Haitian educators embracing their cultural background with others filled Kinanm Lounge on a cold Saturday night for the warmest vibes, immersed in an evening of Haitian musical heritage.
With the backing of musicians Gerrard Souffrant (Gto) on sax, Steve Deats on percussion and Jean Marie Brignol, and Roro Ligonde on guitar, Haitian-Cuban singer Natalie Batista Puente charmed the crowd with her engaging presence adding a lot of Cuban spice to her repertoire of Haitian folkloric and popular songs.
Puente is a music teacher in Cuba, works with the Ministry of Culture there, and has her own Haitian-Cuban performing group Kiba Kreyol (Creole Cuba). She attended and performed at the October 2017 Haitian Creole Language & Culture Symposium at Brooklyn College. Its theme this year was how do Haitians manage to maintain their linguistic identity in the Diaspora. She performed this last time before her return to Cuba.
Billed as a cultural extravaganza, the event was Haitian Educators League for Progress’s (HELP) annual fundraiser.
After a long hiatus, the 20+ year-old organization revived itself after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to provide training to teachers in Haiti.
“We hold three days of teacher training workshops in different cities and three days in Port-au-Prince,” said Menes Dejoie, an active participant and retired school psychologist from P.S. 189 in Crown Heights.
In the past years, 10-15 teachers have gone to Ft. Liberte twice, Petit Goave, Leogane, Payen, and the northern town of Caricol where retired Bronx principal Jean Mirvil now is principal of a school.
“We split into different groups in methodology, math, reading, and classroom management. The teachers in Haiti are very receptive and invite us back to provide more training,” Dejoie explains.
As a volunteer organization in which everyone pays their own expenses for the trip, monies collected help pay for supplies, lunches for participating teachers in Haiti, and stipends for some of the Haitian-American participants as well as to help other Haitian Diaspora centers.
Puente sang a captivating and very satisfying set of well-known songs including Panama m Tombe, Kawolin Akawo, Larenn Soley Leve, Fey O, when the audience joined her in song. Costumed dancer Agathina Nozy made her entrance and also delighted the audience.
During the break, HELP’s president, social studies high school teacher Sabine Albert elaborated on the work of HELP and introduced the board. She believes there is a connection to the way a state educates its people and its politics. She reminded all how rote learning is the norm in Haiti. “We’re pushing to bring to our colleagues in Haiti how to teach critical thinking and encourage inquiry. We grapple with this in the U.S.,” she admits.
During the second set, there was a guest appearance by local singer Tiana Ligonde.
Several audience members met the singer Puente this past summer on an educational and cultural visit to Cuba. Many Haitians left their home country during the U.S. Occupation to find work as laborers. There is a substantial Haitian-Cuban Diaspora population in a number of cities in Cuba.