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Helping Hands Noramise

The strong familiar aroma of home-cooked Haitian foods greeted me as I entered Exotica Tropicana, a local Haitian restaurant in Tianmu. Emy Orillon smiled as I introduced myself, immediately putting me at ease. We were meeting for the first time, as a result of my inquiry about Helping Hands Noramise (HHN), a Haitian-American NGO. Emy Orillon is based in Taipei, Taiwan, and is the Education Committee Head of HHN. She was passionate and cautious as she described her work with the organization. She made it clear that she has immense respect for the communities she works with and wants to handle their stories with care. Helping Hands Noramise is a Haitian-led NGO that works with schools and community centers in Haiti. One of her responsibilities is to help the organization raise funds so that they can carry on their work in Haiti. She had recently organized a successful local fundraiser and was pleased that I was interested. As we talked, she suggested that I meet with Rosedanie Cadet, the visionary and founder of Helping Hands Noramise. A Zoom conference was set up for the next day so that I could interview her directly to learn about her vision for HHN. Rosedanie Cadet was born in Haiti and is a Haitian-American, chef, nutritional therapist, and trained beekeeper who lives on Orcas Island in Washington, USA. She eloquently spoke about the deeply nuanced and complex reality of her experiences with Haitian communities. She carries the unique exuberance and optimism that I have grown accustomed to when speaking to Haitians.

JPW: Helping Hands Noramise sounds like a name with a story behind it. Is there a special one here?

RC: It’s my maternal grandmother’s name. I never knew my grandmother and always wanted to honor her for my mother. When I started this organization, I had a reading and an image of my grandmother could be seen standing behind my shoulders. It wasn’t Vodou, but when I went back home to Haiti, I met with my cousin who is a Vodou priest, and learned that my grandmother had been a healer, a Dokte Fey (herbal medicine practitioner). This news was also comforting for me. I was also interested in getting back to the herbs, indigenous ways, foods, and culture. To know that my grandmother had practiced that and had the innate gift of healing was like a sign that I was on the right path.

JPW: Helping Hands Noramise sounds like a name with a story behind it. Is there a special one here?

RC: It’s my maternal grandmother’s name. I never knew my grandmother and always wanted to honor her for my mother. When I started this organization, I had a reading and an image of my grandmother could be seen standing behind my shoulders. It wasn’t Vodou, but when I went back home to Haiti, I met with my cousin who is a Vodou priest, and learned that my grandmother had been a healer, a Dokte Fey (herbal medicine practitioner). This news was also comforting for me. I was also interested in getting back to the herbs, indigenous ways, foods, and culture. To know that my grandmother had practiced that and had the innate gift of healing was like a sign that I was on the right path.

JPW: How did you become so interested and involved?

RC: I live on Orcas Island (Washington, USA). Gardens are everywhere. I live very simply. I went back home to Haiti before the 2010 earthquake to see how to make a difference. I’m a chef. I was going to do something around food. When I went there, I found that the land was so decimated and that the people were not wanting to work the land to feed themselves. I knew what I had to do. It was a no-brainer.
After the 2010 earthquake, it became of greater importance to get people reconnected to the land. When you talk about being indigenous and having our influences, I think a lot of Haitians see the island… as just the landing spot to go somewhere else. I see, as Haitians, we can embody that we are Indigenous. Five generations of African slaves were brought to that island and connected with the original inhabitants there. There are things that Maroon slaves (runaway African slaves that formed societies with Native Americans) did because they befriended the Arawaks (an Indigenous Nation of the Caribbean and South America). If people cannot feed themselves, then they are slaves. Having good healthy food and having a good relationship with the Earth is my passion, I teach it.
If you feed someone, have them become healthy, feed their minds, and educate them… they will make the right decisions for themselves. Decisions from a place of security that allow them to look beyond themselves. What we do is help schools install gardens. At a school in Port-au-Prince, we introduced agronomists who helped set up a poultry program and they’re now selling chickens from their school garden.

JPW: How did you become so interested and involved?

