Michael Buccellato, a professional yoga teacher from New York attended the Dedication of the second classrom building for the COHH Elementary and Secondary school in October 2017. Below, he shares his personal account of his visit.
My fondest memory of visiting COHH is when the children sang their "Mesi, Mesi" song of thanks during the dedication ceremony of their new classroom building. The girls and boys sang as one and you did not have to speak nor understand French or Kreyòl to hear the gratefulness in their beautiful voices. In fact, my story is one that transcends any language barrier through music, play and yoga. While the educational mission to foster the livelihood and hope of these special children in Hinche was being documented and celebrated, I had the unique opportunity to bond with the children through my guitar, play and by introducing yoga to this extraordinary campus. It was early October 2017 and several interactions with the children would make this the most memorable trip of my life.
My luggage from the United States included donated school supplies, donated yoga mats, and my guitar. But, how these items would ultimately play a role over the next few days were still unknown. We had arrived on a Thursday night and there was great anticipation for the arrival of the students the next morning for the Friday school day. It was an action packed few days on the campus, but there are several moments that highlight how music, play and yoga aligned at COHH.
The sun was shining early in the morning as the children arrived by foot and gathered around the flag pole to proudly sing their national anthem. Singing engages both the heart and the mind and the fact that music is such a part of the Haitian culture and is celebrated on this campus left an immediate impression on me. The use of the voice can bring about a cleansing and it's why we feel better after we sing and for these students clapping and singing is part of their everyday experience. The power of the voice and music cannot be overlooked as they are powerful tools in creation as the brain lights up with the processing of the mathematics of music. Perhaps that is why I should not have been surprised when three boys appeared on the porch at the end of the long school day when they heard me playing my guitar. It was an unforgettable experience for me when one boy motioned for me to pick up the tempo, and as I did, their smiles widened and they began to sing. It didn't matter that I didn't understand their words as they were singing in Kreyòl. What mattered most was the universal connection that music provides. Of course, soon they were very interested in strapping the guitar around their own shoulders andstrumming the strings. They took turns playing with the vibration of the strings and added the harmonizing of their own voices to create music instantaneously. And, they must have mentioned their experience to the other children the next day during the dedication ceremony because at the end of another long day, three girls appeared on the same porch asking to see and hear the guitar. Since they were slightly younger than the boys from the previous day, I gladly tightened the guitar strap to fit around their shoulders. The three girls then took turns playing the guitar with bright shining faces leading the way.
After singing the Haitian national anthem, the children headed to the kitchen area of the campus to eat a solid meal before morning classes.
And, although academic learning is the clear priority, the value of play cannot be overstated for the balance it provides for the students. In fact, as they flooded out of the classrooms to the quad for free time before lunch, the children seemed to be in the business of playing. Soccer balls were being juggled and passed between groups of boys and girls, bouncing from one knee to the next. American footballs were being tossed and chased awkwardly as they bounced more erratically than the round soccer balls. There was a frenzy of running and playing even among the adults and I was eager to join in the fun. As I approached a circle of boys, I reached into my pocket and took out a hacky sack. Briefly, I held it up to show them what it was a soft, small, colorful cloth filled with beads that is used in circle kicking. I demonstrated dropping it toward my raised right knee and sending it back up into the air with the energy of my leg. Then, I showed them how to use the inside or outside of my foot to pass it to another, or kick it up to yourself again using eye and body coordination. Quickly, they learned to kick and pass the hacky sack with the simple point of trying to get everyone in the circle to successfully kick it at least once before it hits the ground. The new game caught on and after participating for a few minutes, I let them continue to play as more children experimented with the challenge. Briefly, I sat on the wall surrounding the flag pole and a small boy walked toward me. I was wearing a rubber bracelet with the words, "Live the Life you Love" written around it's circumference. The boy took an interest in it and slid his fingers underneath to cleverly move the bracelet to his own wrist. I remember making it a game and doing the same to him to pass the bracelet back to my wrist. Soon, I gladly let him keep it and even today I wonder how those wonderfulwords translate to Kreyòl. I hope the message on the bracelet may inspire him along with the other precious children.
Not long after the interaction with the boy on the stone wall, I was encouraged to grab my mat for a chance to introduce yoga to the children. I laid it out on the grass in the quad and proceeded to go up into a headstand. Quickly, I got the attention of the children as it's possible they had never seen a person upside down? They began to gather as my intention to get them interested worked. They all seemed so excited and began to assemble too closely together. Once again, I was able to use my own body to communicate by spreading my arms wide to show that we all needed our own space to move our bodies. I gently guided some children into position with arms spread wide like birds, with their finger tips slightly touching each other. Antoine Charles, the Center of Hope (Haiti) administrator, began to help us cross the language barrier by translating the yoga cues I was giving to the children. I continued to model the poses and with my legs and arms spread wide, the students moved in unison with a side lean to the right aligning their left foot, hip, shoulder, arm and hand with fingers spread wide reaching for the sky. With the next inhale we all moved through the body's mid-line and exhaled to left aligning the right side of our bodies while continuing to reach for the sky. We were all lengthening and making space within, creating a balanced opening in our bodies. It was truly a remarkable experience to have such an opportunity to connect with the children on multiple levels and in such a short period of time. I feel honored and very thankful for the experience I had to bond with the gifted children at Center of Hope (Haiti) in Hinche, Haiti.