Tag Archives: Jakmel Ekspresyon

Haiti Earthquake: Two Years Later


My husband took this photo on December 28, 2011, just weeks before the two year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti.

This sight leaves many to wonder, where has the aid money gone? Right after the quake, there was a tremendous outpouring of money. About one out of every ten Americans donated money to Haiti, and that is incredibly impressive. So I understand why my friends and family have grown tired of me asking for more money for the arts center I work for and support in Jacmel, Haiti. Enough money was pledged or donated to give every Haitian over $300. So why is the Presidential Palace still in ruins? Why are there hundreds of thousands of people who have called a tent “home” for the last two years?

The best answers I’ve found were written by Bill Quigley and Amber Ramanauskas and was published on CommonDreams.org. The article is worth reading in its entirety, so I’m posting the long link in case the click-through doesn’t work for you. http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/01/03-2

I’ll also summarize it for you.

The United States received more of the US donated money than Haiti did. This mostly went to the US Army and also large non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Save the Children or UNICEF. Less than 1% of the money went directly to Haiti or to the Haitian government. Very little money ever reached Haitian people, businesses, or Haitian NGOs. Most of the money went to large US based NGOs that have not been explicit on how they spent it. For-profit companies got some of the money. Some of the money was pledged but never distributed. Some of it isn’t spent yet.

This article ends by saying something I fully agree with. To help Haiti monetarily, give money directly to Haitian people, businesses, and Haitian NGOs. Haitians are the people who are truly solving their problems and dealing with their day-to-day struggles and solutions. The money should be spent to directly promote jobs, education, and skills for Haitians.

The arts center I support is just that. We are a partnership with Haitians. We provide classes, materials, and a safe space for children and the community. Our goal is to pay the Haitians who have tirelessly volunteered to keep the center running. If you donate to Jakmel Ekspresyons arts center, you will be able to see exactly how your money is spent and the people you directly benefit. Thanks.


Knitting Workshops in Jacmel, Haiti


One of the purposes of my trip was to continue a knitting workshop. When I went in July, I taught two separate workshops, for two days each. This time I only taught one 2-day workshop at the new Jakmel Ekspresyons building.

I am grateful for the community of knitters on Ravelry who donated so much yarn for each trip. I had to vacuum-pack all of it in order to bring it with me.

It was my first time seeing the building, and it is awesome! There are two floors. The second floor has an office, two workshop rooms, and space for a computer lab that will be set up shortly. I held the workshop on the first floor to be handicapped-accessible since one of the knitters was unable to walk. Plus this courtyard section is beautiful and breezy. It’s in a shady spot, but the sky is the ceiling.

There were approximately 12 attendees, and about half of them had come to the workshops in July. I taught most of the experienced knitters to increase and decrease, as well as knit in the round. I taught the first-timers to cast-on, knit, and bind-off. Many of the experienced knitters also showed the newbies how to knit. I’ve found that in Haiti, people are extremely helpful to each other. It sure helped me since I was using very limited Creole and only one person there spoke proficient English!

I had so much yarn, I was able to leave some of it behind, along with dozens of pairs of handmade knitting needles (the chopstick ones– I ended up securing the ends with rubber bands). I also left 4 cd-roms with instructional knitting videos in French and dozens of copies of my handmade “Learn to Knit/ Aprann Brode” zine which is in English and very broken Creole.

My hope is that Jakmel Ekspresyons can have a regular knit and crochet group who meets regularly and helps each other. Lots of people in Haiti know how to crochet, plus there was a crochet workshop at Jakmel Ekspresyons a few weeks before my knitting workshop. Haitians are extremely resourceful, and I am confident that they will be able to figure out patterns and fix mistakes if they meet and craft together.

One of the students, Salomon, knew how to crochet already, and learned to knit at my workshops. Afterwards, he continued his project until he finished his skein of yarn, then came by Jakmel Ekspresyon to ask for more yarn.

He was so impressive. I taught a group of kids his age how to knit in an after-school program, and after many hours with these English-speakers, some of the kids were still not able to knit as well as he could. As usual, I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of yarn donors, the willingness and excitement of new knitters, the ability of people to learn in a difficult situation (language barrier), and the helpfulness and kindness of the participants.

Haiti Hiatus


I will not be posting for a week or two because I will be in Haiti. This is not an invitation to rob me, I have a house-sitter. I promise lots of interesting posts upon my return.

In the meantime, consider a donation to the arts center I am working for and supporting. We need to pay the rent.

Here is the indiegogo link to donate.

Thanks for donating. Enjoy these photos from my first trip to Haiti.

This is part of a market outside of Port-au-Prince.

