|ChildsPlay Internationall has returned from Haiti, helping to create a Festival of Games and Imagination. Steven Watson, Sarwar Mushtaq and Denise Davies filmed and photographed and conducted interviews; Angelo Ciottii came to Haiti to create an environmental work, with a children’s play space as its center. The events were staged close to Jacmel, a city of about 25,000 people, on the southern coast of Haiti. This area was chosen because of connections to Didier Civil, who conducts a school which is primarily devoted to the arts.
We four from ChildsPlay Internationall (CPI) lived in a small room in a concrete house. It is the home of Didier Civil and also his school, Jacmel Lumiere Artistique. Didier, a renowneds Haitian mask-maker was the main organizer, on the ground, for the events.
Prior to our arrival, CPI sent many art supplies (acrylic paint, colored pencils, brushes, paper, sculpting tools, etc.). We brought with us 3 used laptop computers, 4 small video cameras, more paper, etc. We also sent money to help pay for teachers / mentors to help with teaching. Didier’s house / school is flexible. The rooms can be a studio for masks, a dining room, whatever is necessary. Simple small chairs are every where, wood legs with thatched seats, on the porch and in the small fields outside.
The first workshop for mask-making took place in a small field next to the school / house. A half-dozen of Didier’s helpers brought chairs and cinder blocks and masonite boards, assembled in a large circle. The cinder block was the table and the masonite provided the individual working area. In the center was a huge pile of clay and recycled paper. The children who trouped up the road, unaccompanied by parents, were about 7 to 14 years of age, roughly divided between boys and girls. At first there were about 50, and then dozens more. I thought it looked like a potential nightmare for a teacher to control (and Denise, who has taught, felt the same). We were wrong. Everyone sat quietly, ready for Didier’s instructions. They listened and followed, making forms from clay—primarily faces, but also functional bowls. In the second stage of work, they covered the clay forms with strips of re-cycled paper and glue. Didier’s helpers, mostly men in their early twenties, worked constantly with the children, for they had previously learned the process from Didier. Cooperation is part of the social contract, and direct payment is seemingly not a part of it.
The last two days of the Festival of Games and Imagination took place in a local school, Ecole National Bremen, both inside and outside, with about 100 children. Children painted the masks that they had made. Masks were also made using plaster of paris bandages directly on the face. Children drew pictures with colored pencils. Both boys and girls in older and younger age groups played soccer outside on a level area. In a large classroom there were traditional children’s games of singing and dancing in a circle (usually there were two children in the center, and the dancers constantly changed). In addition, a dance teacher taught several girls in specific steps, resembling folkloric ballet. A dozen children performed a scripted theater piece (about 10 minutes) dramatizing the Haiti earthquake in 2010, where many died and houses crumbled. The children fell to the ground, first for the earthquake, then for the aftermath, and cried Hallelujah!
The final event was giving certificates to all the students / participants, each signed by Jacmel Lumiere Artistique founder Didier Civil, and ChildsPlay International, via Steven Watson.
All of the events were documented in photos and video. This included interviews with children and teachers. In addition to Sarwar Mushtaq and Denise Davies, CPI employed Marco, a graduate of Institute Cine Jacmel (the only film school in Haiti).
CHALLENGES AND WHAT WE LEARNED:
- Communication was difficult via telephone and internet. Ideally, we would have gone ahead of time to plan face-to-face. This would have solved problems about schedules for the participants (school time, etc.)
- Buying art supplies which were not available in Haiti, and shipping them, and paying customs resulted in huge extra payment. (Roughly, twice the amount of the supplies purchased). Lesson learned: When possible, purchase supplies within the country, with plenty of time.
NEXT STEPS for CPI:
- CPI will help to support more play activities (both games and imagination) in Haiti, mostly through advice, connecting to specific groups in Haiti.
- CPI will encourage filmed interviews by local videographers with elders, whose knowledge of the past is important.
- Using the materials sent to Jacmel, Didier Civil and his school will continue with activities, especially related to art-making.
- Angelo Ciotti will continue to plan an environmental space in Jacmel, with help from local authorities.
View photos from Didier Civil in Haiti