Holiday Reinhorn, Co-Founder of Lidè
I go to Lidè because it prepares the place inside me for magic to happen.
–Claudna, Age 11, approx.
Lidè collaborates directly with the rural communities it serves, providing literacy training, scholarships, internships and mentorship opportunities to its participants. Through Lidè, girls from isolated rural villages gain access to improved medical care and are served fresh meals prepared by local women in the host communities.
Now in its second year of operation, Lidè works in six locations in the Artibonite region where it reaches over 500 girls.
When we founded a program for adolescent girls in one of the most impoverished regions of rural Haiti people asked us three questions: Why Haiti? Why adolescent girls? Why the arts?
It is one of the most beautiful, ravaged, complicated, inspiring places on earth and its people literally steal your heart, promising you that your vision about what the world could and should be will never be the same.
No human being can ever “unsee” Haiti and no human being should ever have to undergo the injustices and poverty that the majority of Haitians live with every day, especially Haitian girls. In our American world of creature comforts that lie virtually at our fingertips, it’s hard to conceive of.
In 2009, my husband and I visited three grassroots Haitian schools and decided to dedicate our time to helping support sustainable rural education in the Artibonite Valley, one of the country’s poorest regions. Three months later the earthquake hit. The hotel where we’d stayed collapsed, hundreds of thousands were dead, a million people were homeless and the country was in ruins.
The situation was beyond our conception, yet Haiti kept calling us back.
Six months later, I heard about a U.N. sponsored program that was looking for a creative writing teacher, a photographer, a visual artist and an actor to come teach the arts to a group of adolescent girls in a displacement camp in Port-au-Prince.
That seems kind of crazy doesn’t it? we thought. Isn’t food and shelter the greater priority?
But we took the opportunity. Art was what we had to offer in this circumstance and the experience changed our lives.
In a 20×20 tent we gathered for two solid weeks, 40 women and girls dripping sweat, up to our knees in mud, shrouded in a fog of mosquitoes, with a horde of male onlookers catcalling outside the windows, writing and painting and taking photographs across a language barrier, with only art as our common vocabulary and I’m not exaggerating when I say we were shocked by the profound transformation in all of us.
My husband and I were reminded of what the purpose of art was in the first place. Not just a pastime of self-expression, but an intangible communal force, binding people to themselves and to each other in profound and unforeseeable ways and under any condition; because when we can imagine, we can progress.
For a year, the girls continued to meet and offer what they learned to their peers in the camps and to younger girls and the seeds of our program were planted.
What would you call yourselves going forward we asked, and they answered it easily, as they still do when we meet with them now, six years later, as they continue on with their lives with a renewed sense of inner strength, returning to middle school, high school and vocational school, some of them on scholarships Lidè has offered them.
We are leaders.
WHY ADOLESCENT GIRLS?
Whenever this question arises, I always say that Claudna is the living answer. An orphan and indentured servant, Claudna appeared one day at one of our most remote Lidè sites, bearing a radiant smile, a dangerously thin frame, a torn dress and ratty boys’ tennis shoes that were at least three sizes too big.
In her first improvisation exercise, Claudna mimed butchering a chicken with an invisible machete using such precise accuracy that it made teacher, Elie Rigodon, gasp.
“She knows way too much, he said, “about only work.”
Unsure of when she’d last eaten or of her exact age, Claudna begged to be able to attend Lidè classes and we welcomed her, as she is the exact demographic of at least a third of the adolescent girls we serve: Girls just coming into their teen years, who if we do not intervene now with some form of informal educational support, will live their lives in illiteracy and will know nothing but abject, back-breaking labor, sexual exploitation, early, unplanned pregnancy, a life spent cooking scraps over a charcoal fire, carrying water over huge distances in blistering heat, and an early death.
As in Claudna’s case, there are countless obstacles to a girl getting an education in Haiti, especially a rural girl. Mostly, it has to do with being born female. In Haiti, women are called the Poto mitan, “the tent pole of the home, the support, the necessary structural element, the entity that holds everything up.” And this is literally true.
As a Haitian colleague said to me recently: “Girls in Haiti are like little adults, especially the adolescents. The only difference is they do more of the work than the adults do and have zero rights.”
