I’ve just returned from Haiti on a fact-finding mission as part of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Task Force on Haiti. My mind is whirling with images, moments of beauty and devastation, anguish and joy, despair and hope. I am overwhelmed by the immense destructive power of nature, yet also the limitless power of love and passion for this island nation. In the midst of such devastation, these extraordinary people have turned to their spiritual essence and creative strength. The past, present and future collide in Haiti in ways that both inspire and sadden me.
My CGI fellow task force members, Greg Milne and Walker Morris coordinated this exploratory journey. Joey Adler, founder of Onexone, and her associate Joanne Maislin were also on this fact-finding trip. UZ’s Creative Director, Sonja Nuttall and my Chief-of-Staff Marni Lewis accompanied me as did my Nomad2 partner in crime, photographer Russell James and his right hand, Adam Franzino. We joined together on this journey in search of possibilities to preserve the culture of Haiti through sustainable models for art and commerce.
On the first day of this journey, I was nervous and excited having no idea what to expect, but I felt secure traveling with other members of Clinton’s task force. The itinerary they created was so extraordinary and comprehensive.
Our journey took us to a field covered with tents and makeshift housing. This experience made me think back to February when Hope Help Relief Haiti was launched with UZ’s partners, Andre Balazs, Mary J. Blige and Andre Harrell. By connecting and collaborating, HHRH raised more than a million dollars allowing UZ to purchase tents that provided 7000 Haitians with temporary housing.
As I stood surrounded by these tents with Sonja Nuttall, who returned to Haiti for her second visit since the earthquake, we were overcome with appreciation for the profound impact HHRH has had on these lives and yet deeply sadden by so much work that still lies ahead. In the midst of this tent city, what I saw was utterly unbelievable and unacceptable. If I stand alone, it’s impossible. But by collaborating with others such as the Clinton Global Initiative and Hope Help Relief Haiti, change is possible. I now see clearly that the Haitian relief efforts cannot be a snapshot in time. True relief is a much bigger picture, huge in scope, and Urban Zen and I are committed to sustainable solutions for Haiti in the present and in the long run.
Sonja and I would like to share some of the most poignant and inspiring moments of our fact-finding trip. Let us share with you the indomitable spirit of these people and the beauty of the island. Nowhere else have I witnessed the visible love of community so evident in the smiles and laughter of Haiti’s children. See where bamboo becomes art and a bit of paper and paint is transformed into an object of beauty that represents the richness of Haitian culture. Witness the fearless compassion of relief workers and caregivers as well as the visionary philanthropists who make this work possible. Through Sonja’s lens, please join me on what has become a life-altering experience, a journey of relief and rebuilding, by donating to Urban Zen’s Hope Help Relief Haiti initiative.
VISITING TO ARTISAN GALLERIES IN JACMEL
- We headed straight to the heart of Jacmel, the island’s preeminent artists’ colony – a critical site for their fact-finding mission to explore the potential of creating a sustainable model of art and commerce. Jacmel was endlessly inspiring.
- The brilliant colors and endless variety of texture appealed to Donna as she listened to artists sharing their passion for handcrafted artistry passed down through generations.
- Past, present and future collide in the midst of destruction. Tires, tin cans, broken stone and twisted metal take on form and function. Beauty rises again as Haitians create art from rubble or what insiders call Deconstructed Art.
TOUR OF RICHARD COLES’ MANUFACTURING FACTORY
- Donna finds Haiti’s Seventh Avenue in PAP as she and the Clinton Task Force visit a local textile factory. Clothing production is just one area of opportunity to create a model of sustainability for the Haitian people.
- Finding sewing machines in the middle of a tropical island was second nature for Donna. Feeling optimistic for Haiti’s true potential for future growth within the textile community, Donna shares her humor and appreciation with the local garment workers.
- The refined artistry of the Haitian culture and the strength of its people are made visible in these handcrafted metal sculptures and furnishings. Twisted and hammered metal transforms into furniture, house wares and jewelry, creating yet another opportunity for sustainability.
- Caribbean Craft is one of the island’s largest commercial production companies, employing many of the local artists to produce retail
products for international marketing. This existing model of sustainability was received with appreciation from UZ and the Clinton Task Force members.
CHILDREN’S SHELTER IN CROIX DES BOUQUETS
- Our hearts were both filled and broken as we visited orphaned children relocated from the destruction of PAP to this clean
, quiet, beautiful shelter created by Partners in Health. Hope and happiness are now possible thanks to the efforts of Paul Farmer and his invaluable Partners in Health.
MARYSE NEW SCHOOL
- The empowerment of children was so evident at these two schools. Seeing these smiling faces, it was inspiring to see children fortunate enough to have the opportunity of an education.
- Cine Institute Founder, David Belle has created this organization to teach Haitians the art of filmmaking. Equipping students with camera and technique, 27 young Haitian filmmakers will celebrate their talent and efforts at next year’s Cine Film Festival, showcasing the cinematic efforts of these students who will continue to document and create Haitian-themed film.
TOUR OF FAMILY-OWNED BAMBOO MANUFACTURING SITE
- Reminiscent of Bali’s teak furniture, Donna is very excited about the possibilities of handcrafted bamboo furniture. Artisans discussed their process from planting and harvesting bamboo to crafting and finishing with Donna as she admired their work.
- An ideal model for sustainability, Donna and the Clinton Task Force viewed where the bamboo is planted, cultivated, cut and made into these beautiful pieces of furniture and baskets.
- Always in search of the calm within the chaos, Donna and Sonja wake early to find a vista of pristine nature. Silence is broken only by singing birds and villagers shouting from one hilltop to another.
- The people and the recovery honor the pristine beauty of this island. Surrounded by such meditative beauty, the cultural richness of Haiti seems to rise from the very foundation of the island, its land.
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR JOURNEY: HEALING ON THE PLANE
- Donna introduced the Clinton Task Force on Haiti members to the balancing calmness of Reiki in preparation of the journey ahead. Donna is very hopeful to bring a team of UZITs to Haiti to share these therapies with relief workers who so courageously deserve such treatment.
- Wellbeing was the focus of our impromptu visit to this medical clinic. Amputees, children, elderly and infirmed are among the fortunate Haitians receiving medical care provided by a German non-profit organization.
TOUR OF PORT-AU-PRINCE
-PAP is still the Haitian hub of commerce and activity. The group was encouraged to see so much activity while visiting marketplaces and factories.
VISIT TO CITE SOLEIL
-Urban Zen’s participation in HHRH provided more than 7,000 Haitians with Shelterbox’s tents. As Donna stood in the midst of this tent city, she was overwhelmed by the work that still lies ahead. “Only by collaborating with others like the Clinton Global Initiative and Hope Health Relief Haiti, is change possible.