Saturday, February 28, 2004

Haitian youth's dances help orphanages at home

By Denise Smith Amos
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Soni Derazin, 19, an orphan from Haiti, gets a hug from a St. Ursula Villa student Friday after the students about heard about Derazin's life and the poverty in Haiti.
Photo by MEGGAN BOOKER/The Cincinnati Enquirer

MOUNT LOOKOUT - When Soni Derazin was 5 years old, his mother abandoned him.

A deadly fever had left him physically and mentally impaired. His mother, like many Haitians, believed disabilities are a sign of evil spirits.

For five years, Soni lived in a crib, with little interaction, in a home for disabled children. When his caretakers closed the home, several teenage boys from another orphanage, the St. Joseph's Home for Boys in Port-au-Prince, took over.

They played with and cared for the children, taking them outside to the garden for the first time in years. Two boys would hold Soni up by the arms while a third moved Soni's legs and feet.

Eventually he learned to walk, talk and dance.

Derazin, who is 19 today, still dances, but now it's to support other Haitian orphans. He performed interpretative dances Friday in a presentation to about 500 St. Ursula Villa students.

He and Peter Eyvindson, a Canadian children's author, tour the United States and Canada twice a year for six weeks at a time, entertaining children and adults with stories, dance and art made by Haitian children, all to support three children's homes in Fermathe, a small town near Port-au-Prince.

"It's because of the example the teenagers have set," Eyvindson said. "They didn't have much, but they gave what they have. I guess I should be doing the same."

Derazin danced haltingly at times, then rapidly, to music that portrayed the life of a young boy longing to be free of disability, like a butterfly.

Derazin suffers symptoms of cerebral palsy, Eyvindson said, and has limited muscle control.

"Every time Soni takes a step, he really has to think hard about it," Eyvindson said.

Derazin joked with the author and the children about his taste for hip hop music and "big malls." Later he took pictures with students.

Both men have been in the United States since early this month. But as rebels closed in on the capital this week, Haiti's airports, banks and businesses have shut, and it's unclear when Derazin can go home.

The St. Joseph's home is also a guesthouse, making $30 a night from visitors and missionaries.

But there are no guests now. The phones don't work, so Eyvindson has been e-mailing the home, which was safe from looters as of Thursday night, he said. He hasn't received an e-mail since.

Eyvindson and Derazin will perform again 4:30 p.m. today at St. Mary's Catholic school in Hillsboro, Ohio.


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