Soulaje Lespri Moun Presents at the American Psychological Association Convention in DC


Roger Noel and Jacques Solon Jean of the Soulaje Lespri Moun Project at the APA Convention in DC

by Leah James

In early August, Roger Noel and Jacques Solon Jean joined me (Leah James) in Washington DC to give a presentation at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. Our talk focused on the development, implementation, and evaluation of Soulaje Lespri Moun (SLM – Relief for the Spirit), a lay mental health worker project housed by the AFD.  Roger, the project manager, Solon, the project psychologist, and I have worked closely over the past year and a half with a dedicated team of Ajan Sante Mantal (lay mental health workers) to provide coping skills seminars for residents of camps for internally displaced peoples (IDP camps) in Port-au-Prince.  The Ajan have worked in 7 camps, with nearly a thousand residents, providing education about natural disaster safety and common responses to stress and trauma, and teaching relaxation techniques and other coping strategies. Participants in the seminars are given exams, and if they pass, receive certificates. They are then prepared to run their own support groups for other camp residents. This model allow for time- and cost-efficient dissemination of information.   We have also found that for camp residents to re-engage with their own stressful and traumatizing situation with new skills and in a helping role has therapeutic properties in itself.

Roger and Solon working with a group of camp residence at Carradeux

Our presentation was very well-received, and we met many interested and enthusiastic people. Although thirteen thousand people from all over the world attended the conference, Roger and Solon were the only attendees from Haiti and were honored to represent their country and the AFD. They were always surrounded by curious people asking them about their experiences and expertise. In addition to our main presentation, we were also asked to give a conversation hour for Division 56 (the trauma division) of the APA. Roger and Solon had been awarded funding from Division 56 and from the APA’s International Office – we were very thankful for their support and warm reception. We now have many new friends and collaborators, including two Haitian-American doctoral students.

The trip was not entirely business – this was Roger and Solon’s first visit to the US, so we were sure to do plenty of sightseeing as well. We visited the White House, the Washington Monument, the Natural History museum, saw a 3-D showing of Captain America, and ate as many different kinds of food as we could find. Solon’s favorite was burritos, while Roger liked sushi and Ethiopian food.  A successful trip on all accounts!

Note: Presentations about SLM have also been accepted at the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) in Baltimore and the Caribbean Regional Conference of Psychology in the Bahamas, both in November 2011.

Jacques Solon Jean, Roger Noel, and Leah James at the APA Convention in DC


On My Return

photo 1997©Jennifer Cheek Pantaléon


By Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Haiti’s devastating earthquake in January last year destroyed up to 5,000 schools and 80% of the country’s already weak university infrastructure. The primary school in Port-au-Prince that I attended as a small boy collapsed with more than 200 students inside. The weight of the state nursing school killed 150 future nurses. The state medical school was levelled. The exact number of students, teachers, professors, librarians, researchers, academics and administrators lost during those 65 seconds that irrevocably changed Haiti will never be known. But what we do know is that it cannot end there.

The exceptional resilience demonstrated by the Haitian people during and after the deadly earthquake reflects the intelligence and determination of parents, especially mothers, to keep their children alive and to give them a better future, and the eagerness of youth to learn – all this despite economic challenges, social barriers, political crisis, and psychological trauma. Even though their basic needs have increased exponentially, their readiness to learn is manifest. This natural thirst for education is the foundation for a successful learning process: what is freely learned is best learned.

Of course, learning is strengthened and solidified when it occurs in a safe, secure and normal environment. Hence our responsibility to promote social cohesion, democratic growth, sustainable development, self-determination; in short, the goals set forth for this new millennium. All of which represent steps towards a return to a better environment.

Education has been a top priority since the first Lavalas government – of which I was president – was sworn into officeunder Haiti’s amended democratic constitution on 7 February 1991 (and removed a few months later). More schools were built in the 10 years between 1994, when democracy was restored, and 2004 – when Haiti’s democracy was once again violated – than between 1804 to 1994: one hundred and ninety-five new primary schools and 104 new public high schools constructed and/or refurbished.

The 12 January earthquake largely spared the Foundation for Democracy I founded in 1996. Immediately following the quake, thousands accustomed to finding a democratic space to meet, debate and receive services, came seeking shelter and help. Haitian doctors who began their training at the foundation’s medical school rallied to organised clinics at the foundation and at tent camps across the capital. They continue to contribute tirelessly to the treatment of fellow Haitians who have been infected by cholera. Their presence is a pledge to reverse the dire ratio of one doctor for every 11,000 Haitians.

