Haiti Cherie, Pride, Love and Commitment attracted a good-looking, tony crowd that mingled in the expansive West 57th space. After a few drinks (thanks to Moet Hennessey), one might even forget you are in Mosafer, a luxury luggage shop. But, the purpose of the evening was very clear.
For seven years, Fabrice Armand has organized an event bringing together young professionals, managers and directors at a ticketed $75-$100 with all proceeds going to a Haitian organization.
This year’s event honored New York City Parks Commissioner Haitian-American Mitch Silver and Maryse Penatte-Kedar, founder of ProDev, the designated recipient, a foundation in Haiti building high quality education in Haiti.
“If you’re looking for a school where children are punished or learn by rote, this is not the school that we support,” said Leonie Hermantin, director of ProDev USA, who picked up the award for Penatte-Kendar.
Corporal punishment and memorization and repetition are long-held conventions in many Haitian schools, which additionally are challenged with lack of funds and poorly trained, low-paid teachers.
“We create space where children get respect and are encouraged to think critically. We offer a place where they can be children and have access to a rich, learning environment,” she explained.
The foundation’s belief is that the key to development in Haiti is education “with a slightly better budget.” The first of the ProDev schools operated before the earthquake, and now three ProDev schools — Cite Soleil, Zorange (K-9), and Labadee (K-9) — educate hundreds of children with their child-centered approach.
Class size is limited to 35, technology is part of the curriculum, and children get a hot, healthy meal reads the informative ProDev website. Haiti Cherie has joined the slew of partners that include IDB, Digicel, Partners in Health, and Save the Children. The foundation also is doing post-hurricane work in the south and trains teachers.
This past September, Armand visited the ProDev school in Cite Soleil school. It was a component activity of the Haiti Food and Spirits trip he organized — five days, 17 visitors attending the festival as well as having other Haiti cultural experiences.
“Volunteering in a part of the trip,” he explained of the half-day they spent with the students.
“The children gave us a school tour, we visited the art classes, and answered questions they asked us. And, we asked them questions like: What do you want to be? Their responses: doctor, architect, nurse, flight attendant, model, and soccer player.” Seeing these kids really moved Armand.
During Haiti Cherie, Armand explained that he got an overwhelming number of “nos” from potential sponsors (“Haiti fatigue” he conjectures).
“Seeing these kids, I saw myself in them.” In one-month, a motivated Armand put together the annual event in spite of the organizing obstacles. “Individuals are still sending in money,” he said.
He chose to recognize Commissioner Silver because of his powerful resume. With his more than 30 years policy and planning background, Silver is a past, and the first president of the American Planning Association. The commissioner holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture from Pratt Institute and a Master of Urban Planning from Hunter College.