This is a tap-tap and some traffic taken through a dirty windshield in P-a-P.

This is me trying to show the beauty of the countryside in Haiti. It’s the only equatorial country with a high enough elevation to have snow in the mountaintops. Lots of mountains are common in places with earthquakes (since mountains are formed by the same process of shifting tectonic plates).

These photos are from the main street in Jacmel. Moto traffic is heavy and traffic jams are common. Right-of-way is the reverse of the United States- the larger you are the more right-of-way you have. Pedestrians have none. Watch out if you are walking, especially since the sidewalks that exist are not up to standards you may be used to.

This is a young girl being assisted by an older girl at College Saint Louis run by Jenny Theodore. I was impressed at how the older children assisted the younger children at everything. This particular class had children from ages 4-11. The boy in the background reminded me a lot of many of my students.

This is taken from the balcony of the old Jakmel Ekspresyon building. We have a new building now and need to pay the rent!!

These are from knitting workshops at Vilaj Kariyb. It’s a beautiful oasis located in Jacmel. They have held workshops there including writing, poetry, and my knitting workshops. They are also working toward being a community arts center.

This is also in Jacmel. Wooden construction is uncommon. It is expensive, and much of Haiti has been deforested. Haiti would be an ideal place for growing bamboo since bamboo grows so quickly and is a useful, strong wood.

Thanks for looking. See you in a few weeks and don’t forget to support the arts by donating to Jakmel Ekspresyon. You will be able to see exactly where your money goes and the people you help directly.

How to Make Cheap Knitting Needles?


I’m going back to Haiti in about two weeks, and I’ll be teaching some more knitting workshops. I have so much I’d like to do before the trip including download French knitting videos and create a dvd, reprint my Knitting Basics zine, and make an advanced knitting zine. I also want to make some knitting needles to bring.

I received lots and lots of donations of yarn, so thanks everyone who donated. Unfortunately, I did not receive very many needles. I want to bring 30-50 pairs, and the least expensive run about $3.00 a set. I don’t really want to plunk down that much money, so I borrowed an idea from someone on Ravelry– make them out of chopsticks.

So I bought a pack of 50 pairs of chopsticks for $1.50. The problem is, I need to put something on the end to keep the yarn from falling off the back. My first idea was clay that air-drys. So I bought the only size container at Michaels which is way more than I need, for $11. The extra I’ll bring to my classroom. I think this will be too brittle when it drys, and won’t hold up. So it looks like my students will get a clay art project in the near future.

My next idea was wax, but my husband reminded me that it wouldn’t hold up well in Haiti. His idea was to slide a hex nut onto it and hold it on with a dab of wood glue. So I think we’ll stop by a hardware store today.

Do you have any other ideas? I want these to be reasonable and last for the people I’m giving them to.



Did you know Bill and Hillary Clinton went to Haiti on their honeymoon? Yes, it is now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and has been hit with multiple disasters in the last decade (hurricanes, earthquake, cholera epidemic), but my dream is that within my lifetime, Haiti will be restored in such a way that it will fulfill its potential, and become a tourist destination like so many countries nearby. I mean, just look at this tourism site for Jacmel!

Most Americans know about the Louisiana Purchase- Jefferson bought a bunch of land from France for a low price, pretty much doubling the size of the United States. Why did Napoleon sell it so cheaply? Partly because the slaves in the French colony of Haiti revolted and overthrew their captors. The Haitian Revolution, or the only successful slave revolt in history, gave the former Haitian slaves independence over their French colonists. Because of this, Napoleon lost money, people, and faith in expanding France’s kingdom. In need of money and uncertain of his country’s future, he decided to sell his territory to Jefferson, and at a great price. Unfortunately, this also bankrupted the newly created independent country of Haiti and it didn’t become prosperous.

So what now? There are many great organizations working in Haiti, but in my opinion, many of them harm as they help. For example, if an NGO (non-governmental organization) is willing to pay twice the normal rate of rent, why would a landlord rent to a Haitian for the previous going rate? This drives up prices throughout the country. And if an NGO is willing to provide free medical care, why would people go to local clinics and hospitals? If food and clothing are given away freely, why would people buy them? These actions cost Haitians jobs. This is not to say that starving and sick people with no money should be left to fend for themselves. However, it is something that should be taken into consideration. NGOs should work hand-in-hand with Haitians so that they can help to provide jobs rather than take their jobs.

Some of the best organizations that I have found that work together with local communities are: Partners in Health (medical care, worldwide), Kiva (microlending, worldwide), Zafen (microlending, Haiti).

