“We know that a population that is not educated will always be taken advantage of,” said 22-year-old Pierre Albert of Crown Heights. “Without education, it will be difficult to rise up the socio-economic ladder.”
This belief in education as the key to socio-economic progress is what led Albert to join with his friend Michael Charles, 33, founder of the Light the World Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping educate children in Haiti while also assisting youth in the U.S. to become valuable members of their communities. The two met at their church, God of Mercy on E 98th Street in Brooklyn, where Charles had become a mentor for Albert. And now, as a member of the Light the World leadership team, Albert is preparing to do the same for other youth.
Charles was 17 years old when his family immigrated to New York City from Haiti. Back then and still today, access to education in Haiti is a privilege, not a right, since the government only funds 10 percent of the country’s primary and secondary education. Parents must pay the rest. And since 78 percent of Haiti’s population is poor (families that earn less than $2 a day), and more than half (54 percent) live in extreme poverty (less than $1 a day), a large percent of its population remains under-educated or not educated at all. “If the kids cannot pay to finish school, they drop out, get in trouble and get involved with things that are not good for them,” said Charles. Despite these challenges, however, Charles remembers the unbroken spirit of his people and how music became the most natural way to express their pain… And their joy! “In Haiti, music brought the community together; it helped us express our emotions and heal,” said Charles, who plays the trumpet, piano and bass guitar. Even in the U.S., he noticed that the Haitian community in New York held on tight to all of its music traditions. “Here in the U.S., I was seeing all the talent in the community, and I felt it was being wasted,” he said. “And I thought, it would be great if we could gather everyone and use the talent for a purpose.” So in 2009, at the age 29, Charles, along with a six other members of his church formed the Light the World Foundation. Every year for the past four years, they hold an arts and music festival to raise money to help pay for the full tuition for young students in Haiti and a $3,000 scholarship to help one student to attend college in the U.S.
For one night, some of the greatest local and national Haitian-American talent gather in New York City to participate in and enjoy the sort of music and talent they are accustomed to getting from back home, and for a good cause. The money raised also goes towards mentoring workshops, seminars and webinars, held by the leadership team throughout the year. This year’s concert took place on Saturday, July 12, at South Shore High School in Brooklyn, featuring performances by Limage Pierre, Jackson Chery, Former Haitian Mass Choir Director Dickson Guillaume –and his group LIBERE, and other artists.
The foundation leaders said the show was amazing, exhilarating, fun. If you missed the performance, catch a re-broadcast of the event on BRIC Network, Wednesday, July 23, at 10:00pm (Channel 68 on Cablevision/ Channel 35 on Time Warner). The young leaders already are looking forward to next year’s show.
But for them, even more exciting than the concert experience, is the fulfillment that comes from knowing that more than 350 children from six different communities in Haiti will now get the opportunity to go to school. That’s 350 more children than not. To learn more about the foundation, go to their website.