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Project takes aim at Haitian identity in Boston area

Originally published: 3/2008

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By Martine Louis
Boston Haitian Reporter Staff
(From the Boston Haitian Reporter, March 2008, page 11)

The Twa Zanmi [Three Friends] project— a collaboration between the Haitian American Public Health Initiative, Camera Mosaique of the Haitian Media Network and Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston—has set out to study the immigration experiences of Boston's Haitian community and their struggle to develop a new identity in a new society.

Hoping to illustrate how social factors such as poverty, race and education may impact health the project will create a television program chronicling the lives of three Haitian immigrants from different walks of life. The series will feature an educated and successful entrepreneur who loses his independence once he comes to America; an elderly couple who cannot find employment due to language barriers; and a single parent working two to three jobs who have no time for their children.

"Depression, domestic violence and even suicide plague Haitian communities everywhere and their life circumstances plays a major role," said Oswald Neptune, a member of HAPHI. "No matter how poor or how affluent you were back home in Haiti, for many immigrants in only gets worse in America."

"Starting with the language barriers, if you don't speak English there are hardly any opportunities for you," Neptune continued. "Wages are unfairly lower for these people than anyone else leaving them to work multiple jobs to make ends meet for their families. For parents, especially single parents, there is always the threat of DSS (Department of Social Services). It hurts to know that you come to a greater country for opportunities, yet you find in that greater country doors are often closed to you."

Twa Zanmi is funded by New Routes to Community Health, a program that works to improve the lives of new immigrants and refugees using the media. The project is also partnered with, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which supports promising new ideas that address health and health care disparities.

As the project is currently in development, Jean Mark Jean Baptiste, executive director of HAPHI, says they will host a series of community meetings to get story ideas from residents.

"We want to produce something that will express the feelings of frustration and isolation many families endure. Something everyone can relate to," said Jean Baptist. "In a sense this is a community-directed project because it is their voices we will reflect in these episodes. By watching or listening to these programs, men and women can start a discussion about mental health issues in their own communities." The show, which currently has no premiere date, will air in Creole on Camera Mosaique and on Vwa Lakay (radio). Susan Foley, social policy researcher at UMass Boston, says mental health is highly overlooked amongst the Haitian community.

"The trauma of starting over in a new world can be severe and it is a natural response to want to isolate yourself," said Foley. "There are support groups out there such as HAPHI. But Twa Zanmi is not only talking to the Haitian community, we hope to inspire Americans to be more welcoming and receiving to those from other countries."

To participate in the Twa Zanmi project call Oswald Neptune at 617- 298-8076 ext.11 or Jean Mark Jean Baptiste at ext.25.

Please visit the website at BostonHaitian.com

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