Last week Artists for Peace and Justice welcomed our friend and partner Mr. Pascal Raffy, owner of Bovet 1822, on his first trip to Haiti.
Mr. Raffy was first introduced to Artists for Peace and Justice at an event in 2012 where he was immediately struck by the deeply personal and authentic connection the organization has with its initiative in Haiti. After our 2013 Holiday Benefit, Bovet and APJ made their partnership official, inking an agreement to further strengthen the bond between the two passionate, inspiring and effective organizations in order to continue delivering the best possible programs for disadvantaged Haitian children.
After forging such a meaningful relationship, APJ was eager to welcome Mr. Raffy to see first-hand what his extraordinary commitment has made possible for our students.
Upon arrival in Port-au-Prince, Mr. Raffy made fast friends everywhere we went. He charmed the airport personnel, passed out cigars in the streets, and literally took the shirt off his own back for a little boy in Cité Soleil. We realized right away that this was going to be a visit unlike any other.
Cité Soleil is the poorest area in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It is also where most of our students live. Our friend and partner Father Rick Frechette, founder of the St. Luke Foundation, led a tour through the slum area that he and his team are working tirelessly to restore and revitalize. The contrast between the orderly pastel colored houses built by and for the local community juxtaposed to the sprawling tin shacks is jarring. Father Rick explained,
“It’s a physical transformation, but more importantly it’s a psychological transformation in this creation of a true sense of community”
Mr. Raffy asked to take a longer walk through the community and started shaking hands, hugging, picking up children, asking questions, and listening intently to the stories of every person he met, never breaking eye contact.
“Here, today, I am totally devastated.”
CEO of APJ David Belle agreed solemnly, “It’s staggering.”
“I’m amazed and I have to recognize something that I would have never imagined, never, I had never imagined the size of the need…énorme. No, but I thank you very much because it is mandatory, not only to have sincere feelings, but to see. It’s very important. And I was saying to Father Rick, already I think of myself as short but today I think of myself as a little bit shorter. And I see you,” Mr. Raffy said looking to Father Rick, “huge.”
In Haiti, one in three children live to reach age five, the average life expectancy is forty-five, the illiteracy rate is 70%, unemployment is 45%, and those who are lucky enough to be employed earn an average of $400 a year.
“How is it possible to stay calm in this condition?” Mr. Pascal Raffy asked.
David Belle responded, “For me, and for all of us, one of the things that’s so exceptional about all of this is the people. It’s extraordinary. When I first got off the plane, I felt so uneasy and ashamed and embarrassed and then I stopped to look up at the people and they’re smiling.”
As the sun started to set, the first night came to a close at dinner with Father Rick, the St. Luke team, and APJ board member and actress Madeleine Stowe.
Mr. Raffy reflected, “There are some feelings that are very hard to accept. It seems that even with all the amazing volunteers, the need is truly enormous. But at the same time, there are some people who want that, who are doing more, people who are doing more like David, people who are revolted, who have a conscience and are doing something. Me, when I was thirteen years old in Lebanon, there was a war where grown men went mad. As a father, the most difficult experience today were the children who told me they are hungry. Instead of a million people going through enormous organizations, change has to be direct. Direct contact between charitable donations and people. Voilà”
The next day began with a fantastic trip to the Academy for Peace and Justice where Mr. Raffy had the opportunity to meet our headmaster Deputy Headmaster Darius Friston and Academy for Peace and Justice Planning Director Jaebets Jean Gilles. They toured the facilities, visited the classroom named in his honor and held a lively question and answer session with students for over an hour.
Perhaps the most special part of our trip was the visit to Artists Institute later that afternoon. Ciné Insitute Director Paula Hyppolite and Audio Institute Director Dadi Beaubrun led Mr. Raffy through the campus where he had the opportunity to watch new student films, visit Audio Institute’s brand new recording studio, and lead a rousing rendition of “What a Wonderful World” with students and staff.
We are so happy to have shared this meaningful experience with Mr. Raffy and look forward to a bright future together in Haiti with our wonderful partner Bovet 1822. We hope this trip inspired, informed, and invigorated everyone to keep working hard for such an amazing cause. Mr. Raffy reminded us, “it’s all about helping someone worse off than you, that you could have been, that you used to be.”
“What is so exceptional here is that regardless of everything around them, everyone has a smile.”
From everyone here at Artists for Peace and Justice, thank you!