Artists in Residency - Christie Cahill & Chris Yerlig!
Dear Friends of Foyer Evangelique Orphanage,
Here’s something to warm your heart this Valentine’s Day - a beautiful narrative from our friend Christie about her first trip to Haiti and the orphanage! Christie is a professional dancer and trapeze artist who traveled to Haiti with our wonderful board member Chris Yerlig, who is a professional clown and a mime. Together, they did a fantastic arts residency with the children in early January. We first met Christie when she was a student at New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro. During the 18 months that she was at the circus school, she was a regular volunteer with HOST. For her 30th birthday, she asked friends to make donations in her honor to the orphanage and also to help her buy a plane ticket to Haiti so that she could meet the people she was helping and share her love and talents with them. We are so grateful for all of her contributions to bring joy into the hearts of these precious children! Here is a narrative about the trip, in her own words:
Christie’s Reflections on her recent trip to Haiti
I've had some great opportunities to travel as a performer but nothing can compare to my recent trip to Haiti to visit the children at Foyer Evangelique Orphanage.
To start, the trip all fell into place easily and quickly like it was absolutely meant to happen. Chris Yerlig and I had been trying to plan a trip there together for a couple of years, but it just hadn't worked out. I had been volunteering for the Haiti Orphanage Sponsorship Trust (HOST) helping with administrative work while I lived in Brattleboro, VT, which is how I met all these wonderful people and started to learn about Foyer Evangelique and these wonderful children. Chris and I knew we'd like to go to Haiti and do artistic things with the kids, teaching them dance, clowning, miming, etc., and our time finally came. Chris was already in Haiti, traveling with a couple other people through Clowns Without Borders and the plan was for him to stay there and I took a flight to meet him at the beginning of January. I couldn't have asked for a better travel partner! Our trip was sponsored in part by Project Troubadour, and it was great to have their support.
Chris has been to Haiti many times, and he is accustomed to the culture and has many friends there. He knows how to travel around easily, where to go, and he can chat with anyone since he is fluent in French and Creole. What luck for me! It was interesting to watch him converse with others, and no matter the situation, it wasn't long before he had them smiling and laughing.
It's great traveling with a fellow clown because Chris would just pull out balloons and start making animals anywhere, which always got some great laughs from locals. It was interesting for me to listen to conversations too because in high school I had taken 3 years of French, and while that was a long time ago, I found that a lot of the vocabulary was still floating around in my head (and from a lifetime of Ballet classes!). Most of the time I could pick up the theme of conversations around me. I never really knew any details but I could respond in English to Chris about what I thought they were talking about and he could translate for me.
Arriving at the orphanage on the first day was the most wonderful experience! I had an idea of how the kids would react to me from stories I’d heard from Sheila and Chris. I appreciated this preparation because I was able to walk in with an open heart and know what to expect in a completely different culture than I am used to. Pastor Duckens Janvier picked up Chris and I from Villa Mamika, the hotel where we stayed (beautiful place!). It was lovely to meet Duckens finally, having seen pictures and stories of him for years now. His family was warm and welcoming when we arrived and I soon learned that they all were doing very well with their English studies!
Chris took me around to meet all of the children and every one of them greeted me with a hello and a hug and kiss on the cheek... wow! Chris was quick to translate, and we all started to get to know one another. The kids were all just as sweet as can be! Within a very short time, they had me sit down and were giving hugs and playing with my hair and thoroughly checking me out. It was so heartwarming to be welcomed warmly into their space. Tears were springing into my eyes as I looked around at these happy kids, who had already seen some tough times in their lives. All I kept thinking was, thank God for the Janvier family and this HOST organization for what they HAVE done in these kids lives. They still may need plenty more help but their basic needs are being met and that is truly something to be grateful for and to celebrate! They all have enormous amounts of love bursting from them and it's a beautiful thing to see.
I quickly learned that they love pictures and want to take as many selfies as possible! And before long, Chris had out his drums and didgeridoo and impromptu music was happening....these kids are so talented! Thanks to a grant from the Center For Creative Healing, administered by HOST, the kids receive music classes regularly and their skills are apparent. :)
Chris had made them Hoola hoops last time he had visited and they were brought out...clearly a favorite toy among all of them!
The children were on vacation from school for the week so we were able to freely play with them and use the rest of the week to work with them artistically.
Throughout the week we spent time teaching them different dances, miming, clowning, robot moves, and music fun. Dance is my main background so it was a treat to work with these kids. They were split into 2 age groups for the dance routines and then everyone learned a bit of salsa one day! They did great :)
It was an interesting challenge for me to teach while none of us could converse with language. The kids found it fun to teach me Creole and French vocab, which I was tested on daily. I also taught them the English words for the same things.....what a fun trade! I also had the help of their music teacher, Maestro Romel, which was great! It's interesting how much can be communicated through just movement and gesture. By the end of the week, we all could reach each other. Of course, Chris translated a lot and a couple of the kids were really doing well with English so that helped too!
The kids showed more creative talents when we brought out play-doh!
Chris and I both had our hair done quite often!
As the week went on, Chris and Romel worked on the order of the show together. On Sunday, the kids put on a show for people in the community. The show was made up of things they had learned with us during the week. It turned out to be quite a show!
Here’s Chris chatting to the kids about putting on a show and of course, showing off his moves!
On Sunday, it was quite a treat to attend church led by Pastor Duckens, with about 300 people attending...wow! Even though I couldn't understand it, I could FEEL it....plus Chris would translate now and then. Everyone looked fabulous!
We even took a TapTap (local cabs) one day and ate out, for the full Haitian experience.
On Sunday evening, the stage was dressed up, show running order was put up, and there was quite a crowd from the community!
The girls sang a beautiful Haitian song!
Special performance by Pierre Richard in his own skit!
Mime tug of war
Older girls dancing
There was also a dance done by the younger kids and a robot section that I don't have pictues of, since we were helping out at that time. The kids did wonderfully and seemed proud to have put on their own show. They were a bit shy at first but then they seemed to warm up and have a great time! Chris was a great MC and kept the show going! He even had everyone join in on a Haitian song, Ton Ton, which the audience even jumped in on!
On Monday, we were able to come back and see the kids one more time for a final, tear-filled by all, farewell. They all look great in their school uniforms!
Even sharing all these pictures with you, I still wish I had so many more. There is so much that can't be captured in picture or video, only by the heart and experience. These kids have touched my heart in a way that I will never be the same. They have so little but give everything they have in personality and love. HOST has helped them SO MUCH but they still need our help. Haiti is a country in which it is not an easy task to get simple things like clean water or electricity. We, as a consumerist society, have so much we CAN give back to them. Thanks to HOST, we can do just that for these kids. Any little bit helps and can go a long way, and they are SO grateful for it. Please visit http://www.orphelinatfoyerevangelique.org/campaigns to help in any way possible. There is so much love there.
I can't wait to go back....and I know I will. I must. There were overwhelming moments of being there but it was also the most rewarding thing I have ever done and I miss those kids every day.
Thanks for reading :)
Be That Which Your Soul Cannot Live Without