Arielle and I got back from Haiti a few weeks ago and I wanted to tell you a little bit about the visit, which, as usual, had its dramas and pleasures.
This was a very short trip, mostly to bring more materials andcelebrate with the silk artists who had been awarded a very large order from the Fetzer Institute. The organization intends to give the scarves as gifts to participants during their summit meeting in Assisi, Italy.
One evening we were approached by a group of local neighbors, all men, who wanted to tell us about their organization and its goals.
We sat down together, the rose-colored walls of my room, lit by oil lamps, cast everyone in a deep, warm shadow glow. From our long years visiting Matènwa we knew each person well.
They said they were calling themselves "Gason Kouraj" (Courageous Men), a name inspired by “Fanm Kouraj,” the first women's activist theater group in Matènwa, made up of teachers from the local school.
“Fanm Kouraj” as well as the artists’ theater groups have been sending very clear public messages with their plays: It’s unacceptable for men to beat, neglect, abandon, impregnate without protection, or otherwise maltreat their wives and families, especially young, vulnerable girls. And women can’t get away with violence either.
In these plays men (women actors) have been invariably portrayed as cartoons --bopping, macho, mercurial, clueless, arrogant, or violent – while self-educated, women take a stand against victimization or suffer the results.
The “Gason Kouraj,” called together in 2009 by the LKM school principal Abner Sovè, admitted that the theater groups deeply influenced their decision to take action.
They believe that because men are responsible for much of the issues, the women's groups depend on men in the audience to hear them, but the “Gason Kouraj” think men will listen to other men easier than to women.
They also feel if children aren't taught to act differently they will just do what their parents did, continuing the unthinking cycle.
As a group they are ready to intervene. They say they will approach any man prone to family abuse and get him to sit with them. They’d explain that they are men who have chosen not to do what he is doing and why. If he refuses them they would turn to the authorities.
They also want to council men to take fiscal and physicalresponsibility for the children they often leave behind.
Admitting the government’s laws are impossible to enforce, they feel community pressure can be more effective.
They are adamantly against child slavery, a tragic result of impoverished parents feeling they must give away children they can't support on their own.
The “Gason Kouraj” believe that encouraging education is the way to keep children from this brutal fate.
Besides ethical issues the “Gason Kouraj” are interested in several physical projects.
They want to organize men to fix the broken and dangerous roads (something the government ignores), to build composting toilets and to starta program that will allow them to bring vulnerable people to the hospital and be their advocates.
We were touched and energized by the courage it takes for this group of men to push against the odds in order to make life better for everyone they know.
It’s a testimony to the circling-out effect of strong-voiced women, artists and teachers, who have stretched their creative capacities into the future.
A less happy story is Venez’s prognosis.
Venez Kasimir, one of the most talented of the silk artists, a great mother and long time friend of ours is dying a brutal death of what, in the US, would probably be a curable disease.
In spite of our efforts to get her medical help she seems, like many others in poverty, to fall through the cracks in an already overburdened and under-aided hospital system in Port au Prince.
If we lose Venez it will not only affect all of us who love her but will threaten to dissolve her extended family of which she was the hearth and center.
It seems no matter how long or short the visit, we always arrive to some things very sad and some things very hopeful happening in Matènwa.