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Published Tuesday, August 8, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 Three dozen teens are building teamwork skills and ties to their
culture through a two-acre plot in Little Haiti. BY GEORGIA TASKER 

 Digging between the roots of the huge pithecellobium tree, Woodlyne
Jasmin and Mike Datus each wore a single garden glove, stretching meager
supplies. They were planting ginger cuttings, adding a little compost
and filling in around the tender plants. Other groups of
Haitian-American students were weeding and planting comfrey, basil and
Florida hibiscus in garden patches near the pens of goats,
 pot-bellied pigs and peacocks. On this two-acre farm tucked into
Miami's Little Haiti, the 36 kids in the Medicinal Herb Project, ranging
in age from 14 to 19, were learning to work as teams, getting a dose of
horticulture, and finding out about plants of their homeland. 
 The garden, at the Center of Information and Orientation at 8365 NE
Second Ave., is part of a work-study program aimed at bolstering the
students' academic skills. Thanks to the program manager,
 David Brown, the students also are getting in touch with their cultural
tradition of using plants for medicine and spiritual cleansing as well
as cooking. ''We use asoci for fever,'' said Darline Pierre, 15. ''We
use aloe vera for burns, and on our hair to make it longer. We take the
liquid and blend it and drink it for stomach aches or headaches.''
 ''In Haiti we had a lot of these plants,'' she said. Pierre said her
mother turned to plants first for medicines, and she follows her
mother's example. The program is the brainchild of Brown, who worked in
Haiti planting trees. It is a Department of Labor, Training and
Employment Council effort to teach students deficient in English and
math, but Brown has parlayed it into a multifaceted, culturally
compelling effort. Speakers have included some of South Florida's
leading experts on herbs, and in-kind donations have provided hundreds
of plants, seeds, even special paper so herbs can be pressed and given
to Fairchild Tropical Gardens' herbarium, or plant museum.

 Brown wants to turn these mostly American-born Haitian teens into
''youth entrepreneurs,'' who one day can grow and sell herbal vinegars,
salad dressings and other products.That's one day. In the meantime,
Brown has seen more immediate results: Nicole Sims, a 10th-grader at
Turner Tech, said, ''At first I didn't care. But I learned a lot, like
using plants on my body to take away scars. I try to eat a mango a day
for  vitamins. My mom told me that a pineapple freshens you up if you
have a body odor.''Yoli Delice, 16, another teen in the program, said,
''We  used to use [medicinal] plants, but we cut it down'' since being
here. The American influence has caused plant uses to fade from her home
life, she said, and many plants used in Haiti have not been brought
here. Other teens she knows think plants for medicine is old-fashioned.
''The only thing they care about is an herb called marijuana,'' she


 Laury Prudent, whose golden-fringed hair and multiple rings hint at her
artistic nature, is lead artist for a book the students will produce
featuring 30 useful herbs of Haiti. Michael Dupin, 18, is an artist who
will be a senior at Northwestern High. His talents run to shading and
depicting veinations of leaves.  Brown arranged for the group to visit
the Nova Southeastern University medicinal garden in Broward County.
While there, garden curator David McLean gave them planting lessons.
 The students incorporated those lessons into the herb garden they
planted at the two-acre farm of brother and sister Ray and Shawneee
Chasser. Working around pens of animals and organic raised beds, they
planted mint, pepper, ginger and comfrey, herbs of their homeland. They
tucked them into composted and mulched planting holes, working in hot,
sweaty conditions but finding time to bottle-feed baby raccoons.      
The herbs brought them back to their roots. The hot peppers, they
learned, are good for internal uses such as ulcers and bleeding. Honte,
which is in the mimosa family, is a spiritual plant, hung near someone
who  has too much pride to make that person humble. Aztec sweet herb, or
stevia, is for sweetening drinks. Vervain reduces blood pressure and is
for good luck. Zokeklou, a ginger, is made into a tea for calming.
Zanman, leaves of the tropical almond tree, is made into tea to reduce
blood pressure.These herbs will be featured in the book the kids are 
producing. But there's more. Brown also has them  working on: A brochure
about the Medicinal Herb Project, designed by 16-year-old Natasha
Raymondville from Miami Springs Senior High.A student-produced photo
essay, helped by $200 from the grant and Brown's negotiations with
Eckerd for seven small cameras, film and processing.Pressing herbs
between large sheets of acid-free paper, to be used for Fairchild
Tropical Garden's herbarium. Neatly pressed and attached to one
herbarium sheet is asoci, or the vine called Balsam Apple. It is made
into a tea for diabetes, for birth control, colitis and a dozen other
uses, including ''blood cleansing.'' ''I can tell when my blood needs to
be cleaned,''said Ermilie Mondelus,19.''If I have a skin irritation and
I itch it and it swells, I make a tea with asoci.''One of the guest
speakers, Donnie Brown of the Evening Herb Society in West Palm Beach,
took cuttings with her and arranged for potted plant donations.''I was
amazed afterwards talking to them,''Brown said. ''They came up to me and
talked about personal medical stuff, such as how aloe worked for them.
In the garden, a group of 10 or 12 was working, having a great deal of
fun and interest in getting the cuttings I brought into the ground. And
after that work, I saw some kids sitting around a table inside doing
exquisite horticultural drawings.''


 For Brown, who has worked with Operation Green Leaves to plant trees in
Haiti and the Environmental Education Center of Miami-Dade Community
College Wolfson Campus,the experimental program is successful enough
that he wants to find more grant money. About 20 students have signed up
to continue if possible.''For the vast majority, this was their first
job,''he said.''They learned job skills in terms of being punctual and
working to produce a product. They learned how to cooperate in a group.
We enhanced their writing by giving writing assignments. ''And at the
same time, they learned more about their own culture.To have kids put
together these products, the brochure and the booklet,gives me a great
deal of satisfaction.''