen Ayiti," which translates to “I Love Haïti.” Please visit us on FaceBook and click “like.” We love that!
The name, logo and idea behind Mwen Renmen Ayiti began with some artwork I produced right after the earthquake. The tributary graphic is a Haitian flag with a heart defining the traditional artwork in the center with a subliminal map of the world in the background. I knew it would be daring to choose a Kreyol name for my program, but this is Haïti after all and the words transcend “catchy” or good branding to me. And you get to learn some Kreyol if you don't speak it! I remember calling my friend and fellow graphic artist Christian La Planche for advice about this. (He just happens to be Haitian!) I said, “I can't seem to get the words Mwen Renmen Ayiti to roll off of my tongue...do they actually flow?” He paused for a minute and then said, “uh yea...they flow, in fact they're GREAT!” Done deal.
Of course I've had to answer to many Haitians who read my badge and say, “Ou renmen ayiti? Ki se peyi mwen!” or “That's my country!” I am happy to offer any inquirer a thorough explanation of where my heart is at. September 2011 marked one year of volunteer time in service for me in Haïti. That's one year of separation from a life I recognized. One year living without income with the exception of kindhearted donations, side jobs and money made from selling personal items including my car.
One year trusting that my life has value beyond physical form, skin color, education, language, age, and bank balance...exactly like the value of the beautiful Haitian people I am here to work with.
So yes, I love your country. And Mwen Renmen Ayiti is a brave young program that evolved out of months of working in Haïti with such brilliant groups as:
- J/P HRO
- GrassRoots United
- Sonje Ayiti
- Love 4 Haïti
- Rebuild Globally
- Fountains of Hope
- We Advance
- Global Adolescent Project
- Fosaj Gallery
Exposure to these groups and others' work has been priceless and has allowed me to chart a course for Mwen Renmen Ayiti.
June 13, 2011 is the actual birthdate of Mwen Renmen Ayiti. I will never forget how my finger hovered over the “purchase” button on the Spirit Airlines web page that day. “You can do it. You're a wimp. You will never pull this off. This is a country of people you are guilty of loving beyond reason by simple exposure.”
“Okay, okay!” Click!
Business cards. Check. Media badges. Check. Promo stickers. Check. MacBook Pro tune-up. Check. Let's do this thing!
Our mission statement: Mwen Renmen Ayiti engages participants in art, education, athletics, innovation, health awareness and job development, to positively affect life quality in Haïti.
Our core values: Cultural integrity, project sustainability, “Training for Trainers” information exchange, job development, program transparency.
I don't remember having a minute to myself the first two weeks in-country this trip. And Mwen Renmen Ayiti has embraced every available opportunity since to sing, dance, act, pray, exchange ideas, study, draw, paint, play, photograph, render graphics and brainstorm a better life here. Our Facebook page highlights our list of projects and accomplishments.
I am so proud of this project! And I am so exhausted. This was the most difficult trip so far. Though my head carries a mobile archive of ideas, I had half a shoestring budget to work with. Though there was ample time for activity planning, unexpected changes in assistance kept me spinning. This trip I also faced a great deal of cultural antagonism, thievery and some international banking errors that knocked the wind out of me. But unfailing friendships, and extreme hope amid chaos in this land of perpetual contradictions kept me reminded me of just how rich we all really are.
A little time and reflection will tell of the future of Mwen Renmen Ayiti. But if you've followed my stories, if you know my choices, if you are aware of the interactions and that have claimed my heart, then you are certainly aware that Kisa Ki Bon Nouvel La is a love story. Do I love Haïti? Try to guess whether or not the ticket I bought to go home is round trip!