Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Go and Know

It is easy to forget a place you have never been to. But when your skin, your eyes, your ears, your feet, and your tongue, make contact, it becomes a part of you forever.

I remember the gorgeous faces of northeastern Brazil like it was yesterday. I also remember walking the dusty road all alone in Macao.I remember a pick up soccer game with kids in Baja. I remember playing a conga drum in a steep hillside park in Hong Kong. I remember dancing with my wife at a locals-only bashment in Jamaica. I remember being scared to death of the traffic in Cairo, but even more entranced by the sound of Arabic coming from the muezzin. I remember the expressions on the faces of Palestinian kids who lived in poverty a few blocks away from a brand new San Diego style mall. I remember getting hopelessly lost with my buddy in a birch forest in Siberia. And now I carry memories of Haiti. But, travel alone, is not the goal. There is also the duty of understanding a place and a people more fully.

I desire to learn firsthand because I have discovered the gaping chasm between what is portrayed and what is real. The most evident example of this is the news. If I believed what I see on the news, I would make many assumptions about Haiti and about Haitians. But, just as our history books in my education were filled with fiction, so the news is filled with sensationalism and half truths. They are not encyclopedia companies, they sell ad space. And so if our only source of information about a place is from the news, we will make judgments on the people based on the incomplete story.

I will be speaking quite a bit with kids about my book, Hope for Haiti, and about Haiti itself. What a poor job I would do if I did not go and find out for myself. And so that is what I did. I investigated. I made contact. And, I asked Haitian kids questions I knew American kids would ask. I listened to the questions the Haitian kids were asking about the American kids. I feel like I am able, now, to begin to facilitate a dialogue between these two groups of kids who are more similar than they are different.

Many American kids really want to help the kids in Haiti. They have learned about the earthquake in school and have participated in various fund raisers. But we should take care to realize it is not a one way road. We can learn from Haitian kids and they can learn from us. Who knows what future can come from two groups of kids who are aware of each other, who know the other cares for them, and who can honestly dialogue together like grown ups. (Oh, I mean, like grown ups are supposed to dialogue.)

If you are interested in bringing me to your school, library, youth program, juvenile detention center, or church, please feel free to visit my website or email me. I would love to share this book and this movement with you.


Art Haiti

Here are a few of my Haitian colleagues in the field of art and illustration. Artists share many things, but the most significant is the burden of carrying the weight of the world within our souls and the struggle to let it out through our various media.

Alix Delinois
See his amazing work here.

Alix Delinois is a brilliant illustrator and fine artist. On his site you will find pieces of both. Make sure you check out his beautiful yet simple ink drawings of scenes of St. Marc, Haiti. Most recently, Mr. Delinois has been in the press for his illustrations in Eight Days, A Story of Haiti, by Edwidge Danticat. Buy the book, quick!



Self-Portrait :: Unmasked

NAZ: See more of his work here.

And from the galleries to the tent camps, check out this artist's take on his recent surge of earthquake inspired work.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Just a few short weeks ago, I walked around the perimeter of what would become the first free secondary school for kids from the slums of Port au Prince. At the time, it was barely recognizable as a school. In fact, the foundation was still being dug out by hand.

In what seems like a blink of an eye, the hard working Artists for Peace and Justice crew has pulled a fast one. A really fast one. Yesterday the school was open for business and kids took their places, positioned to change Haiti from the inside.

Education, for those of us who take it for granted, means the world to those who are on the outside looking in. I am grateful for the miracle workers at APJ and St. Luc's who work so hard to help clear the roadblocks for the Haitian youth.

Go see for yourself the incredible trajectory of this school project. And support them in their efforts to equip young Haitians with the tools to rebuild their country.


Monday, October 11, 2010

October 12, 2010. A Letter to the Reader

Hope for Haiti

October 12, 2010

To the reader,

Nine months ago, I sat at my easel with my head buried in my hands. I had no idea what to do. I felt helpless, hopeless.

January 12, 2010. A powerful earthquake leveled one of the world’s poorest and most unstable cities. Instead of the typical devastation one might expect from a quake this size, destruction and chaos maxed out at levels truly unimaginable. 230,000 people dead with many more than that horribly injured. The government sat fatally crippled and powerless. Orphaned children wandered through the rubble, night and day. So many bodies overwhelmed the morgue that they lay piled in the streets for weeks. I cannot think of a more precise depiction of hell.

My agent, Rubin Pfeffer, knowing how affected I was from the news of the earthquake, sent me one photo and one question. And it was the spark that lit the fuse. "What would your reaction be if it were a book?" After that, I never looked back. I spent every waking hour writing, editing, sketching, and painting. All in all, Hope for Haiti was written, illustrated, printed, and published, in less than nine months.

At the time, the global media reaction to the earthquake was swift, inspiring a wave of humanitarian support. While this was both unprecedented and unexpected, the longevity of such a movement was questionable. There‘s a reason it is called The News. Nobody remembers last week, let alone last year. And, sadly, much of the money donated to Haiti ended up in banks’ long term parking. While these companies are profiting from the interest they are earning on donated funds, the Haitians continue suffering. Today, more than1 million refugees still live in flimsy tents and improvised shelters in Port au Prince, not to mention those living in the semi permanent slums. Food and clean water are still in demand, and everyday items are painfully expensive.

This is why I wanted to create this book. Because, as I sat at my easel and thought about the future of Haiti, I was sure of only one thing: We will forget.

Movies, TV, Internet, anything and everything that comes across the airwaves will fade away, replaced with the next big thing, or more often, the next lame distraction. But, books… In an age of impermanence, this at least is timeless. I want to put a book on the shelf of our collective future in hopes that we might not forget this event, nor our connection with the people who endured it.

When I traveled to Haiti, I prepared myself for emotional trauma. But that is not what I left with. While the destitution is pronounced, the sense I walked away with beyond anything else? Hope. I met so many positive, intelligent, creative, ambitious kids who have all the potential in the world, if given the right tools. If anyone can forge a new Haiti, these are the ones to do it. Helping them find ways of not only surviving but thriving, turning Haiti from an exporter of only refugees, to an exporter of all kinds of produce, music, art, literature, and anything else that might benefit the nation and its people.

This is not about a simple handout, pity, a lecture from a well off country on how to do things "right", or anything else that diminishes the culture and qualities of Haiti. Instead, we come together in support of those in our human family who bear more burden than the rest, and shoulder the weight together.

Thank you for supporting this book and the efforts behind it, including We Give Books, and my publisher, Putnam/Penguin, who, through books sales, is giving a generous donation to Save the Children’s Haiti Earthquake - Children in Emergency Fund.



P.S. You can order online through sites like the ones below, or you can order personalized, signed copies directly from me. Click here to order directly from me.





How much do we love Senegal?

World Briefing | africa

Senegal: Students to Arrive From Quake-Ravaged Haiti

President Abdoulaye Wade plans to send a plane to Haiti on Sunday and return on Wednesday with 160 Haitian university students whose studies were interrupted by the devastating earthquake there in January, a government official said Friday. Mr. Wade, left, originally offered free land in Senegal to Haitians left homeless by the disaster because, the spokesman said, he considered them sons and daughters of Africa since their ancestors, too, had been taken to the Caribbean as slaves. Both countries are also former French colonies. The talk of free land has stopped. At a speech last month at the United Nations, Mr. Wade invited the students and said he planned to begin bring Haitian families to Senegal next year.