On Monday October 4th, Brown University launched a Haitian Initiative with two special events featuring Edwidge Danticat, acclaimed Haitian-American author and Paul Farmer, UN Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti and co-founder of Partners in Health. The University’s Department of Africana Studies also announced a new visiting fellow, Haitian recording artist Wyclef Jean.
The first event featured an in-depth lecture on Danticat’s novel The Dew Breaker. First year Africana Studies’ students were required to read the novel.
This was a first for Brown – to feature a woman from the Caribbean in their reading list requirements for incoming freshmen. The lecture provided students a platform to engage Danticat, a Brown University alum, on many of the transcendent themes in her book. Almost 250 students listened to Danticat read a passage from her novel and most of them stayed for the question and answer session to explore themes of redemption, liberation theology and the role of art in Haitian people’s lives in the aftermath of the earthquake.
In response to a question about the role of art in Haiti, Danticat said, “ Many Haitian artists feel their art is their contribution to the healing process.” She continued by delivering a quote a friend shared with her, “ From great sadness comes great art.”
The next event featured Paul Farmer, as he shared his thoughts on rebuilding Haiti. This was a sold-out affair. To a packed lecture hall, Farmer gave a candid talk on the implications of losing key institutions and trained professionals in Haiti. One example he shared was what happened when one of the main hospitals in Port-au-Prince collapsed. Along with all the medical personnel, they lost a whole class of graduating nurses.
After giving a sense of what it was like immediately after the earthquake, Farmer shared a few stunning recovery stories of young women who lost their legs and are now walking with prosthetics. One of the women featured in a short video was shown visiting a neighbor, in an effort to lift her spirits. “I think if she see how I gained my life back through prosthetics and physical therapy, maybe that will give her hope.”
Farmer, known for his fierce criticism of the international community’s involvement in Haiti, didn’t shy away from pointing out that the best hospital in Haiti after the earthquake, “should not be floating on water. It should be on Haitian soil.” This was in reference to the American naval ship USS Comfort that provided medical care to hundreds of victims.
After a robust question and answer session with the students, Farmer’s closing remarks were centered on a question that was the theme of his lecture, “Can we implement plans that fully involve the Haitian people?”