Diaspora

Black History Month: The Inspirational Women Fighting For Haiti's Future – Forbes

Black History Month would not be complete without a look at Haiti, the first nation in the world to ban slavery, declare independence, and become a black republic.
A women holds a Haitian flag and roses as people pray together during a church service that is set … [+] up outdoors near an encampment after numerous churches were destroyed during the massive earthquake on January 24, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Enslaved by Spanish settlers and almost wiped out after African slaves were bought in to replace them, the people of Hispaniola – as Haiti was originally known – were powerless to stop Spain ceding the western part of the island to France. It was in 1796 that Toussaint Louverture, a former slave, educated herbal doctor and military officer, emerged as a leader of the slaves – bringing order after years of external invaders.
Many courageous women played a vital role in the Haitian Revolution, including Suzanne Béliar and Marie-Jeanne Lamartiniére, who served in the army. Dressed in a male uniform, Lamartiniére fought alongside her husband during the Battle of Crête-à-Pierro. Béliar rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant and is remembered for her bravery in the face of execution. Haiti declared independence in 1804 and another former slave, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declared himself emperor. So modern Haiti was born.
Engraving depicting the Battle of Crete-a-Pierrot of the Haitian Revolution, an insurrection by … [+] self-liberated slaves against French colonial rule in Saint-Domingue, a French colony in Haiti, at the Crete-a-Pierrot fort in Haiti, March 1802. (Photo by Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Haiti is the only nation in history to declare freedom and independence after throwing off the chains of slavery. So you can imagine the disappointment of the people, therefore, that today it is also known for being one of the poorest nations in the world and a failed state.
The economy has collapsed and violent clashes are commonplace. There is currently no functioning government, parliament, justice system, security, education or healthcare. This is devastatingly serious and has hit the population hard – already struggling to rebuild after the earthquake of 2010, which killed more than 200,000 people and caused catastrophic damage to the country’s infrastructure.
What is certain is that to rise from this will take incredible grit, strong alliances and headstrong positivity. Fortunately that is exactly what Haiti has in spades – with women leading the way.
Across this historic, trailblazing and beautiful nation, a group of strong female leaders are emerging, with the energy, determination, and ability to set their beloved country on an upward trajectory once again.
Angie Bell – getting things moving
Angie Bell, with her book The Adventures of Yaya – which she hopes will help connect Haitians around … [+] the world.
My dear friend, Angie Bell, is a legend in her own right – young, strong, sassy and savvy – and Haitian through and through. From a political family, Angie is inspirational, hands-on and wears many different hats as she gets things moving in the north of Haiti, including driving environmental, educational and economic development projects.
Angie’s deep love for Haiti and its people motivates her. She founded PouBèlAyiti, an artistic movement focused on keeping the streets of Haiti free from waste. Geared to children across the island, the movement also aims to bring more awareness and action towards climate change through educational projects. She has also co-authored a book – The Adventures of Yaya – which she believes will help hundreds discover the beautiful, rich heritage of her country and connect Haitians around the world.
Mandeep Rai and Angie Bell on a tour of Haiti’s historical sites
When I arrived in Haiti, Angie scooped me up from the airport of Cap-Haitien (Le Cap) in the north, and showed me the highs and lows, the history and culture, and everything in between. She took me to the Fortress of La Citadelle Laferriere and the palace of Sans Souci; often called the Palace of Versailles of the Caribbean. Both were built by Henry Christophe and awarded UNESCO World Heritage site status in 1982. An example of Haiti’s rich history, work on Sans Souci began in 1804 and took 13 years – and a workforce of 200,000 – to complete.
Angie also showed me the Lulu Lemon factories and introduced me to the people who manage it. I practically live in Lulu Lemon but had never noticed the label – ‘made in Haiti.’
Mandeep Rai admiring the incredible architecture in Haiti
Magalie Dresse – moving from co-dependency to responsibility
Then there’s Magalie Dresse, the entrepreneurial owner of Caribbean Craft – the largest craft company in Haiti. Born in Port-au-Prince, Magalie did her undergraduate degree in Haiti before studying for her Masters in New York. She tells me that, against the wishes of her parents, she returned home because of her desire to spearhead change. A mother of two college students, Magalie finds potential in everything and everyone around her.
In the same way that craft can transform an object from ordinary to extraordinary, Magalie is helping build a prosperous Haiti by building a successful, socially responsible business that offers its c.400 employees enhanced wages, health and accident insurance, a free daily meal, and access to education.
Everywhere in Haiti you can observe the country’s rich art, culture and history.
As co-chair of the Haitian Centre of leadership and Excellence (CLE), Magalie is on a mission to change the narrative of Haiti from co-dependency to sustainability and responsibility for its own destiny. In this role, Magalie works to bring about leadership transformation that will positively impact young people, their families and the communities across Haiti. This includes launching a five-year women’s leadership fellowship program supporting 50 emerging young women leaders working in inclusive economic development and social enterprise initiatives.
Kalinda Magloire – moving households to cleaner energy
Kalinda Magloire, founder of SWITCH
Another remarkable female role model is Kalinda Magloire, founder of SWITCH – a social impact enterprise committed to moving Haitian households away from charcoal and toward cleaner, safer energy.
Currently around two million homes use charcoal, and these toxic fumes kill around 4,000 Haitians each year, mostly women and children. Sadly, deforestation means that Haiti has only 2% remaining forest coverage left, making this an environmental emergency. Families are desperate to switch to propane, however most can’t afford it.
In addition to manufacturing stoves, SWITCH has developed different models that overcome financial barriers and enable low-income households to make the transition. As well as SWITCH, Kalinda is involved with many different organisations working for women’s empowerment, including a network for competitiveness, to enable smaller companies in Haiti to reach international standards and access international funding.
Taking on the fight
Mandeep Rai with Angie Bell and Dominique Dupuy, currently Haiti’s ambassador to UNESCO.
Like Suzanne Béliar, Marie-Jeanne Lamartiniére and so many other Haitian women before them, Angie, Magalie and Kalinda are determined to ensure their country – and its people – build on the successes of the past and thrive into the future.
The list of inspirational Haitian women to be recognised goes on. There is Dominique Dupuy, currently Haiti’s ambassador to UNESCO; Emmanuela Douyon, founder of public policy think-tank POLICITE; Gessica Geneus, multi-award-winning movie director. Elsewhere, Michele Duvivier Pierre Louis is a former Prime Minister and founder of FOKAL, which supports civil society organisations in education, arts and culture, and development.
These remarkable women are remaining, collaborating and rebuilding their country – and demonstrating the values of community, innovation, and enterprise. They are being the change they want to see in the world.
These incredible women help us understand black history and the contribution of people with African and Caribbean heritage. Their many achievements deserve to be celebrated.

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