Arrival at Camp in Kenscoff and Art Activities Leader, Martin
Finally up the mountain and I hear the children as we drive into the camp site, Montcel. They are playing and listening to music while they make art projects with sequins, paint, colored markers with sharp points, glue, feathers, masks, and pretty little papers that can be cut into shapes of any kind and glued. I am in Martin Brouillette’s art workshop at Kan Etwal, one of our three camps for kids living with HIV in partnership with SeriousFun Network (formerly named by Paul Newman, its founder, as Hole in the Wall Camps). Who could have known that the sale of salad dressing, popcorn, and cookies would have saved the lives of tens of thousands chronically ill children in the US and all over the world through camp?
Martin traveled to camp from London where he lives and paints. He is a brilliant artist who can create paintings that speak to you. His work speaks to me deeply. We have been friends for 7 years and we met while he was living in his birthplace, Montreal, as part of my work with our Canadian entity, WWO Canada (home base in Toronto).
Martin has spent months creating this art class for the campers. He has read books and written a curriculum which a friend of his translated into Kreyol. He has dreamed of working with the campers who live with HIV. He purchased beautiful materials in London and brought them to camp in duffle bags. He made a sweet video of the art materials before he traveled and sent the film clip to me online. He has a big vision for teaching art to poor children around the world. Yes, he wants art instruction/therapy available to all vulnerable children. He is my muse!
I enter his classroom which is filled with the light of the mountains and the kids are talking in Kreyol and working assiduously. They are fully focused on their vision. They have become artists and have not a moment to look at me or anyone else. I am so pleased for them and I cannot help but cry. I step onto the deck outside in tears and photograph the scenery because it is breathtaking and I am overwhelmed emotionally. I attended a number of Martin’s classes and enjoyed the super hero class. He really had them imagining themselves as Spider-Man or Superman and they were able to explain the job of the superhero and how they felt that they could do that job. Orphans living with HIV had big dreams in Martin’s classroom. As Martin explained, the actual making of the mask for the superhero hardly mattered at that point because they had searched inside themselves for the power to make life better.…they were saving their own lives and I can tell you that they will save others…yes, they will.
Martin explored the feelings and thoughts of the children. He spoke to them warmly and showed his care for them. They responded by engaging in conversations about their feelings. Well, is that not the purpose of the expressive arts? Art, music, writing, acting, dancing all help children explore their bodies and minds. There has not been a day this week that has not been filled with drumming, singing, chanting, and dancing. I just left dinner after 8 children were crowned as “super campers” and their attributes were listed in detail so that we really knew how unique each of the campers were in their daily activities at camp. All of the campers will be “super campers” by the time camp is over and they will go home feeling proud of themselves which will hopefully strengthen their ability to be independent and competent. That is the mission of camp.
Dr Jane Aronson enjoying her moment as Super Camper, Kan Etwal, Kenscoff, Haiti. Video by Ed Collier.
One night we did the “silly chicken dance” and hooked elbows and danced in circles exchanging partners. I was exhausted and walked up the many moss covered stone steps back to my room feeling as if I had a work-out with my body, but I felt centered spiritually. My face was achy from grinning and laughing since Tuesday. The music varied each night with romantic Haitian music about Haiti being like a “woman” or the plea of Freedom’s lead singer, Christopher Laroche, singing “Save My Country.” I have to admit I found myself singing Kreyol words and moving my body like I was in a trance. I could see how all of the singing and dancing was making all of us mindful and energized. The children were completely mesmerized and happy. Maybe their bodies and minds had been snatched by higher forces?
Once I received a schedule from Jackie who runs camp and is the head of the WWO Haiti program, I decided what I wanted to accomplish while here in Kan Etwal. In the last two days, I have been able to meet with Dr. Bette, Myriam Bigot, the coordinator from Orange, NJ, the WWO staff and the 15 counselors who have returned in most cases to be volunteers/counselors. I found out that there are two young men in their twenties who were campers years ago and now they are counselors.
I spent time with the former campers and I was bewitched by their dedication to the kids and their insights about their own lives as openly HIV positive young men living in Haiti. They dream of marriage and family and all the success that comes with education and good jobs. They worry about how they will be treated because of their HIV status. They were inspirational. Finally I met with the campers in some of the classes. I especially loved the class for life skills where campers can participate in discussions about sleep and diet and environmental concerns. This thread about self-care is a strong theme each day at camp. They will teach us someday.
Check back later this week for Part 3 of Dr. Aronson’s latest trip to Haiti.