Of course I must mention the organization run in part by me, and in a much bigger part by a handful of my friends, Jakmel Ekspresyons. This is an arts center, the only LGBT-friendly, and handicapped-friendly arts center in Haiti (to our knowledge). We are currently raising funds for rent for the next year. Rent is much higher than most people think because it skyrocketed after the earthquake when there were suddenly fewer buildings to rent and more people/agencies that wanted to rent them. Our IndieGoGo campaign details exactly what we are raising money for, and showcases our donor gifts! People in Haiti need not only food, shelter, and water. They also need creative outlets, and safe places to share their stories and their work.

This cyber Monday, please remember not only your friends and family, but also people worldwide (including Haiti) whose lives could change because of your generosity.

No appetite


Today I am sick. I knew I was sick when I woke up, but I went to work anyway for two reasons: First, I am paranoid that people will think I’m faking, and second, I was really excited about the science lesson I had planned for this afternoon. Unfortunately, I felt so awful I asked if I could leave around 11:30 and was able to. I don’t know who covered my classroom. Since this morning, I had about 6 ounces of yogurt with the last of my homemade granola, and a banana from the students’ universal breakfast program. It is 4:30. I have no appetite whatsoever. It is unfortunate because food usually brings me joy (but fortunate because my weight is a few pounds heavier at this point than ever before) but of course it got me thinking about Haiti.

Haiti is an amazing, beautiful country being strangled of its potential. It was once one of the richest nations in the Western Hemisphere, and is now the poorest. Because of its equatorial climate, there is no reason it should not be growing and exporting mango, avocado, bananas, plantain, and so much more. In Haiti, nothing beats fried plantain with avocado according to my palate. Unfortunately, due to many factors but mostly bureaucracy, Haiti lacks crop rotation, fertile soil, and a method of mass export. Unfortunately many Haitians may eat the amount of food I ate today, or less, and not be “un-hungry” like me, just might not have the means to get more.

I was in Haiti only for one short week, primarily to teach knitting basics and leave knitting materials with people who took my class. This is what happened on one of my toughest days there. I woke up early to teach knitting for 2 and a half hours at Vilaj Karyib in Jakmel. I quickly ate a Clif bar and drank some water before the class. I thought I would have plenty of time to stop back for lunch since this class ended at 11:30 and my afternoon class at Jakmel Ekspresyon started at 4. I stashed another Clif bar and some water in my bag, just in case.

When the first workshop was over, I met with a friend at Jakmel Ekspresyon to get the key for my afternoon workshop. She had the key and a small group of friends with her. We chatted for a bit, then realized there was no water at Jakmel Ekspresyon. The reservoir was empty, which necessitated calling a water truck. Many homes and businesses have running water, but it is not a constant supply. When the water runs out, you need to pay to get a refill. A Haitian friend called the water truck and the others left me there to wait for it. The truck was on the way.

An hour later, the water truck showed up. It took at least an hour to fill the reservoir due to the truck continuously stalling out and getting restarted. They started it the way one starts a lawnmower, with a pull cord, but this was a shoelace or some other string that they attached just before pulling each time. The truck resembled a clear cement mixer filled with water, with a hose that extended into the homes or businesses they refilled. They also kindly sprayed the walls and floor of the first floor, essentially pressure washing everything to the outside. This water is non-potable, but is used for flushing the toilet, cleaning, or washing hands. The water truck left, and it was a bit past 2:00pm.

Then the pipes started leaking. I searched for buckets but only found one already half full with soap. I used it anyway. I found two more as I emptied that one outside, but I couldn’t figure out why water wasn’t collecting in them. Oh, they had a large hole drilled into the bottom of them. The place was filled with about an inch of water, the water we just paid for, I had a class soon with at least one person on crutches and it was slippery! My Toms (not recommended for third world countries) were soaked. I called the co-director of Jakmel Ekspresyon and asked him to come help me. He got there in about 40 minutes and plugged the leak, which had slowed considerably in that time.

By this time, I was getting hungry (still, unlike today). Everything was finally taken care of, cleaned up, and it was about 3:30. The only bad thing was that I didn’t bring enough materials with me for this workshop since I had planned to stop home, but now I wouldn’t have time. I was about to eat my Clif bar before the two hour class. I had taken off my water-logged shoes and set them in the sun. I then looked up, and the first workshop participants was there. I didn’t feel as though I could eat in front of him, not knowing whether or not he was hungry, and I didn’t have another bar. I suppose I could have offered to split it, but he didn’t speak English, and I don’t speak French or Kreyol. He did get the message across that I could go ahead and start early, and two of his friends showed up soon after.

  Soon the class was full, and my belly was still empty. I felt like I was starving in a country that really knows what starvation is while I, and most Americans in my generation, have never actually encountered scarcity.