Youths, who through the years have participated in the foundation’s multiple literacy programmes, volunteered to operate mobile schools in these same tent camps. In partnership with a group from the University of Michigan in the US, post-traumatic counselling sessions were organised and university students trained to help themselves and to help fellow Haitians begin the long journey to healing. A year on, young people and students look to the foundation’s university to return to its educational vocation and help fill the gaping national hole left on the day the earth shook in Haiti.

Will the deepening destabilising political crisis in Haiti prevent students achieving academic success? I suppose most students, educators and parents are exhausted by the complexity of such a dramatic and painful crisis. But I am certain nothing can extinguish their collective thirst for education.

The renowned American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote that “we learn geology the morning after the earthquake”. What we have learned in one long year of mourning after Haiti’s earthquake is that an exogenous plan of reconstruction – one that is profit-driven, exclusionary, conceived of and implemented by non-Haitians – cannot reconstruct Haiti. It is the solemn obligation of all Haitians to join in the reconstruction and to have a voice in the direction of the nation.

As I have not ceased to say since 29 February 2004, from exile in Central Africa, Jamaica and now South Africa, I will return to Haiti to the field I know best and love: education. We can only agree with the words of the great Nelson Mandela, that indeed education is a powerful weapon for changing the world.

(this piece was originally published in the Guardian on February 4, 2011, you can see the original here)

Youth Leadership in Haiti

On Wednesday February 3, more than seven hundred young people gathered at the Aristide Foundation for Democracy to launch the Aristide-Lavalas Youth league  (Ligue de la Jeunesse Aristido-Lavalasse).  The goal of the Youth League is to bring young people together to vitalize Haiti’s democracy and to initiate service projects to help their communities in the fields of education and health.

Each department of Haiti was represented by a delegation of 10-12 young people all of whom made the long trip to Port-au-Prince because they want to contribute to the building of a participatory democracy in Haiti.   Early in the morning of Feb 2, these departmental youth delegations met for a four-hour discussion/ workshop in the conference room of the AFD to share perspectives, brainstorm ideas, and create an orientation for the new organization.  Pyschologist Wladimir Constant facilitated this dialogue titled, “The Leadership of the Young.”

Toussaint Hilaire, director of the AFD addresses the youth delegates

For the second stage of the event the delegations came downstairs, and onto the stage of the auditorium, where they were welcomed with thunderous applause by over 700 other young people from the department of the West (Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas), who gathered in the auditorium to welcome the national delegates and to officially launch this Youth League.

Much of the organizing to launch the Youth League was done by young UNIFA graduates together with the leadership of the Foundation.   These young doctors who began their medical training at UniFA before the 2004 coup d’etat, and then finished their training in Cuba, are now back in Haiti and have been central to all the AFD’s efforts to assist in the wake of the earthquake.   This initiative also builds on the Foundation’s efforts over the past year to empower young people to be at the forefront of service in wake of the quake (though mobile clinics staffed by young doctors, mobile schools staffed by young high school and college graduates, and our youth-led mental health project Soulaje Lespri Moun, and the the reopening of UNIFA ).

Youth Delegates on the stage at the AFD, Feb. 2, 2011

The launching of this youth league represents the determination of all the young people who have came together on February 3, to offer their energy, creativity, and vitality towards a new Haiti.

Rose Yvica Roche Volcy and Yves Merry Stuart Roche were the MC’s for the ceremony in the auditorium.   Hancy Pierre Louis, professor of economics and former Vice Governor of the Central Bank, gave a presentation on Haiti’s economy.

Hancy Pierre Louis addressing the Youth League

Wladimir Constant, spoke again on the centrality of youth leadership, and Toussaint Hilaire, the Director of the Arsitide Foundation spoke about the importance of youth gaining confidence in themselves through service to the country and offered perspectives on the kinds of civic and service projects the Youth League might undertake, such as literacy programs for adults, and educational projects for children who are not in school.

Joseph Marc Anderson, a youth representative then spoke on behalf of the league and presented its charter to those present.

A cultural presentation by Kolonb Dor, the youth troupe of the Aristide Foundation followed.

We look forward to seeing this new organization evolve and flourish.  Only Haitians can rebuild Haiti.

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