POUGHKEEPSIE, NY — Last month, nine representatives of the Vassar Haiti Project delivered to mountainous Chermaitre, Haiti, more than 5,000 items donated by individuals, organizations, and businesses from throughout the Hudson Valley. Contributions included 175 toothbrushes from Donna and Andrew Trimboli, 200 calculators from John Dux of IBM, a dozen soccer balls from Gold's Gym, to a large assortment of artist supplies from Catskill Art Supply, and a large quantity of school supplies from the children of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fishkill.
Founded in 2001, the Vassar Haiti Project's efforts have largely centered around an annual benefit sale and auction of Haitian paintings and handcrafts – to provide financial support to Chermaitre, and a market for Haitian artists (the next exhibition, sale, and auction will be held at Vassar College from Monday, April 7, through Sunday, April 13).
For Chermaitre, the project's earliest goal was to help pay for a hot daily meal for approximately 150 school children, and to supplement teachers' salaries. The initiative proved to resonate so strongly on the Vassar campus and in the larger community, that by 2005 the Vassar Haiti Project was able to begin setting funds aside for the construction of a new seven room school, to replace the village's one-room, windowless, dirt-floored building. To date, over $250,000 has been raised.
As in past years, the seventh annual Haitian Art Auction and Sale will kick off with an on-campus preview of paintings to be featured in the live auction, beginning on Monday, April 7, in Vassar's Palmer Gallery. Sales of artwork will begin Friday, April 11, and run through Sunday, April 13 in the College Center's Multipurpose Room. The live auction for a select group of paintings will be held on Saturday, April 12. All events are free and open to the public (and further details on time and location are below).
More than 300 original Haitian paintings, handcraft, hand painted silk scarves, and iron sculptures will be offered at this year's auction and sale, including works by Arijac, Carlo Jean Jacques, Seymour Bottex, Jolicoeur, Jean-Louis Senatus, Andre Blaise, Raymond Lafaille, Pierre Maxo, and Joseph Aderson. The majority of the items come from leading artists, gallery owners, and art dealers in Haiti, and the remainder is donations to the project, including from four estates
The estate of the recently deceased local arts advocate and Vassar alumna Julia Dunwell, who was an early and steadfast supporter of the Vassar Haiti Project, donated several Haitian paintings. In addition, the estate of Linda Morse, a USAID employee who had worked in Haiti, donated the majority of her Haitian art collection to the project. These collections have inspired interest and drawn attention to the Vassar Haiti Project from across the U.S. and abroad.
SUMMARY OF HAITIAN ART EXHIBITION, SALE, AND AUCTION
James W. Palmer Gallery, College Center
April 7-9: 11:00am - 7:00pm
Sale of Haitian Art and Handicrafts
Multipurpose Room, College Center
April 11: 12:00pm-7:00pm
April 12: 10:00pm-4:00pm
April 13: 10:00am-2:00pm
Live Auction of Haitian Art
Multipurpose Room, College Center
Saturday, April 12
Registration and preview: 2:00pm-4:00pm
Live auction: 4:00pm – 6:00pm
*Absentee and telephone bidding will be accepted via cellular phone (845-235-9967)
MORE ABOUT THE RECENT VASSAR HAITI PROJECT TRIP TO CHERMAITRE
The nine representatives of the Vassar Haiti Project stared in awe at the sight before them. It was early morning on Wednesday, March 12 and the group was about to undertake the steep, two-hour hike to the Haitian mountain village of Chermaitre. They had been told that villagers would gladly meet them at road's end to carry up the suitcases, duffle bags and knap sacks loaded with almost 1,000 pounds of clothing, and educational and medical supplies. What the travelers did not expect to see were several young schoolgirls nonchalantly hoist these bags over their heads and bound with nary a complaint up the hill.
When asked about this amazing feat, the group's host in Haiti, Reverend Noe Bernier, said, "In Haiti, hospitality means to give freely everything of yours to your guests. What you see as incredible, these children whom you have come far to visit see as their pleasure, the least they can do." Vassar sophomore Emily Strasser said, "That puts things in perspective. Without any bags, even those of us in shape were sweating, out of breath and guzzling our water."
Under the guidance of registered nurse, Deb Hillard, the Vassar Haiti Project team also helped conduct basic medical evaluations on nearly 300 children in Chermaitre. "Haiti was the experience of a lifetime, absolutely profound," said Hillard afterward. The group observed and slept inside the nearly completed new primary school building, and engaged village leaders in fruitful dialogue about what they saw next for Chermaitre.
The village's top priority was quickly identified - ready access to potable water. Water is currently obtained by walking a half-mile downhill with a bucket, filling it up with water, and returning uphill to the village. Also high on the list was a commitment to reforest the nearby barren hills with fruit trees and coffee, which would boost both the food supply and cash flow into the village. School leaders expressed a desire to add grades 7, 8 and 9 as well as a technical school that would teach marketable skills.
Accompanying Vassar Haiti Project cochairs Lila and Andrew Meade, and visiting Haiti for the first time, were Vassar freshman Raluca Besliu, sophomore Emily Strasser, junior Grace Tan, and senior Ken Simons. Registered nurse Deb Hillard, nutrition consultant Cary Halle, and volunteer Greg Flaherty were also first time visitors. Upon returning to the U.S., Flaherty declared, "I want to go back!," echoing the sentiments of the entire group.
MORE ABOUT THE VASSAR HAITI PROJECT
Haiti, an impoverished nation struggling for political stability, and with a desperate need to rebuild its decaying infrastructure, has found art to be one its few viable exports. The Vassar Haiti Project has discovered that not only is there is a growing market for Haitian art, but also that the art is a powerful tool for educating people about the indomitable spirit, fierce pride, and steadfast dignity of the Haitian people. Hundreds of people every year seek out one of the project's art sales, and co-chairs Lila and Andrew Meade regularly field purchase requests, questions, and offers of support from around the world.
The Vassar Haiti Project is a collaborative volunteer effort, which through its art sales and outreach programs builds understanding of Haitian culture and society. Buoyed by over 100 volunteer students and community members, and fueled by partnership and community support, the project has raised over $250,000 since 2002, and welcomes new opportunities to collaborate.
Vassar Haiti Project co-chairs, wife and husband Lila and Andrew Meade, both have strong Haitian connections. Andrew Meade lived in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince in the 1970s, when his father was chief of operations at the U.S. Embassy. Lila Meade's mother lived in Haiti for a period, and stil has family there.