Saturday, July 23, 2016 - Day One - Day at Sakala and Soccer Game for Peace
Our first full day in Haiti was a joyful one spiritually, and a difficult one physically. After a delicious breakfast, Daniel picked us up and we headed out to Sakala, which is an organization that Daniel created to provide hope to children and young people of Cité Soleil. Sakala stands for “Sant Kominote Altènatif Ak Lapè,” which translates from Haitian Creole into English as “The Community Center for Peaceful Alternatives.”
Originally a Pax Christi initiative, it is indeed a youth-oriented community center that provides organized activities, and mostly sports. Soccer, volleyball, and basketball are mainstays while board games, and especially "hot hands" are staples. The latter is that old elementary school game where we place our hands on top of another's hands and they try to slap while we avoid getting hit. Sakala also provides women's empowerment, computer education, and language education (particularly English language via Rosetta Stone software) programs to the young people. Funding for the organization is available through public grants and private donations.
Saint Mary's College High School (SMCHS) has actively supported Daniel and Sakala since the very first immersion experience to Haiti took place in 2012. Whenever SMCHS brought gifts, they have always been well used and cared for. Immersion experience participants take a position of support rather than a position of imposition. They ask the question: "What do you need?" rather than "Here's what you need to use."
Throughout the day, our students were involved in all the sports, joining right in and socializing with the many kids who were present. In the midst of heat and humidity, soccer, volleyball, and basketball were happening simultaneously while Gabi, an SMCHS alumna and resident expert in Afro-Haitian and Afro-Brasilian dance, got going with a set of the Sakala participants. There were no inhibitions, and everyone seemed genuinely interested in learning how to dance. Smiles and laughter littered the air as the Sakala kids tried their best to imitate their leader's movements.
Two Sakala participants, Albert and Jesula, are ready to graduate from high school and have high hopes of transcending the barriers that Cité Soleil and the surrounding hopelessness imposed upon them. Albert was busy practicing his English with the Rosetta Stone software program and Jesula just completed her high school summative exit exam. She is waiting for the results. While she is confident that she passed with flying colours, her dream of becoming a physician, she says, must be put aside in order to take up the more "practical" profession of agronomy studies and to learn specifically about sustainable agricultural methods.
Jesula is deeply involved in the agronomy initiative at Sakala called the Jaden Tap Tap.
This description of Jaden Tap Tap comes directly from their website:
"The central component of Sakala’s agronomy program is the “Jaden Tap Tap” (Tap Tap Garden), our community urban garden and tree nursery. Set on over an acre of land that was once a garbage dump, the garden now has more than 500 brightly-painted tire gardens, a flower garden, and a moringa tree nursery. The Jaden Tap Tap is a source of hope, as well as improvement in food security, health, environment, and community development our neighbors in Cite Soleil.
The Jaden Tap Tap is also a living classroom, providing youth with a safe, positive environment in which to learn the basics of agroecology, agroforestry, nutrition, and to develop their leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Waste recycling and composting are also important elements of the program.
We have a community Eco-San toilet and we lead community-wide workshops on recycling, composting, as well as planting trees and gardening. The Jaden Tap Tap employs ten at-risk young adults that would otherwise have little economic opportunity. This group is also being trained to garden as a business. We also recently launched a 'Moringa the Miracle Tree' campaign which encourages neighbors to grow and use the tree, and we plan to plant 10 million trees, one for every Haitian."
Though the cost of studying medicine is extremely cost prohibitive, Jesula knows that the area of study she wants to undertake will prove to be very useful in Haiti, in general, and Cité Soleil, in particular.
Albert, on the other hand, has hopes of leaving Haiti altogether to study engineering in the United States. It is the reason why he is working on his English and was eager to practice his skills with the new Sakala visitors to see how he measures up.
At midpoint in the day, a well-known Haitian comedian named Kako Bourjolly stopped by with a really good friend of his who manufactures industrial paints. The kids all flocked to get a glimpse of the famous figure and the news cameras that followed him. They came to visit with Daniel and discuss how the comedian's friend can help to provide the paints necessary to create game regulation striping of the bare asphalt. These are the official lines to designate such things as the playing area, offside areas, and so on for the various sports. Daniel hopes that by placing these regulation stripes that it will help to attract kids from the other neighborhoods, and, that they will be able to host games and matches with teams from other neighborhoods, and in particular those teams that come from more affluent areas of Port Au Prince.
After a full day's worth of playing games, another game was to be played on the outskirts of Cité Soleil. A soccer game was arranged between the Sakala women's and men's team and another set of teams from a neighbourhood closer to the water. According to Daniel, there have been some gang related tensions and it was agreed to by all parties that a soccer game would help to heal any wounds.
As we left Sakala and made our way to the place where the match would take place, we had a clearer view of the difficulties that residents of Cité Soleil have to go through. Trash was everywhere, and sanitation was a major issue. Refuse and sewage mix together in a disgusting and putrid way. It is clear that there is no infrastructure in what seems to be a forgotten city. People eek out a living selling whatever wares they can salvage. Fresh fruit and vegetable stands selling mangoes, avocados, quenepe, and sugar cane and other brightly coloured foods offset the dismal background.
We arrived at the pitch and the women's game started. We were surprised at how physically the game was being played. There was a lot of body contact and jockeying for position. But, even if the Sakala women lost two to nothing, as hard as the game was being played, handshakes and hugs were abundant and this show of peace concluded the hard fought match.
Then came the surprise of the afternoon. Daniel asked Cole, Peter, Dane, and Gaetano to participate in the men's match. To their delight the four SMCHS soccer players joined in. It was an exciting opportunity for them to play alongside the Sakala men's team, some of whom were at the community center earlier in the day. The four held their own through the intensity and the physical play. Their Sakala teammates were eager to get the four the ball in order to give them an opportunity to score. Cole picked up an assist in the two to nothing victory for the Sakala team, avenging the women's team loss. But, of course, the real victory belongs to the cause of peace, which competitive sports, thankfully, helps to advance.
After the match, we drove back to Eucalyptus House and we shared our experiences of the day after dinner. After a guided meditation by Mr Trinidad focusing on the sense of "sight" Mr Palladino asked us the following questions:
What most challenged me today?
What most inspired me today?
What was one thing that I saw that really struck me?
What was one thing that I saw someone else do that really inspired me?
There were various challenges including a significant language barrier which made direct communication difficult. The heat and humidity was especially stifling and it made "staying present" also challenging. It was difficult to see the various wounds on the Sakala children, some of which appear to have been untreated for sometime, and many of which appear to be the result of poor sanitation.
There were many inspiring moments including Peter teaching chess to an eager group. In spite of the language barrier, Peter successfully taught the basic mechanics of the game and that same group was glued to that game set for most of the time that we were at Sakala. We talked about Albert and Jasoula and their hopes and dreams and how Sakala is changing the narrative of hopelessness that surrounds much of Cité Soleil life.
Finally, we all agreed that Gabi was the heroine of the day ... she jumped right in with no inhibitions and taught dance and yoga and kept a smile the whole time.