Kontswi Pon! Yeah! A Haiti Arts Camp

21 Dec
Kontswi Pon! Yeah!
Konstwi Pon! Yeah
Mwen Rele Magi!
Mwen Sorti Philly!
Mwen gen yon dans,
Ki Fet Konsa!
Boom Chang Chang Boom Chang!
Hey BuildaBridge! Yeah!
Hey BuildaBridge! Yeah!
My name is Magi!
I come from Philly!
I got this dance I love,
And it goes like this!
Boom Chang Chang Boom Chang!
Dance ClassPure joy richocheted from the concrete walls and sent the rhythms of “Ayiti” and Philly coursing through the sable bodies of every Haitian child and adult in the room. We danced to celebrate our common humanity, we, from a land of plenty…they from a country torn by poverty and fear wrought by the devastating earthquake of January 2010. We rejoiced to have spent a week understanding and admiring each other’s gifts. We danced to celebrate our success at having bridged gaps in language, culture and opportunity to find ourselves in a moment of shared commonality. We sorted through English, French and Haitian Kreyole like letters on a scrabble board. Through the days we found the right words to bring light to the BuildaBridge mission of bringing hope and healing to a community that understood its importance and received it with open hearts.
My colleague and friend, Camille Edwards and I embarked on this journey to Haiti armed with a desire to share our experiences of teaching the BuildaBridge classroom model as well as our experiences as African American women with our African diasporic family
in Haiti. We prepared, met and debriefed in the weeks prior to our trip with Dr. Corbitt and Dr. Nix-Early to train some of Haiti’s finest teachers at the Louis Pierrot School in the BuildaBridge classroom model. We arrived on Saturday, November 19th dusty and
weary from travel, but we were not prepared for the warm welcome we received from Yolaine, our host and her family! The unfamiliar language and terrain were softened by the sweet familiarity of being kindly embraced and by knowing our arrival was anticipated and welcomed by this community of people. With bags stowed and mosquito nets in place, we fell into a strange sleep laced through with nervousness about the outcome of our trip and the sounds of roosters, dogs barking and the distant strains of Haitian music playing deep into the night.
Though my body told me it was the middle of the night, the roosters and the smell of wood burning in the outdoor kitchen told me it was just about time to get up. Camille tossed on the top bunk, I sweated on the bottom bunk (equal parts Haitian heat and personal summers!) Before long, we were up and dressed out in BuildaBridge tees (more like neon signs screaming “Americans Onboard!” Our first training on Sunday convened in a large classroom of the school with 10 teachers eager to learn all that we
Certificateshad prepared for them. Camille’s French saved the day (and night) until we learned enough Haitian Kreole to get us through our lessons. We modeled the BuildaBridge classroom as we taught the transformative power of telling our personal stories as means of teaching empathy, expanding imagination and giving voice to our triumphs, losses and moments of personal growth. We were asked to bring art, new dances, songs and visual art practices to enhance the academic offerings of Louis Pierrot School. Our curriculum would bring that and much more for the teachers who would later use our methods in an after-school arts camp throughout the week. Over the next two days we taught the BB classroom, curriculum development, lesson planning, creating and using metaphors drawn from the natural surroundings, Canadian folk songs and a funky cheer from the urban files of Philadelphia. All that we taught was received with gratitude, and all that we learned still dances in our memories as we go about our day to day lives stateside.
I told the story of my life, the comings and goings of my father, the “queendom” of my mother and sisters, my joys and my sorrows. The empathy reflected in the eyes of the teaching artists made my foray into my past even more real to me…and to them. Camille, (at my request) told a much different story of her life as a child growing up in Jamaica. I asked her to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the truth to see how far the imaginations in the room would exend. As her yarn about a goat with golden wings spun past the point of belief, we could see looks of disbelief turn to fear as the teachers struggled to untangle what they construed as a tale of sorcery. Peals of laughter filled the room when Camille revealed just how far she had stretched the truth. “I made it up” she revealed in French and the room erupted in laughter. The point was made. Imaginations expanded and our metaphor took wings. “Telling and listening to our stories is like walking in some one else’s shoes.” The training was quite successful in teaching the use of metaphor (transfrome`) to teach life lessons in the BB model. We were able to establish a rhythm and flow that the teachers would emulate in their own arts camp. It was beautiful to see them weave in their own values and art into the concepts we taught.
“Papot” or the process of establishing threshold, a portal through which each student would enter to access the sacred, “chanti” or the use of songs to open hearts and minds to the lessons taught, “principe`” or guiding principles or mottos to shape behaviors and expectations and “des arte” or the actual artmaking that took place (dans, chanti, arte, musique), and finally the act of speaking a blessing to empower the lives of the children of Haiti were but a few of the important components (gifts) shared between BuildaBridge and Louis Pierrot. The week was filled with learning and the celebration of that learning. The arts camp that followed was like nothing I have experienced in Philadelphia. A drum and music class developed a rousing composition that drew everyone into a booming parade of sound and movement. A museum of art developed and grew into expressions of the career dreams of the children and a dance class showcased the latest moves to a reggae beat with the final breakdown celebrated their beloved Kompa, a social dance that demonstrated the grace and decorum of boys and girls dancing together (with no hair pulling or giggles)!
The close of our trip came much too soon. We ended with the children speaking blessings. They shared their appreciation for what they learned and copious hugs with Camille and I. We knew that we had done exactly what we came here to do. To teach, to bless…and to be blessed(with very few mosquito bites). “Kontswi Pon!” I can’t wait to go back. What a Thanksgiving!

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