RC: I live on Orcas Island (Washington, USA). Gardens are everywhere. I live very simply. I went back home to Haiti before the 2010 earthquake to see how to make a difference. I’m a chef. I was going to do something around food. When I went there, I found that the land was so decimated and that the people were not wanting to work the land to feed themselves. I knew what I had to do. It was a no-brainer.
After the 2010 earthquake, it became of greater importance to get people reconnected to the land. When you talk about being indigenous and having our influences, I think a lot of Haitians see the island… as just the landing spot to go somewhere else. I see, as Haitians, we can embody that we are Indigenous. Five generations of African slaves were brought to that island and connected with the original inhabitants there. There are things that Maroon slaves (runaway African slaves that formed societies with Native Americans) did because they befriended the Arawaks (an Indigenous Nation of the Caribbean and South America). If people cannot feed themselves, then they are slaves. Having good healthy food and having a good relationship with the Earth is my passion, I teach it.
If you feed someone, have them become healthy, feed their minds, and educate them… they will make the right decisions for themselves. Decisions from a place of security that allow them to look beyond themselves. What we do is help schools install gardens. At a school in Port-au-Prince, we introduced agronomists who helped set up a poultry program and they’re now selling chickens from their school garden.

JPW: Your organization’s approach must energize those communities you work with. What have been successful projects and how did you go about choosing them to facilitate “beneficial impact” within the communities you work with?

RC: Well, we’re a small organization. It has been challenging to attract people to our way of doing things. Tiny is not considered desirable. I started with less than $600 USD. What we bring are opportunities to learn how to earn your own money through training. For example, we had a community center where someone wanted to start sewing feminine hygiene products. They started the pilot program at our center and had a women’s sewing group doing it. We taught how to do presentations to young girls about feminine hygiene. They started selling those products to orphanages.
Organizations bringing in disposable tampons fill up our trash ways. We have no way of dealing with that. Now they have two centers and are selling their feminine hygiene products all over the country. The women have a job educating young girls about taking better care of themselves. These women are empowered because they weren’t teaching that way before. That is the purpose of our training, they take what they learned back to the community, providing a service to the community that was already needed and they start earning a living.
Our philosophy is that it’s about spending time and developing relationships. We’ve invested time in educating people within the organization, elevating them to educating others. We don’t want to be there all the time. One of the challenges I had was that some Haitians thought I was taking their jobs away. I was like, “I don’t want your job. My job is to help you do your jobs better.”

JPW: The typical mainstream narrative of Haiti is that its lack of industrialized development is one of its biggest obstacles. However, many NGOs consider this to be a unique advantage that is an opportunity to better understand developing contemporary eco-sustainability. Do you think that Haitians have a different understanding of what sustainability is and can look like compared to foreign NGOs? In what ways do you think the rest of the world can learn from Haitian-led eco-sustainability initiatives?

RC: Yes, Haitians do have a different understanding of what sustainability means. Some don’t know what that word means at all. Our biggest obstacle, in my opinion, is the lack of proper education. Our people are not educated and you can’t have a developed society without educating the population.
Not having to tear things down is excellent. We have virgin ground. Sustainable development can be done in unique ways. For example, hurricanes, right? Hurricanes come and go every year. We can’t pick up the island and move it out of the path of hurricanes. We have all of these NGOs. Why are they not working on helping Haitians build earthquake-proof, hurricane-proof, housing?
We know disasters are going to come, but we have to wait for disasters to happen. So, we rush in and save everyone from, you know, disasters we knew were coming. In terms of what others can learn from Haitians, I have relatives who are Vodou practitioners. I’ve been able to attend some of the ceremonies in the countryside. You see how the ceremonies value the land and the area is clean and the water is drinkable. Vodou is more widely accepted now, but there’s a stigma around it.
Look at the Konbit, a traditional form of cooperative communal labor in Haiti. It’s written on the Haitian flag even, unity in strength (L’union Fait La Force). It’s like, we need to work together to understand that the land will not give us what we need from it until we work at it together.

JPW: What is the most beautiful thing you have encountered working with these communities in Haiti?

RC: During the pandemic, I had the good fortune for the first two months to be stranded in Haiti. The first month, I was at an orphanage outside of Mirebalais, a city in the center of Haiti. I went up to the roof of the orphanage at night to watch the sunset. During the day I cooked with the kids.
After that, I went to Wynn Farm, an ecological preserve. Because of the pandemic, no tourists went there. So it was just me and the workers. There were strawberry plants that needed to be counted, I ate one strawberry a day. That was my treat to myself because I was there to count the strawberries, not to eat them. I was also there to be one with nature.

Jean-Paul Weaver (she/her/hers) is a Haitian-American artist and educator based in Taipei, Taiwan. She is also the Administrative Director of Espace Xaragua, an artist resource center based in Jakmel, Haiti.

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