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10 Year Anniversary

This is the most intense update letter I have ever written and I’m honored to be writing. Today, May 30th, is the 10 year anniversary of the first meeting that founded Jakmel Ekspresyon. A meeting between friends and survivors, to discuss what was needed in Jacmel. The death of our friend, Flo McGarrell, had left a void in the community of artists. We lost our space of non-discrimination with him. So we decided to create a space of non-discrimination in his honor and for our community, a space that would be the expression of our beloved town Jacmel and its culture.

It has been a hard road as Haiti is never easy. At the same time it always has been and still is a beautiful journey, an amazing dream that keeps coming true. To name all our successes would be too much for a short newsletter. I will always say that our biggest accomplishment would be the community that is Jakmel Ekspresyon. It is a space of forward thinking, community driven, intellectual youth and it keeps growing. I love meeting and working with the students. Peterson, the Assistant Director, has said he thinks JE is greatest accomplishment is the knowledge we share. Josue, the Programs Coordinator, said JE is good at giving so much when we have so little as compared to local schools that have so much.

Now ten years on and we are faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. Holding our breathes and wondering if it will be worse than the earthquake. The state of Haiti is not well. Hospitals are closing up because they don’t have PPE. The local remote COVID-19 isolation clinic in Jacmel was burned down. Social distance is not possible for most people here. The WHO has stated that Haiti may experience a famine as a result and people say they don’t want to starve in their houses.

Now is exactly why JE exists. To empower the youth to take care of their own community through creativity, knowledge and skills. We have let them lead to practice community involvement within JE. JE now has 12 health brigades that have been taught by a local infectious disease specialist about COVID-19 and precautions to take.  One group decided to make a hand washing PSA to share with their friends on FB and Whatsapp. Five of our talented sewers are about to start their third session of mask making. We have easily given away over 800 masks so far.

A health Brigade was approached by a police officer to see if we would make masks for the prison inmates and officers. They will need 1000 in total. We will use this next session to complete 500 masks for the prison. Everyone, when hearing this proposal decided immediately that this is one of the most vulnerable populations and of coarse we would help.

And that is Jakmel Ekspresyon. That is our success. We are a community that cares about the most vulnerable. It is Haitians caring and taking care of their own community. Using their knowledge, skills and creativity to help each other. It’s here already. We didn’t create it. We just created the space and resources for it to thrive. We are the expression of Jacmel.

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We are not here because its an easy job, we are here because the job is hard and someone has to do it

Second Customs inspection

Haiti is not easy and everyone who works here knows it. JE is lucky to have such a great staff and community but we don’t always get lucky in the larger Haitian community.

Yes, this is an update on our solar panel project. It is a sad update but we haven’t given up yet. Even with a straight forward project like this, there are so many nuances.

We have been trying for 8 months to get our solar panels out of customs. We have pretty much lost this shipment due to corruption in the Customs office. In the beginning there were solid partnerships. The nuns had said yes to accepting the shipment but at the last minute the catholic brothers said no. So we searched quickly for a new partner to accept a shipment. A Jacmel Senator said yes to helping us, but put us under an organization that cannot accept shipments tax free. It was too late to change anything and the new organization had problems with their legal paperwork. When Customs sees problems with paperwork, they go in for the kill.

Customs has lied on two of our inspections and used those lies against us. Saying because the inventory counts (that they lied about) don’t match, we must be selling them and therefor deserve to pay 30% market value for them. We have provided documentation to prove we are giving the panels away for free to benefit the community, to no avail. Someone must want our panels.

But we are not doing any of this work because it is easy. We do it because its hard. And even though almost all is but lost, we are meeting with people this weekend to discuss any further actions we may take to insure we receive this shipment. Wish us luck because the fight is not over yet.