By Umema Aimen’14
The Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst was looking for a talented college student for its summer internship program in Haiti. Finding a candidate who spoke French, English, and Creole with a passion for arts and teaching seemed a pretty daunting task—but along came Chrislyn Laurore ’16, who was just the perfect fit for the job.
A Haitian-American from Florida, where she graduated from a performing arts high school, Laurore was excited to visit Haiti again for the first time in many years to conduct a two-week arts program for students in the tiny village of Bayonnais.
The church provided Laurore and her fellow intern with a useful curriculum and information, but it was her job to make the ideas culturally relevant and appropriate for the Haitian students.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge,” said Laurore. “Running an arts program required a certain amount of awareness, but I tried to not go in with any expectations since a lot had changed since my last visit nine years ago.”
Her stay in Bayonnais proved to be one without electricity, central plumbing, or running water. Even though the program was designed for students 8–14 years of age, 45 showed up, varying in age from 3 to 17. Laurore and her fellow intern did not turn anyone away and taught Monday through Friday from 8 am to 2 pm. After the school day officially ended, they hung out with the students, often until sunset. At night, they sat on their host’s porch, reading storybooks by a kerosene lamp to the family’s children and their cousins.
Despite being taxing both physically and mentally, the experience was extremely rewarding for her.
“It was an honor to watch these brilliant kids grow over the course of the program. The best thing I took away from this experience was that I was able to learn just as much, if not more, from them as they did from me,” she said.
When the two weeks came to an end, Laurore and her students put up an enthusiastically-received show for the community. The students sang, danced, performed, and showed off their artwork.
As Laurore reflects on the experience, she asks, “How much more could these kids achieve if their material circumstances were different?”
Her conversations with college students in Haiti revealed how well informed and passionate they were about the country’s future development. Inspired by her experience, she thought about how she might play a role herself in Haiti's future.
“In the current economic and sociopolitical atmosphere that makes the American Dream seem more like a figment of imagination than a plausible possibility, how can I use my unique situation to perpetuate the success of my parents that made my story possible?”
Laurore hopes that her time at Mount Holyoke will help her find the answers.