Helping in Haiti
Martine Longchamp carries on her brother's legacy through Diakonos International, helping improve the lives of Haiti's youth through art.
By Kendyl Counts
Each year, Martine Longchamp’s organization Diakonos International brings an art workshop to underprivileged Haïtian children in hopes of nurturing their interest in education. Though inspiring and beautiful, however, the project has its roots in tragedy.
In August of 2007, Martine’s brother Wilfred Longchamp moved from the United States back to Haïti, his native country. Wilfrid was no stranger to hardship – he had been suffering from an autoimmune disorder during his 35-year absence from the country. Still, he was shocked upon his return to find an abundance of homeless children, abandoned and ill-treated. Plucked from the streets, some of the children were even being exploited as “restavek”, or household slaves, and were abused, malnourished, and denied an education.
“Wilfrid determined that one of the strongest indicators that shows impoverished children in Haïti are suffering is their absence from school,” Martine Longchamp said. “He knew that only education can provide these children the sense of security needed to help them move from profound and crippling poverty to productivity.”
Unfortunately, Wilfrid did not live long enough to see his philanthropic endeavors come to fruition. With his passing in the 2010 earthquake, his sister Martine decided to honor his dream by founding Diakonos International Inc., an organization that would help Haïtian children rise from poverty to productivity.
“Our Mission is to nurture the orphaned, abandoned and deprived children of Haïti, and empower them to become the next generation of productive Haïtian citizens,” Martine said.
For Martine, it was an obvious decision to use art as a vessel with which to accomplish this goal. As a grandchild of renowned Haïtian painter Philomé Obin, the power of art as a therapeutic tool had been ingrained in her, and seemed the best way to enrich the learning abilities of the children.
“We developed Art Day Celebration to stimulate the creativity in each child through quality artistic activities which include visual arts, theater, movement and music,” Martine said. “Thus, we bring healing, and restore their hope.”
With the Art Day Celebrations in action since 2012, Martine has seen rewarding progress among the children that she works with. She cites the case of a young boy named James as a quintessential success story for Diakonos. With poor parents and a mentally challenged mother, James had a difficult childhood and was incredibly reserved and introverted when he arrived at the Art Day Celebration in 2012. He has come out of his shell in the years since, assuming the role as the assistant logistics coordinator at the children’s home and taking more responsibility with the younger children, helping them to color and sketch.
“Art Day Celebration has helped build his confidence level,” Martine said. “The children at home call him ‘big brother’.”
Martine hopes to witness the development more triumphs like that of James in the years to come. Those interested in learning more about Diakonos can visit http://diakonosintl.org/diakonosintl/ for more information about their projects and volunteer opportunities.