Director of International Services Andrew Meade and his wife Lila both have roots in Haiti, and in 2001 they began speaking with members of the Vassar community about ways to help the Caribbean nation overcome such daunting circumstances as 98% deforestation, 70% illiteracy, and 50% unemployment. The idea of rallying around Chermaitre—a mountain village unreachable by road—gained the greatest attention, particularly to improve the remote locale’s educational resources. With this vision the all-volunteer Vassar Haiti Project (VHP) was born.
The VHP has raised more than $1,000,000 since 2001. The money has gone to extraordinarily good use. Since its inception the group has been funding a lunch program and teacher salaries at the primary school in Chermaitre, which serves 275 children. VHP’s first capital initiative was to fund the construction of a new seven-room school building, which was completed in 2008. The VHP has also built a new health clinic, which serves Chermaitre and six surrounding villages; given residents far easier access to clean drinking water; and worked a reforestation project—critical to the country’s ability to achieve sustainability in the long-term. In 2010, 5,000 fruit and lumber trees were planted; first harvests are expected in 2015.
The engines of this success have been sales and auctions at Vassar (and elsewhere in both in the Hudson Valley region and beyond) of original Haitian paintings and handcrafts, with proceeds boosting both Chermaitre and Haitian artists desperate for a marketplace. The next Vassar sale and auction will be the thirteenth annual, running from Friday, April 4, through Sunday, April 6, in the College Center Multi-purpose Room on the second floor of Main Building. On Friday, the sale will run from noon-8 pm, with an opening reception at 5 pm. On Saturday, April 5, the sale will be open from 10 am – 6 pm, including a live auction running from 3-5pm (preview starts at 1 pm). Christine Tyson, who has herself traveled to Haiti, will be at the helm of the auction. On Sunday the sale will be open 10 am – 2 pm. Four hundred original paintings will be offered as well as thousands of handcrafts, including hand painted silk scarves and iron sculptures.
Since founding the non-profit project Lila and Andrew Meade have also made several trips to Chermaitre, bringing with them Vassar students and other volunteers from the Hudson Valley area. Their experiences are also reported through the Vassar Haiti Project blog (http://blogs.vassar.edu/haitiproject/). This year the history of the project will be chronicled in a photography exhibition in the Palmer Gallery of Main Building. The show, “13 Years of the Vassar Haiti Project,” will be on view Sunday, March 30 through Thursday, April 3. The Palmer show will also feature some of the works to be featured in the live auction.
“Our work in Chermaitre is as important as ever, as are our efforts to teach students the concepts of global citizenship through their work in VHP.” remarked Andrew Meade. “Our biggest challenge now is to seek ways to grow through grant opportunities and other external sources of funding so that we can maximize our impact in both areas.”
Cindy Fung, the project’s first post-baccalaureate fellow echoes this. "VHP has transformed over the past few years, and the organization is reaching a point where a stronger, more stable infrastructure is needed in order to ensure that our Haiti operations run smoothly, and students here continue to thrive in their work.” Fung’s work is focused on helping to build this organizational infrastructure.
“The project is shaped by motivated individuals who benefit from lessons in global citizenship,” said student president Dip Patel, a senior at Vassar. “Students are given the opportunity and support to turn their ideas into a reality: be it organizing a creative fundraising event at Vassar or building a clinic in Chermaitre.”
Some of the artists whose work will be included in the upcoming sale and auction include Joseph Aderson, Raymond Beauduy, Albott Bonhomme, Reynald Joseph, Raymond Lafaille, Jean Laguerre, Fritzner Lamour, Eric Jean Louis, Pierre Maxo, Makenol Profil, Serge Pierre, and Yosephat Tissaint. Their art and other works can be previewed through the Vassar Haiti Project website (http://thehaitiproject.org).
“The outpouring of support over these past 13 years show the best of our global village,” noted Lila Meade. "We look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones at this year’s sale and auction, sharing in Haiti’s beauty through the art of its people."
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