For the last week I’ve been watching the artists along the street outside of the entrance to my hotel. Every morning at 7 am they arrive with about 50 paintings. It takes them an hour to get all of the paintings hung up along the wall, transforming the space into a colorful Haitian art gallery. Then as the day goes on I see them standing near their work, waiting for someone to show interest. Sometimes later in the afternoon they’ll work a bit on a new piece, but mostly they just stand idly by. The city moves around them while they wait for someone to take notice, but nobody ever seems to. When the sun sets at 7 pm they take the paintings back down again and carry them home. As the days have gone on with the painters having no luck at all I’ve started silently rooting for them from my window above. Every time someone passes by I hope this might finally be a sale, but it always ends in disappointment. I haven’t seen a single purchase.
On my last afternoon in Haiti Jacinta and I went to the Digicel offices to meet with Sophia Stransky, the Head of the Foundation, and Rachel Pierre, Program Manager, on this year’s project.
Digicel runs their project year from May to April and so we’ve just wrapped up last year’s work. Jacinta and her team did a phenomenal job delivering 195 computers (that’s 13 labs!) in the last two weeks of March and so we exceeded our targets for the project within the timeframe required. The discussion with Sophia and Rachel was focused around improvements for this year like delivering more energy efficient labs to minimize the solar cost, additional monitoring and evaluation on the usage and impact of labs we’ve previously delivered, and expanding our content with offerings like an off-line Khan Academy. It was a really good discussion and it’s wonderful to have organizations like Digicel to partner with. They are incredibly supportive of the work we do and provide a lot of time and resources to improve education in Haiti.
As we made our way back from the meeting to the hotel I spied a woman talking with one of the painters across the street. This wasn’t just any woman, though, this was someone who was prepared to buy, I could tell. She was slowly browsing the paintings, considering each one carefully…and then she reached over and pointed at one that had a long view of the beach with some boats in the distance. Excellent choice. Finally it was the artist’s chance to get something sold. I silently pleaded with him from across the street not to blow this sale.
He gave her a price…oh too high, I could see she was not pleased with that. She shook her head and started to walk away, he got her attention though and gave her another price. Now he was in the ballpark. I could see she was thinking about it, but then she said something to him and he looked down. It must have been a really low counteroffer. This was the critical moment, he’d either get the sale or lose it. I could see him torn between pride in his work and the need to finally sell something. After a minute of this internal struggle he made a decision, nodding his head he carefully pulled the painting down off the wall and handed it to her as she gave him the money. One painting sold after a week of waiting.
So Jacinta and Jonny dropped me at the hotel so that I could prepare for the flight out the next day, but before I let them go I made them pose for one more picture in front of Haven Foundation’s new truck (jealous!). Au revoir sunny Port-au-Prince.