Demystifying Haitian Vodou to Improve Educational and Health Outcomes for Haitian Americans
In partnership with the Vodou Holistic Center and with the assistance of a $5,000 Community Project Grant from Florida Humanities, TEN Global hosted a series of community conversations grappling with topics on how to improve Haitian American life in Broward County. With South Florida home to a large Haitian American population and Haitian Creole as the fastest growing foreign language in Broward County, the need for deeper cultural understanding in order to harness the gifts of the Haitian American people and better meet their needs within the community is imperative. Haitian Vodou is a religion created by enslaved African people that sustained and honored their diverse indigenous roots under the brutal colonist rule. The religion views humans as spirits inhabiting physical bodies in the “visible world,” guided by ancestral spirits in the “unseen world.” Vodou was a way of existing for enslaved Africans that generated and energized the quest for liberation. As a result, colonizers viewed Vodou as a threat to their power and began to demonize the religion. Demystifying and understanding Vodou is essential in achieving equality and respect for Haitian Americans in Florida and beyond.
The May 2019 series included three panels, each focusing on a different facet of Haitian American life: education, physical health, and mental health. Both Haitian scholars and Priestesses were present, with panelists including Dr. Charlene Desir, Dr. Claudine Michel, Professor Bayyinnah Bello, Manbo Ingrid Llera, Dr. Gerry Giles, Manbo Marie Maude Evans, and Dr. Patricia El-brini. The speakers emphasized embracing the link between positive cultural identity and academic success, the intersections between indigenous healing, modern medicine, and Vodou healing practices, and the importance for mental health care providers in maintaining cultural awareness by discerning between Haitian Vodou principles and mental illness.
The free program attracted a diverse and intergenerational audience with nearly 200 participants present. Namely, a large number of medical professionals, educators, and psychologists attended to absorb information to utilize in their practices. Videos of the panels were archived on Digital Library of the Caribbean’s (dLOC) platform and have had over 3,000 views. The overwhelmingly positive response to the event laid the groundwork for the creation of similar programs in the future and an ignited hope that, through community education, deeper cultural awareness on a systemic scale and resolutions for equality can be reached.
Following the success of this project, funded through a Florida Humanities Community Project Grant, TEN Global plans to partner with Vodou Holistic Center in the future to continue the conversation with more humanities-rich programs.
Partner: TEN Global, Inc.
Project Director: Dr. Charlene Desir
About the Partner Organization: TEN Global, Inc. (The Empowerment Network Global) was established in 2009 with a mission to reach youth, women, and community allies in South Florida and Haiti to engage in and co-create social-emotional, spiritual literacy, service learning engagement, and academic scholarship.