Memorial Concert at the Aristide Foundation University Marking the Ninth Anniversary of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake

As we filed on to the stage to set up, we were met with a full hall of university students of the Aristide Foundation University, wearing a white coat, resembling that of lab coats but with short sleeves, were all seated, waiting for the concert. Students standing against the back wall, in the door arches and peering through the windows outside in the heat also waited eagerly.

It was ninth year after the devastating 2010 earthquake which had hit Haiti, dramatically changing the lives of Haitians. We commenced with two exciting and energetic pieces, Kabalevsky’s Overture to Colas and Holst’s First Suite in E flat major for Military March, which I think echoes the strong spirit and strength of Haitians as they adapted, rebuilt their city and lives.

These pieces were followed by Giroux’s Hymn to the Innocent which accompanied a touching speech delivered by two university students. From a soft start, the music swelled up in waves of emotion. Though I didn’t understand the words of the speech, the steady pace and solemn tone of the delivered message suggested a reflection on the strength and willpower of Haitians to unite to rebuild their city and country after the 2010 earthquake. I was almost brought to tears as images of post-quake Haiti with people surrounding crumbled buildings resurfaced in my mind and I was enveloped in the sounds of the hymn and the speech.

James (bassoon player) raised a good point when he was confronted by a man yesterday, questioning why we weren’t providing monetary aid instead of playing music. However, these are the skills we bring and using music as a vehicle to connect with Haitians, we can be united through our music and not see them as ‘different.’ It helps us in our understanding that though Haitians to live in a totally different environment and system compared to us, individually, they are not much different and we should look past the presumptions fed to us by the media which glorifies the negative side of Haiti.

Post lunch, which was kindly provided by the university, Mildred Trouillot-Aristide, an American lawyer and one of the leaders of the university gave us a briefing on the history behind the establishment of the university which was founded in the late 20th century by her husband Dr Jean-Bertrand Aristide. As a former priest, he had been twice elected as the President of Haiti, in 1996 and 2001, after the previously patriotic government of two generations was overthrown. Aristide was voted in twice, however, he faced many difficulties, primarily due to the former military forces who served the previous government. They overthrew him, leading to the exile of him and his party members.

We all gained a better understanding of the Haitian politics and why the country is as it is. Understanding the people, the tools they have, the history they experienced and the past, and current government would allow those who are willing to provide help give it in an effective way. Hearing that large medical device systems weren’t able to be set up due to a small but essential missing part, that books were sent to Haiti, however, they were in English when the majority of Haitians are taught French and Haitian Creole… Misdirected aid has been a huge problem.

Post 2010 earthquake, many surgeons and skilled professionals were sent to Haiti to deliver life-saving surgeries, however, these were short term efforts and not a single Haitian surgeon was trained.

My briefing of Mildred’s speech would not be done justice here and one would require a full book or two to flesh out the details of the history to understand more about the Aristide Foundation University, Haitian history and politics.

The main focus of the school is to train Haitians to be employed in Haiti and not relocate in other countries. For example, Canada has been absorbing a large number of trained Haitian nurses as part of an attempt to address the care for the aging population. In the late 20th century, Haiti mended their relationship with Cuba and was able to send medical staff to teach Haitian students. In fact, the medical faculty was the first faculty to be established in the university and later on, the nursing, physiotherapy, law and engineering school was added, year after year.  

Through this concert experience, I was reminded of the power of music, to support the messages behind speeches, to give hope and strength to the people and mostly, to unite us all regardless of cultural and racial differences. 

-Mei Zheng, Percussion