Making Music in Haiti


“Haitian people want to laugh, despite it all. They want to laugh, love, dance, and sing. If you put a generator on, music will come out of it.”

So observed Syncia Cajuste, one of 11 travelers who visited Haiti with St. John’s in January 2015.

Well, ok then – when in Deslandes! For six days and five nights, did we ever laugh, dance, and sing! And, most of all, love. Pere Jeannot and our partners at Ecole St. Matthias spoiled us with their hospitality – we wanted for nothing in a place where the basic necessities are anything but a given.


Our merry (and intrepid) band of travelers included Laura Swiggett, Jamie Wylie, Isabel Hanson, John Henry Hanson, Anne Dubosque, Alexandra Whitcraft, Townsend Weekes, Diana Collins, Heather Spehr, Syncia Cajuste and Evans Raphael. 2 airplanes, 13 duffel bags, 3 jeeps, 3 donkeys, 2 dugout canoes and a small army of school children got us there. A village of open arms and hearts received us. Within minutes of our arrival, balls were being thrown, paper airplanes were flying, small hands were slipping into big ones, as peels of laughter and a comical mix of Kreyol, French and English filled the air.

We were home.


Every trip to Haiti is a new experience, a “first time," even for those who have been before. The group is different, the country is different, conditions at the school are different. The children have grown up! So have we. We are gaining in confidence and feeling more at ease. Our relationship with our partners has deepened. There is less “them/us” and more “we." We now resist idealizing or stereotyping. A sense of trust has grown. We can handle the truth.


The truth is difficult. We have a lot, and they don’t have enough. Enrollment is down, tuition is a stretch for many families, and the teachers haven’t been paid in a year. Damn (Merde, ouch, darn – whatever word we are allowed to say in ASJ). Our meeting with the teachers was difficult and moving. I cried. They hoped that we could help – we knew we couldn’t/shouldn’t in the way that they were hoping. A frank and compassionate conversation reminded all of us of the dangers of a dependent relationship. Short term fixes are not the answer. But wouldn’t a band-aid make us all feel better?? Yes – briefly. Instead, we agreed to work on sustainable, long-term solutions that might enable us each to stand on our own feet, side by side, with dignity and strength.


Micro finance for an income producing goat project and a water purification system seem like possible ways forward. There will be others, too. But first there is a building to finish – let’s get those youngest students out from the sun and rain and under the shelter of a roof.

“I feel haunted, but in a good way,” says Jamie. “Our friends are in pain, and live a painful life. It’s my pain now. That’s my reality and I choose it. The pain and the love co-exist very naturally, which is an unnatural state for me here. Down there, you can’t avoid it. It’s with you all the time.”


At the end of the day, what ALL of us want, despite it all, is to laugh, love, dance, and sing. To turn on a generator and have music come out.

If you have an interest in learning more, or pushing beyond your comfort zone, please email us at [email protected]. We would love to talk to you.

– Laura Swiggett   Click to return to St. Matthias Partnership