Haiti: Theatre provides an escape for the young

For 12-year-old Juliana St. Vill and her classmates at a local theatre school – screaming is therapy.

Acting is an escape for her and other children who have been driven out of their homes in Haiti and live in the constant threat of gang violence.

Juliana says, “I play whatever role they ask me to play,” but she knows she wants to grow up to be a policewoman. She says, “I like the way they dress, but I would be afraid of dying.”

Just a few blocks away from where Juliana and others rehearse, a female officer with Haiti’s National Police was fatally shot on May 8 as she fought off gang members trying to kidnap her. She was dropping off her child at school.

Millions across Haiti are struggling to rebuild their lives in a country with no president that is pushing toward an uncertain future.

Thousands of people have been killed and injured by gangs who want full control of the Port-au-Prince capital and beyond.

Workshop assistant Stéphanie François says she has seen a change in the children since they attended the drama lessons. Some barely spoke when they first began the classes.

Eliézer Guerisme, the Programme Director at Haiti’s National Theater says that the classes allow the children to remember their youth.

“When the children leave the shelter, they have this possibility to breathe, to be in another environment, in a healthy space, suitable for the development of a young person’s mind.”

Juliana and the other children receive a free meal at the workshop and in spite of their hunger, they leave half for their families.

The journey to and from the acting class is made on a motorbike. Juliana and her family used to live in a house, but now she lives in a crowded shelter and sleeps on a mattress on the floor.

Juliana misses home and her mother echoed those sentiments.

“When we lived in our house, even though we only had five pumpkins to eat, we lived well. Here in the shelter, we can’t even sleep, the insects bite us,” said Baby Gustave.

For now, acting provides an escape from the violence, however fleeting.

The country of more than 11 million people finds itself at a crossroads while preparing for the imminent arrival of thousands of police officers from Kenya and other countries.

The officers are part of a U.N-backed deployment requested by former Prime Minister Ariel Henry in October 2022 to quell gang violence, which exploded in the months following the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

Haiti is as fragile as it’s ever been: Nearly 2 million people are on the verge of starvation, more than 360,000 have been left homeless by gang invasions, and basic supplies including critical medication have dwindled as the main international airport remains closed for nearly three months.

Gang violence also has forced authorities to suspend operations at the nation’s largest seaport.

Caught in the middle are Haitians of every generation wondering if the country will pull through, and whether they will live to see its future as they flee the relentless violence.

Sourced from Africanews

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