However long the night, the day will break.
~ African Proverb
The extraordinary devastation of Haiti by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake of January 12, 2010, not only deprived children of fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, grandparents, and other extended family members. In just 35 seconds, whatever security Haiti's children once knew — 40 percent of the population is under age 14 — was destroyed, along with their childhood.
The statistics on Haiti that can be found through any simple search on Google are, when they flash by on the screen, unimaginable enough: hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children killed or wounded, and more than one-and-a-half million still without a home to call their own, living in often-fetid conditions; more than 60 percent of Port-au-Prince destroyed; 50 percent of the country's gross national product lost; nearly 90 percent of schools damaged, leaving 1.2 million children without a place to learn; more than a quarter of a million buildings collapsed and in ruins, including the presidential palace and nearly all ministry buildings, as well as 25,000 commercial businesses. And no churches left standing in the capital.
When a country has been as ravaged as Haiti has, as it continues to be as cholera adds to the ongoing suffering, what miracle makes it possible for Haiti's children to smile, to believe that a future is possible? In Port-au-Prince, the miracle goes by the name Plas Timoun — meaning, variously, The Children's Place or A Place for Kids — and gives children a chance to uncover and recover hope through art.
Plas Timoun is the result of an initiative of Elisabeth D. Preval, First Lady of Haiti, who undertook to create "activity centers" where children traumatized by their experience of the earthquake and its aftermath might find "a friendly environment" and participate in painting, ceramics, music, theatre, reading, and sports "programs" that would, for a brief period at least, allow them to be children again. The centers Madame Preval champions operate out of converted green buses at two sites in Port-au-Prince. The almost 1,000 children who visit, ages six to 10, work with experienced art therapists and trained staff at Plas Timoun to give free expression to the images and thoughts and feelings they hold inside. (The Dominican Republic's First Lady provided the buses.) Some 2,000 children are fed daily at the centers.
Now, at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art (Ripley Center, Concourse), in Washington, D.C., metropolitan-area residents and visitors to the city have an opportunity to see nearly 100 artworks (paintings and drawings) of the children of Plas Timoun. An exhibition, "The Healing Power of Art: Works of Art by Haitian Children After the Earthquake", on view through January 16, 2011, presents a selection of drawings whose bright colors speak to the healing taking place. You will find in some of the drawings images of the sun, standing buildings with flags flying, trees with leaves just coming out.
NMAfA Director Johnnetta Cole, Haiti First Lady Elisabeth D. Preval,
and Smithsonian Institution Undersecretary of Art Richard Kurin
Photograph by Franko Khoury
Children who visit the NMAfA to see the exhibit may themselves respond to the Haitian children by drawing a picture of their own—an "image of friendship or a brighter tomorrow", as the museum suggests. Even children unlikely to get to Washington to see the small but touching show may show their support and encouragement by downloading this document in pdf. There's room on the back to write "a message of hope". The NMAfA will send all drawings to the children of Plas Timoun. If you are reading this post and have children, or are a preschool or elementary school teacher, consider taking a minute to access the file and encourage your children or students to participate. The address for the museum is: Smithsonian National Museum of Art, P.O. Box 37012 MRC 708, Washington, D.C. 20012-7012.
In this very short video from the Miami Herald, Haitian artist Philippe Dodard talks about bringing together artists to work with the children at Plas Timoun. (This video also is available on YouTube.)
When you have time, I encourage you view the excellent video "Thirty-Five Long Seconds" Haiti's Deadly Earthquake" (approximately 18:11 minutes long), written and narrated by Mario L. Delatour and produced by Amistad Films; it includes footage from security cameras that photographed what was happening during the earthquake.
This brief (2.09 minutes) video, also from the Miami Herald, reports on a trip by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the Vice President, to Haiti's capital. They visited Plas Timoun during their trip and took part in a painting session.
REMEMBER Haiti in your end-of-year giving.
Philippe Dodard on FaceBook
Philippe Dodard Profile on Video
"Art as Healing After Haiti Earthquake", December 1, 2010
"Using Art as a Vehicle to Help Haiti", The Mercy Corps Blog, November 8, 2010
"Art Helps Mend Haitian Children's Wounds", The Washington Informer, July 29, 2010
Haiti Art Expo 2010, a one-of-a-kind collection of the work of Haitian artists, Miami, Florida, with sales to benefit refugees and artists who lost their homes in the earthquake. Work by Philippe Dodard is included in the exhibition and sale.