In Haiti, adolescent girls are responsible for nearly everything. Cooking for all the adults and extended family members in a household, carrying water jugs that are heavier than they are, selling merchandise in the market, taking care of local village babies, tending to all the washing and ironing and if it becomes too expensive or difficult for a family to feed a girl, even considering all the labor they provide, the girls are often sold to another family, in exchange for a promise, a promise that more often than not goes unkept. The promise of free labor in exchange for school.
WHY THE ARTS?
To collaborate on a community level for the long term as Lidè does however; to help rural girls have consistent access to quality learning and education, and to achieve success; we first have to look at what bars them from the classroom in the first place and extend a bridge over this terrible gap.
We take the hand of someone like Claudna and accompany her, not just on her educational journey, but to help her recognize and harness the inner-strength she already possesses, empowering her to use these gifts to create a better quality of life for herself and for her peers.
In Haiti, one of the largest obstacles standing in the way of most girls is documentation. The majority of births in Haiti are at home and the distance and cost both to travel to the nearest city and to come up with the registration fee is prohibitive for most families. Yet, without an official birth certificate you cannot be admitted to school or vocational training. Lidè collaborates with local families, to assist with both travel stipends and funds to help families register their daughters for school.
Often distance itself can be the problem, as the nearest school can be over ten miles away, or simply too overcrowded to allow the addition of any new students.
At the majority of our locations, Lidè offers support by bringing a mobile classroom to the community, so that literacy classes will be available where a brick and mortar school is not. We also offer the option of both morning and afternoon sessions, so that girls who have to work during those hours will not miss out.
But mostly in Haiti, it is the weakness of the educational system itself that is the problem, driven by short-term exploitative administration, a complete lack of infrastructure and exorbitant fees; the high cost of literally, every single thing.
Education may be considered “free” on paper in Haiti, but culturally the incidentals are shockingly expensive, even by US standards. Handmade uniforms, lace anklets and patent leather shoes, textbooks, and testing fees at the end of each academic year that can be astronomical (US$250 or more) interrupting year-to-year progress, if not progress all together.
Add to this, the fact that many teachers in rural areas do not have more than a sixth grade equivalency and are not currently being paid by the Ministry of Education, so they simply stop showing up, leaving families responsible for paying fees for an empty classroom.
At Lidè, therefore, it becomes our job in each individual case to fill the gap, in any and every way we can. Offering accelerated learning options to girls in their teens, who have been aged out of primary education and now must be brought up to speed before it is too late and they become mothers who cannot recognize numbers or recite the alphabet.
Lidè is dedicated to girls like Claudna, and truthfully to every single girl we meet in the complicated, inspiring, heart-wrenching and complex tapestry of Haiti. For girls like Claudna, who had never been asked what she found beautiful in the world, or what made her laugh, or even her favorite color or flower. For girls like Claudna, whose true birthright on this planet should be the gift of learning and not a life sentence of toil and desperate survival, living solely hand to mouth.
These are girls whose souls, just like Claudna’s, are perfectly unique; filled with dreams and ambition and poetry and a voice that deserves to be heard, no matter how many floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, economic disasters or abuses of poverty may try to drown it out.
At Lidè, we are not setting out to train professional artists (though some certainly have the aptitude) what we are doing instead is using the arts as a tool to ignite the imagination and inspire personal empowerment. For if you do not recognize that you have a self in the first place, how on earth can you ever express it?
I think this poem Claudna recently wrote describes it best, as held within her lines is the most precious resource any of us can ever possess. Hope.
The sky loves everyone If the Sky could speak, Sky looks at the camera and wants to take a If the Sky could speak to me, If Sky had hands,
you are beautiful and fresh
I love you.
the kids on earth and all the plants,
and trees and fruits
it would tell us to love every person in every
You are looking at the houses of people
and you cannot speak with them
picture, but the Sky does not have hands.
I would ask Sky for a notebook, a book, and
I would ask for a star.
I would also like an avocado
So I could plant one seed
to grow a tree and feed the people in the
I would ask it to give me a passionfruit, a
banana, and a papaya.
The sky loves everyone
If the Sky could speak,
Sky looks at the camera and wants to take a
If the Sky could speak to me,
If Sky had hands,