Bringing the creole flavor to campus, the Haitian Student organization (HSO) is exposing the FIU community to the food, language, dance and history of Haiti.
HSO started out as a small Caribbean student group in 1990, and has since grown to be one of the larger and more active organizations on campus with 400 members. The organization’s goal is to educate others about the history, tradition and present day progress of Haiti, and matters pertaining to the Haitian diaspora.
Sophomore Gabrielle Barlatier, president of HSO, is making sure students are involved with celebrating Haitian culture through a variety of programming and service opportunities, while also offering networking experiences.
“We don’t put a strict guideline on who our members are,” Barlatier says. “You don’t have to be Haitian − come, learn and enjoy the culture with us.”
Events are set up to cater to the different interests of the group’s members, bridging the gap between the first generation Haitian American students at FIU and the native Haitian community.
“Sometimes in our culture things get lost and it’s no longer authentic,” she says. “It’s important for our members to know where they come from and learn how they can contribute through HSO.”
Sherley Joseph, sophomore and parliamentarian for HSO, adds: “There are things we want to push forward to show our members that we have something to be proud of. It’s found in our culture.”
Once a month, members gather in the Graham Center Pit to enjoy the flavorful moves of Kompa, the number one Haitian pop-style music that has its own sensual dance. HSO is also known for hosting well-attended Kompa nights, not only to have fun, but to raise money for the organization and connect members through social gatherings.
As executive board members, Barlatier and Joseph believe that it is important for the organization to educate members about lesser known Haitian customs and explore the versatility of their culture.
The group recently hosted an event, “Beyond Griot,” with Haitian chef Alian Lemaire from Cutthroat Kitchen, where he shared both traditional and non-traditional Haitian recipes. Lemaire also discussed race and ethnicity within the restaurant industry, saying that even in the kitchen it goes from light to dark, referring to people and positions. Members also participated in “Dekole,” a dance workshop with professional Haitian folklore dancer and choreographer Nancy St Léger.
Barlatier says that lessons from these events were two-fold: members took away something new about life and culture that they didn’t know.
“[Chef Lemaire] is an example to us as Haitians that you can be black and successful,” Barlatier adds.
In addition to venturing into new areas, the organization values its service to their homeland.
HSO goes to Haiti every year to distribute school supplies in collaboration with WINWIN Global, an organization setting out to create a “win-win” strategy for meeting critical global needs.
After the country was hit by Hurricane Matthew, the focus of the trip changed to assist those who had been affected. HSO organized a fundraising drive “Espwa Pou Ayiti: Hope for Haiti” to collect clothes, shoes and other supplies, resulting in 54 boxes given to families in Haiti. Outside of HSO’s personal efforts, they were pleased to see how quickly word of the drive spread throughout FIU.
“We didn’t expect that much help,” Joseph says. “It was really inspiring that people were really willing to help Haiti that much.”
As clothes and shoes started to spill over into the lobby of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center, HSO had to relocate items to a new storage location in the Graham Center.
The clothing drive is just one example of how HSO is using their resources as students and members of the Haitian diaspora to give back through education, and work with local community groups who have the same interest.
“If you want to learn about the culture, give back your time, do something impactful − even if it’s a small difference − then HSO is definitely the place for you,” Joseph says. “You will grow as a person and network.”
To get involved with the Haitian Student Organization, visit their page on Orgsync.com.