Sunday, July 6, 2014

Brenda: "Rules of Engagement"

Last week was our first week at our new site placements. Ritika and I chose to work with Haitian Women of Miami/Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami (FANM) whose mission is to “socially and politically empower” women and their families in South Florida. Given the demographics of South Florida the organization caters to more than just Haitian immigrant families. In our first week the benefits of being flexible and having the ability to learn on your feet were realized. On our first day we researched Haitian history and Haitian-American immigration policy. On another day, Ritika and I led an English class for adult language learners. Basically, every day has been different and has had varying levels of activity and we’ve been called on to use a variety of skills. I am enjoying it so far, especially the English class. Every time I am in a position to explain any topic to someone else I always marvel at the ability of the great teachers I have had in my academic career to teach to a class with different skill levels.
It feels as though I’ve been here more than a week. Experiences like DukeEngage, which involve saying goodbye at some point, remind me of other points in life where goodbyes have been made. On the other side of goodbye is a new beginning – for example, after a graduation there is a new school, new job, and new friends. I guess the difficulty is in the transition, but the switch between Unidad and Haitian Women of Miami has not been difficult. We still take one of the same buses we took to go to the Convention Center, but in the opposite direction. This has given us the chance to see more of Miami. Prior to working in Little Haiti, the contact we had had with the Haitian culture was through the arts via some exhibits at the Perez Art Museum. Some of the art focused on the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic and on the history of slavery in the Caribbean.

Side note: I wonder how often the subjects of art come in contact with the museums in which the art they inspired is held. I think the ability of more privileged people, who have the leisure time to spend hours in a museum, to interact in some way with the less privileged that are sometimes the focus of pieces would be something interesting to intellectually explore. We also learned more about Haiti by meeting with artist Edouard Duval Carrie at his studio. I learned a lot from the single visit; France’s history of slavery was unbeknownst to me until that day.

By working at FANM we not only learned more about the history of Haiti, but also about contemporary issues. Despite it being 4 years since the earthquake, Haiti has not fully recovered, but the initial, widespread public outcry and support for Haiti after the 2010 earthquake has subsided.   With occurrences we classify as ‘disasters’ we usually move on quickly after an initial outpouring of donations and volunteers. How can we better engage with disasters and persistent problems? How does a cycle of short engagement in areas of crises affect the work of future NGOs? These are questions I’m pondering as I choose my future career and continue my global health coursework.


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