By Jean H Charles
Haiti, after a devastating earthquake that almost destroyed its entire capital, needs a few cultural strokes from its friends from around the world.
In matters of global cultural exchange, we find the Cervantes, the cultural arm of the Spanish government, the Goethe Institute, the tool of the German government, the British Council for Great Britain and the French Institute for the French government.
Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol
I am lucky enough to have my home located at two blocks away from the French Institute in Port au Prince; as such, strolling to the Institute for its various programs in the afternoon is nothing but stumbling into an oasis in the middle of the desert. The range of activities is voluminous, the setting magnificent and the atmosphere enchanting.
The French Institute used to be housed in a gingerbread home, Villa Lamartiniere, an old, rich Haiti staple. The earthquake of January 12, 2010, destroyed the building. The French architect, Christian Detour, with more than 30 years of experience in Haiti, with ingenuity and functionality, on the same location, devised a u-shape frame that resembles the typical Haitian home with all the trimmings and the simplicity at a cost of around 150,000 Euros.
(By the way, the world builders seeking business in Haiti après earthquake could learn a lesson or two from Mr Detour in building with ecology and anthropology in mind.) Using the U as a courtyard, it is there that movies, theatre, lectures and entertainment take place.
During the month of September, the French Institute was the host of the august and venerable French academy, the citadel for the preservation of the purity of the French language. Two immortals in bones and feathers were present, Helene Carere d’Encausse and Gabriel de Boglie to share the pivotal part played by Haiti in the promulgation of the French language throughout the world.
Haiti was at the League of Nations, forcing the body to adopt French as its working language. Haiti was there again at the United Nations, pleading for French to remain a working language. It was yesterday that President Michel Martelly, justly forcing CARICOM to have French as a business language in its deliberations, considering that 65% of the Caribbean population has French language and culture.
He is this weekend in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, at the 14th Francophone Summit, defending the role of Haiti in that community and putting on the table the proposition that the Francophone family becomes akin to the British Commonwealth, a community of shared support and shared commitment to the economic development of each other.
I attended recently a genre play, called theatre forum. The group, Les Rescapés, introduced an interconnected mode where the spectator could re-arrange and edit the play as it is being played.
The French Institute has the flavour of its director. He or she is the maestro who leads the Institute according to his brand of leadership. I have known three directors in the past seven years. The first one that I have nicknamed Le Chef du Village, Mr Paul Eli Levy, “was engaging dynamic and visible”. (In the cultural game in Haiti, between France and the United States, France is a clear winner, Caribbean News Now, March 15, 2008.)
His successor, Mr Maurice Brouard, was more reserved, always dressed in black, his tenure was not as flamboyant as Mr Levy but I remembered attending weekly reinvigorating lectures produced by and attended with fervor by students and a whole intelligentsia from abroad and from Haiti.
The leadership of the French Institute is now, for the first time after the 60 plus years of its institutional life in Haiti, in the hands of a woman. Mrs Corinne Micaelli is an elegant, aristocratic, sort of a grand dame, yet at ease with the Haitian beatniks to whom she has opened the doors of the Institute. She is in good company with the officials of the government, in whom Haiti has found a partner credible, cognate in form and in substance.
The French Institute sponsored, last Easter under the guidance of Mrs Micaelli, a concert in coordination with the Ministry of Culture featuring the famed boys’ choir of Trinity Church. It was an event with the same standard of excellence and aura you would have found in a concert at the Acropolis, under the Eiffel Tower or in the Central Park by the New York Philharmonic orchestra.
With a staff of 20, the French Institute serves a roster of 2,000 students in addition to its cultural events. They attend and receive diploma in French and Creole instruction, legal secretariat, and computer skills.
With a budget of 3 million Euros for the Caribbean, with the major part dedicated to Haiti, the French government has funded French alliances (a junior version of the French Institute) in each one of the Caribbean islands, with the only French Institute in Port-au Prince, Haiti.
Its mission is to facilitate the dissemination of the French culture and at the same time serve as a venue for the promotion of Haitian culture. With seven classrooms, a recording studio for the avant-garde and not well known artists, the French Institute in Haiti might be the only game in town.
It was four years ago that I penned the French cultural intervention in Haiti against the American cultural one (Obama: 0 Holland: 8). The score for the American cultural immersion is still zero while the French one is growing. In a world where, culture matters and relations between people of different nations rest on a shoestring (The Muslim rage against the caricature of Prophet Mohammed), funding cultural exchange is a token change but represents a giant step in a long march towards peace and harmony in this world.
As Haiti is slowly recovering from the earthquake as well as from two generations of ill governance, following the lead of the French Institute there is room for the Cervantes, the Goethe Institute, and the British Council to take up residence in Haiti, maybe night life will come sooner in Port au Prince and one brighter star will shine in the Caribbean Sea.