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a182: Conversation with an Advocate (fwd)

From: Carl Fombrun <carlfombrun@iopener.net>


(Published in The Haitian Times, New York, N.Y online edition 26 December - 01 January 2002.  carl@fombrun.com        http://www.fombrun.com     fax: 305 270-3799 )

Conversation With An Advocate   
   I had the opportunity recently to reunite with a friend from my youth, Guy  
Larreur, professor at the University of the Virgin Islands where he taught  
hospitality management.  
  We had an interesting conversation covering a variety of subjects,  
including his life in semi-retirement and his work as an active  
Haitian-American citizen.  
  At this point, it may be appropriate to mention that Larreur, being my  
junior by a   
few years, was not as we say back home "de ma promotion," which means in  
French not at the same grade in school.  
  After years of separation, we met again in the 1960s as adults in exile in  
New York City. While recently catching up with each other in Miami, this is  
what I learned from Larreur.  
  First, I was surprised at the change in his social consciousness, coming   
from a life of the privileged few in Haiti. Today, he is a man committed to   
helping the less fortunate. During our conversation, I became more aware of   
his commitment to Haitian causes and the work he has been doing practically   
alone in the advocacy arena.                                                 
  He quietly takes care of low-income Haitians, using his company, Konbit  
and his resources to advocate for Haitians and keep the doors of his social   
and human services organization open.   
  Konbit's purpose is to protect and promote the rights of low-income   
Haitians in the areas of immigration, public benefits, employment, education,  
and social and human services.       
  When I suggested that he could form a nonprofit organization, in order to  
access to funding, he told me quite frankly that he did not have the time or   
energy to waste in playing political games inherent in those organizations.   
The man is a former U.S. Marine and prefers unilateral action to endless   
 When I asked how he became a social activist, his answer was one word:   
injustice. His transformation came in 1992, during the influx of Haitian boat  
people landing on the U.S. Virgin Islands.                             
  There were few qualified Haitians on the island and he was asked to help   
as an interpreter at the U.S. Immigration Court. He helped Haitians apply for  
asylum and while studying asylum laws and handling hundreds of asylum cases,   
he became acutely aware of the problems faced by those unfortunate people.     
  During that time, he decided to level the playing field for those in a   
hopeless situation. After living in the U.S Virgin Islands for 25 years,   
Larreur moved last year to Bradenton, Fla., where he has an office space for   
  I asked Larreur to tell me in a "kat su tab," or cards on the table,   
manner, about the major problems faced by the new wave of Haitian immigrants   
in the United States.    
  "The biggest problem is their lack of a good basic education," Larreur  
"As you know, not knowing the language is a problem, but it is extremely   
difficult to manage in a society organized on the premise that everyone is   
 "Some of my clients cannot take directions because they cannot read street   
signs, make a telephone call, address a letter, fill out an employment   
application, etc.    
  "People cannot even imagine what it is like to be totally helpless, unless   
like a child someone takes you by the hand to guide you. I became that hand.   
. . . You add this to the language barrier, and this translates into a life   
of constant struggles for their daily survival. I became their voice.  
  "In the early 1960s, many Haitian political refugees came in the United   
States with a good basic education. They suffered from racism, xenophobia,   
and their share of humiliations, but at least for them there was a light at   
the end of the tunnel. They knew that in order to progress they had to master  
the English language, go to college or go in the service. They had options. 
  "On average, many Haitian immigrants who came from the countryside from   
places such as Lazile, Aquin, have a third-grade education and some landed at  
night by boat in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Once in St. Thomas, they were   
always in a big hurry to get to Miami, where with their temporary legal   
status as an asylum applicant, they would be allowed to work and search for a  
better life.                                      
  "Most of them had no idea what lay ahead for them if they were not granted   
asylum. This group was and still is abused, exploited by others, including   
other Haitians, who profit from their desperation and ignorance."  
  Thank you, Guy Larreur for your candidness. Time permitting, I would like  
to explore further this interesting subject in the future. 
  - Carl Fombrun can be contacted at carl@fombrun.com, www.fombrun.com, or by  
at (305) 270-3799.   

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