A Haitian-American journey of discovery

Plus a slideshow of students' photos taken this past summer.

This essay was written by Napoleon Lherisson '11 of the Brandeis Haiti Relief Effort steering committee, who visited Haiti for the first time this past summer. The accompanying photos were taken by Lherisson and Supreetha Gubbala '12,  who worked for a month this summer in an emergency medical relief camp in the district of Delmas, in Port-au-Prince. The essay was composed for a recent meeting of the Global Affairs Lunch Table, a project of the Wien International Scholars.


I come here to talk to you about Haiti. Nine months and a day, to be exact, have passed since the devastating earthquake ripped through Haiti. Every day since then, Haiti has been in a special place in my heart. Even though I had never been to the country, I felt that I had lost a part of me.

I am a Haitian-American. I was born and raised in the inner city of Boston. My mother comes from Les Cayes, which is on the southern coast of Haiti, and my father comes from Leogane, a lost town of the Haiti earthquake epicenter.

Haiti has always been a major part of me but for the longest time it only seemed to be a place that was lost in translation. Growing up, many people I encountered had skewed perspectives of this country, and during my younger years, I would not say that I was a Haitian because of all the negative stereotypes it carried. As a young child, I learned to assimilate into the American culture. I was constantly fighting with my identity because I didn’t know much about Haiti’s rich culture, and I was in fact born and raised in America.

As I got older I realized more that there was something to be said for all the strong Haitian representation in my life, my mother, my family, all hard-working respectable and culturally oriented people. All it would take to open my eyes to the reality of what Haitian-American meant was to go investigate and research more about Haiti.

Haitians have shown a great deal of resilience through history as they have endured so many different adversities.... Haiti had to fight the French at a certain time. They had to fight the British at a certain time. They had to fight the Spanish at a certain time. Imagine a life of fight and resistance, imagine the history being built on the backs of battle.

It seems that this country has always had the ability to bounce back.

The earthquake has had such a catastrophic effect on Haiti, and more than just physically. Many feel it's going to set Haiti back 25 or 50 years. But we must know and realize that the people of Haiti are very resilient. They are fighters. They have been always doing this, even though their country has been always been considered an outcast, and they didn't get the right help. They really have suffered throughout history.

Going to Haiti for the very first time this summer was an amazing journey "home." It was the first time I got to see my mother and father’s home country — thanks to the support of the Brandeis Community and ETE Camp that made my dream a reality.

Haiti is a country of secret paradise. It’s really as Tracy Kidder describes it in “Mountains Beyond Mountains.” But Haiti needs to have a leader who can empower the Haitian civilians to do the work for Haitians. They need to reinvest in education. To do this, NGOs and government organizations must have solidarity with the Haitian people and the communities in which they are helping, partnerships with the government of Haiti and other institutions and organizations.

Half or more of the people can neither read nor write. But wisdom is oral. People hand down their knowledge and express it in proverbs. There are hundreds of proverbs.

One very famous one is this:

Piti, piti, wazo fe nich li --Little by little the bird builds its nest.

That's how we can proceed. Little by little, we will start by sharing some conversations about Haiti, which in turn will be a conversation about hope that we can eventually promote change.

Little by little.

Categories: International Affairs, Student Life

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage