This is an excerpt from the blog of Martin Chenier-Dumais, son of Fr Jean Chenier-Dumais (head priest of the Orthodox Mission in Haiti), and the seminarian FFA donors partially helped with his seminary studies in Paris. This past summer Martin returned to Haiti and looked at things with new eyes. Here are some of his observations.
"I had a fascinating meeting at the end of August. A little girl fascinated by spiritual singing and the French language. She lives with her parents south of Port-au-Prince, in the city of Léogâne. Her name is Beltude. She's a beautiful 12-year-old girl. With her slender build, she has smooth, glistening black skin and beautiful black eyes that illuminate her face. I was struck to see a child singing this much. Besides, she takes school very seriously. When it comes to defend herself, which often happens to her, this child is able to handle words until you get exhausted.
Every time I think to myself that she would be a perfect lawyer if she had the opportunity to finish school. I was also touched by the fact that she had not succeeded, no matter how student-like she was, one of her school evaluations. So, she obviously fought back from start to finish. I learned then that she was suffering from the heart.
Her parents don't have enough money to send her to the hospital and get to know exactly what she has. She still had to see a doctor at a crucial time last year and stay home for a month to take the few medications her parents had bought.
I went to her house. To my surprise, she and her parents are still living in a shelter made up of pieces of planks and old tarpaulins distributed by USAID since the January 12,2010 earthquake that destroyed their homes. Surprisingly, when you see this in front of you, you simply can’t believe it! This family in the very place where it was, however, is not the only one in such miserable conditions.
I made several round trips to Léogâne. I was able to become much more familiar with this up-and-coming singer. And then I saw a video of the little girl singing something. It's not amazing for French ears. She's not a gifted person either. But what surprised me was the story of the song told by the girl's grandmother:
"That day, we went to the mountain to pray. And she sang with everyone. After the prayer, she continued singing alone. And a musician approached him and offered to accompany her with his guitar. He said, "Follow the rhythm of the guitar." And Beltude started singing. With nothing in her hands. Without thinking. She was on the beat, and it was so impressive that we took the video.”
I didn't immediately understand what she was trying to tell me. But I saw the video again, and she told me the story with the same enthusiasm. By paying a little attention to it, because I had to show her that I cared about what she told me, I ended up asking her a couple of questions. And that's when I understood her enthusiasm. Actually, the girl wasn't just singing in the video, she was composing. The guitarist set her a rhythm, she assimilated it and put words on it, her own words thought of at the very moment they are said. I'm not a music lover at all, but I find that extraordinary.
The song was obviously in Haitian. The words used and the images chosen by Beltude are of her age. They refer to the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt and their salvation accomplished by God. But they refer up-to-date in her life to the abuse of children in general in Haiti, and to the experience of the whip she has with her parents. Also, God has delivered her, and if it wasn't for Him, she would have been "toupizi". At first, when I saw the video, it was impossible for me to move forward and finish watching it because the word "toupizi" is so strange in this place and in the song. I was just laughing, tt was fun. Following the now understood grandmother's story, I was astonished to see, through the innocent expression of a child singing the glory of God, the place taken in the child's unconscious, in the memory and social psychology of the Haitian people, the alienation of slavery. Beltude then confirmed to me that she was composing the song at the time, and that the lyrics came to mind. Her grandmother has now assigned her a task:
“You have to look for a notebook and take the time to think about songs, or wait when they come in your head to write them on a notebook.”
Her daddy said, “I'll then help you correct your mistakes”. And I said:
“This is a talent to be encouraged, a child to nurture, a future to guarantee, and perhaps even a small prodigy that HAITI en Choeur can bring forth."
So that's what I leave behind. These unlucky children pose for me a humanist duty, and for me they are a reason for exodus, an imperative of love.