Students to celebrate diverse cultures Saturday

Haitian, African and South Asian heritage events planned throughout day

Brandeis students looking for a taste of culture in Haiti, Africa and South Asia won’t need to travel far on Saturday afternoon. Rather than crossing an ocean, they can walk to upper campus for three events celebrating international culture through art, music, food, fashion and education.

Festivities will kick off with “Celebrate Haiti” at 1 p.m. in the Mandel Center atrium, featuring the debut of a new photography exhibit by Shane Silverstein ’14, music from members of Saint Angela’s Parish in Mattapan, a buffet of Haitian food including griot and fried plantains, poetry performances, and a reading program for young children.

At 4:30 p.m. in the Heller Zinner Forum, African Cultural Night will display promises a joyous night, showcasing a richness and diversity of music, art, dance, fashion, food, and of course the friendly people behind it all.

The heritage celebration will be a memorable night of entertainment and togetherness in the spirit of a traditional African community values of Ubuntu, meaning "I am what I am because of who we all are!" The event will feature Africa in its diverse multicolored attire, delicious dishes, artistic dances, and friendly, hospitable daughters and sons at Heller, event planners said.

In the evening, the South Asian Student’s Association is hosting its annual Mela celebration, beginning at 6 p.m. in Levin Ballroom.

The way each South Asian identifies with their culture is unique to their upbringing and where they live. In order to fully experience and understand what it means to be South Asian, the organization brings this year’s Mela theme: Pehchaan, a Hindi word meaning "identity."

Celebrate Haiti, organized by Professor Jane Hale’s comparative literature class and literacy organization Famni Ki Li Ansamn, in collaboration with Brandeis Haiti Initiative, will bring together Haitian families and community leaders from the arts to education to teach Brandeis about their culture and celebrate its richness and diversity, Brandeis Haiti Initiative President Jon Ostrowsky ’13 said.

“We’re thrilled to welcome the Haitian community from Waltham and Greater Boston to Brandeis this weekend,” he said. “By celebrating the richness of Haitian culture through education and the arts, we can learn from one another and reach across cultural boundaries to understand the hopes and dreams of other communities.”

Famni Ki Li Ansamn assembles a collection of children's books about Haiti written in Creole, English, and French. Books have been donated to libraries, cultural centers, churches, and festivals to encourage families to begin reading with children from a young age.

On Saturday, children from Waltham and Boston schools will participate in a reading program and receive free books through Famni Ki Li Ansamn. The event is being co-sponsored by a range of departments and organizations, including African & Afro-American Studies, Anthropology, Brandeis Haiti Initiative, Community Service, Comparative Literature, Education, ExCEL, Famni Ki Li Ansamn, French & Francophone Studies, Latin American & Latino Studies, and International and Global Studies.

Returning to campus on Saturday will be Napoleon Lherisson ’11, co-founder of Brandeis Haiti Initiative and Shaina Gilbert ’10, founder of ETE Camp, a free summer leadership development and educational camp for young children in Hinche, Haiti.

At ETE Camp this summer, with staff serving more than 100 participants, the youth continued to enjoy the opportunity to be empowered and explore their leadership through academics, creative arts, and fun activities. The camp was also able to provide seasonal jobs and source of income for two cooks, a custodian, two counselors, two junior counselors, and local businesses. This summer, Hale and Jillian Rexford '13 joined the ETE Camp 2011 staff as volunteers at the camp, Gilbert said.

In addition to the support of a Davis Peace Prize Gilbert won as a student, Brandeis students have provided thousands of dollars in support of ETE Camp through fundraising efforts.

Lherisson, Gilbert and Ostrowsky teamed with Nate Rosenblum and other students to form an emergency relief effort following the 7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010. In less than two years, the student led club, now called Brandeis Haiti Initiative, has raised more than $30,000 for Partner's in Health, Hope for Haiti, ETE Camp and the American Red Cross.

Through Brandeis' support, ETE Camp also launched an alumni network, Adult English Learner’s class, and its first annual concert, which took place in the center of the city and served as an inspiring experience for community members and local leaders.

“Due to the urgent demand for social change in Haiti, other communities have formally requested for the camp's presence and services,” Gilbert said. “ETE Camp is currently seeking to start a pilot program in another region in Haiti.”

“Saturday is about celebrating education and the arts,” Ostrowsky said. “But we recognize the urgency of the work that needs to be done. We hope the Brandeis community will feel inspired after learning more about Haitian culture and provide a resurgence of energy to our work.”

For more information about Famni Ki Li Ansamn, please email Professor Hale or Jon Ostrowsky.

Categories: International Affairs, Student Life

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