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#17: Lafanmi (from on the ground) Karshan comments
Lafanmi - the incident in a social and political context and how the children
To a backdrop of all sorts of violent acts of destabilization at various
institutions, yesterday it was Lafanmi's turn as a combination of
disgruntled older boys who had already graduated from the program and a group
of "zenglendos" held the facility under siege trying to strong arm their way
for their own advantage. Demands were for jobs and money. The disgruntled
graduates were obviously manipulated and exploited by those with motives
other than simply jobs and a better life.
The incident was put into a political context by spokespersons from both the
Aristide Foundation for Democracy and the Fanmi Lavalas party. One of the
spokespersons was Dany Tousaint who was the former interim police chief after
the return of Aristide and who personally went to resolve the conflict
yesterday seeing firsthand who the offenders were.
A look at the history of Lafanmi reveals that opposing forces (Macoute)
always attacked the facility and its children through either setting fatal
fires there or assassinating the children themselves. They always used the
children to hurt and attempt to disable Aristide. It has always been the
Achilles heal of Aristide as it is widely and deeply known how much Aristide
cares about these children. At critical periods, such as now where we are
moving toward elections, Lafanmi is typically under some kind of attack.
Yesterday's incident was part of ongoing destabilization acts, while Fanmi
Lavalas, despite every obstacle and attempted blow to their participation in
the electoral process has strongly committed to being part of the elections.
Pere Massaque was on television last night reaffirming Lafanmi Lavalas'
position on speedy and fair elections "this year!" On the other hand there
are numerous "political parties" with no base whatsoever giving lip service
to elections while working hard to prevent them out of fear that free and
fair elections will cause them to lose their "legitimacy" to pressure the
Executive and "represent" civil society!
Those little troopers, the darling kids of various ages at Lafanmi, have
always found one type of security there that they couldn't find elsewhere:
food, schooling, medical care, being part of a large loving community, an
instant family of a couple of hundred other girls and boys and caring staff.
On the other hand, the children always suffered a sense of political
insecurity in knowing the history of Lafanmi. (KK's documentary Rezistans
contains in depth interviews with the original Lafanmi children recounting
their experiences.) However, the children usually choose to be part of this
community because the streets are rougher and they all love Aristide and what
he has been trying to do for them and the country.
Lafanmi has an excellent school program and vocational training. Their radio
and television stations are run by the children who take it very seriously
(they have received extensive, regular technical training from Lyn Duff who
comes to Haiti often for this purpose). My daughter was a co-host on a radio
show there for awhile and I got to see for myself how professional the
children are (and for those of you who know me know that I can compare their
skills and stature with WNWK and WBAI). They have medical and dental
services, and other necessary support services. They have many other
activities including events and shows at the Aristide Foundation for
Democracy and regular lunches and programs with Aristide at his home.
Aristide always gives them the mike to express themselves openly and it may
be the only forum in the country where children can speak freely. The
children also work with Jennifer Creek (one of the list members on Corbett's
list) with her photography. She has taken extraordinary pictures of the
children, capturing their charm and love for their environment and the way
they interact with one another. Most illuminating are those pictures that
the children lovingly took of each other.
Of course, with any institution or program for kids they eventually "age out"
and one hopes to prepare them for that eventual transition to a society with
little social support and virtually no employment in the "formal sector."
Although many of the graduated kids did get jobs at either the airport or the
port, etc. not everyone is employed. Institutions/programs cannot promise or
protect one-time participants forever. They cannot insulate them from the
regular social problems and pains of society.
I saw firsthand, with the Haitian government's refugee program and on an
extremely small scale with my program for criminal deportees how extremely
difficult it is to have any social service program in Haiti where very few
social services exist on an official level. By braving the course, one
exposes themselves to ridicule, intimidation and potentially to violence.
Every grassroots program is a potential victim of extortion, political
opportunists and sabotage -- often using those you sacrificed to help. With
Aristide's program, as with everything around Aristide because those
resisting real social change so greatly hate him and what he represents, the
repercussions are more severe - as the children of Lafanmi have always known.
Late yesterday afternoon, I went and spent an hour inside Lafanmi to see how
the little kids had weathered the situation. The inside yard was still
stinking with the aftermath of the gas that the police had thrown in to put
down the incident. The powder remained on the ground and we all had to hold
lemons to our faces to give us relief. Many good people (men and women) who
have worked in the movement since St. Jean Bosco were there helping the
children and getting the place back to normal. Thae police, who are always
based at the gate normally because of possible attacks against the children,
were reinforced by additional police and two guard dogs and their trainer
were brought in to patrol the place at night.
The kids, of all ages, were milling around, with their lemons to their noses,
and some older kids went home with family members who were contacted. It was
hard to see some children sadly leaving with a plastic bag of their
belongings in hand. I saw Lawrence, one of the radio broadcasters - who
himself is a graduate. He told me the radio station was functioning and he
would be working in it as usual that evening. I checked with staff and those
assisting to make sure all really little kids were okay - for example I was
worried about a small boy who was taken in by Lafanmi after being found
completely homeless, family-less and nameless a couple of years ago. The
market women were just collectively feeding this baby in a market area in
Cite Soleil. After checking with various people at Lafanmi yesterday, I was
assured about everyone's situation and I saw the children myself and they
were doing okay despite their ordeal.
Excuse me for my sentimentality as expressed here although Che himself said
that love should be the basis of our activism - but I have always admired and
loved the children of Lafanmi (see Maggie Stebber's early photos of the kids
in the 80s and Amy Wilentz' rich passages in The Rainy Season).
My heart has to go out to those misguided ones who so stupidly and tragically
were duped into participating in such an action. I imagine they are ashamed
and embarrassed right now. Their behavior, which resulted in victimizing the
other children who currently reside there, betrayed the spirit of Lafanmi -
- which is based on caring for one another.