Above: Some of the bèl timoun of BelTiFi Inc…Diana Prud’homme, Director of Social Media and Interaction, Judith Jacques Director of Communications, Jessie Rigaud, Treasurer; Jihan Antoine President, Carmel Balan, Director of Community Outreach, Vanessa Bellan Director of Marketing, Tai Lucien Director of Fund Development, Farah Louis, Director of Programming.
Are you a Bèl Ti fi? Well, are you? If you are working towards self-empowerment, achieving goals, and helping others in the Haitian community, while working on your own self-development—you indeed are one. And your objectives and mission mirror those of BelTiFi Inc, an organization based in New York whose primary goal is to bring Haitian women together, and encourage dialogue among them in the community. BelTiFi also has had a strong hand in recognizing the merits of major achievers in the community (Edwidge Danticat is among a past honoree). It holds galas and events to help it achieve its goals of strengthening the bonds in the community, and lessening the gap between the Haitian and the American community.
Many regard Bel Tifi Inc as concrete proof that young Haitian women can work together to achieve something monumental. The work is vast, but there are many capable hands at the helm of BelTiFi Inc, to assure that things go smoothly at all times. Board members are among the most educated and brightest the Haitian community has to offer, and are all college-educated and enjoying personal career success as young professionals. There’s Tai Lucien the organization’s Fund Development Chair who works with sponsors and brainstorms with the group regarding fundraising opportunities. When BelTiFi is in need of research, eyes turn to Cassandra Pierre-Louis. Jihan Antoine and Judith Jacques smooth out corporate communications and matters related to the organization’s image. Farah Louis and Jessie Rigaud take care of event programming and financial matters respectively. Diana Prudhomme serves as the organizations Social Media and Interaction Chair and is the meeting point for all communications, and makes certain that the organization’s goals are well-communicated through as many social media platforms as deemed fit. Reaching out to the community as a whole is the responsibility of Carmel Balan, while Vanessa Bellan oversees marketing initiatives.
The ladies elaborated on the organization and its goals for Kreyolicious.com.
How did Bel Tifi originate?
JIHAN ANTOINE: Bel TiFi—[when] translated [means] “Pretty Young Girl—was founded on behalf of the memory of my grandmother, Yolande Paret, who passed away unexpectedly in October 2009. To be a bèl ti fi, was one of the last conversations I had with her for her mission was to make sure that as a Haitian woman, I felt confident, encouraged, and inspired. While in college, I wanted to gather a group of young Haitian-American women and create an organization to call our own by relating to all aspects of our lives both personally, professionally, and put to rest some of the stereotypes that we were labeled with. With an exceptional board of co-founders who have imparted their own knowledge, creativity, and experiences to further strengthen BelTiFi’s expectations, our goal is to create a platform for young women to grow and excel with guidance. Through three years of development and plateaus that we continue to climb more every day, the organization prides itself on the execution of well-development workshops, events, and a communications sector which makes us available to all constantly. It is with these activities that we intend to create an environment that is contemporary, educational, fun, and most importantly a place where Haitian women can be themselves and celebrated for all their accomplishments. Have no fear, BelTiFi is here!
In its quest to empower young Haitian-Americans, what has BelTiFi encountered?
FARAH LOUIS: The leading challenges we’ve witnessed in our community are: The silence of young Haitian girls that are victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Deficiencies in Professional and Personal development. Dissension among women—fighting and hurting women. Inter-generational barriers. The challenges mentioned are alarming; however, it’s reality. As an organized group of women, we never imagined being an ear to a rape victim, a mediator to women with quarrels, or teaching young women how to dress for an interview or how to communicate with their parents. After witnessing these issues and hearing so many stories, BelTiFi understood the needs of our community and will instantly take action whenever we’re called on to help young Haitian girls.
Resilience is a word that’s constantly used to describe the people of Haiti, especially its women. Do you feel that’s a trait that’s been passed on to this generation?
DIANA PRUD’HOMME: Throughout its history as a nation, Haiti has been through its share of trials and tribulations but it is the strength of the people after tragedy and hardship that shows the true strength of the nation. There is an old saying that says that the woman is the pillar of any household and I believe this is doubly true of Haitian women. Haitian women are the strongest women out there and it is evident through their daughters that this strength is passed down from generation to generation. Haitian mothers show their daughters what it is like to keep a family together. My mother would tell me stories from her childhood about growing up in Jeremie and having her mom go to the market every day, rain or shine, to sell her goods just so her and her brother could have the chance to go to school. Fast forward 40 years later and I saw my mother doing the same for me and my brothers. She would often work double and triple shifts so that we could have the things we needed. I always admired this about my mother and it is because of this example of strength that I have so much drive myself. Even though I do not have any daughters to pass this lesson along to yet, through BelTiFi my committee members and I can show other Haitian-American women examples of strength. Strength is BelTiFi.
Is the organization also involved in activities in Haiti?
TAI LUCIEN: One of our sectors that we’ve created through Bel Ti Fi for our Haiti influenced events and activities are a campaign called “Rebuild from the Roots.” Through this campaign, we wanted to represent our collected efforts through working with other empowering organizations to help rebuild our country and continue to showcase the “strength in numbers” we have been taught especially pertaining to times of need. Under this campaign, are all the events and programs we have led or partnered to help the country in the aspects of education, agriculture, hygiene, and collecting needed supplies. We have coordinated events that created survival hygiene kits for Women of Haiti (WSKD) with 1199SEIU which are distributed in Port au Prince. We have host school supplies and toy drives for organizations such as the Haitian American Caucus and raised money to help rebuild the infrastructure for Haiti for Habitat for Humanity International for one of our mentors who traveled on the grounds, District Leader Rodynese Bichotte. We have tutored and mentored young children from Haiti through art therapy and helped redesign their art classes at a local school with an organization entitled Haitian Cultural Exchange. One of our main goals is to travel to Haiti to provide the resources and mentorship that we serve for our young women here to our women in Haiti with a special focus. Through education, business, focusing on personal development, and putting a stop to the high increase of abuse and rapes in the country are our main priorities. We want to learn from these resilient and powerful women—of all ages—and hopefully exchange what we’ve learned and helped them the way their strength has enlightened us.
What makes BelTiFi stand out amongst other female empowerment organizations?
JUDITH JACQUES: BelTiFi has created many new and innovative ways to cater to our targeted market, Haitian-American women. An organization filled with young and promising women is more relatable to our supporters. Through these ways we made ourselves accessible in all facets. A communications sector that compromises of a radio show called Bel Soleil. “Ti Fi Talks” [is] our taped episodes of relatable topics that young women go through, and a bulletin to highlight the accomplishments of our BelTiFi while giving the community a chance to know what’s next for us. BelTiFi not only caters to the community through empowerment and upliftment, we work diligently to provide activities and beneficial happenings to our supporters. We are different because we are all at a young age we were are still growing and want to learn and develop with the girls we try to empower. We serve as mentors, provide mentors through our circle of top professional women, but also have our young women inspire us in more ways than they will ever know.
What Haitian women do you find most inspiring?
JESSIE RIGAUD: To answer this question to a specific group of Haitian women is quite difficult. The reality is that I admire all Haitian women. I am surrounded by beautiful strong Haitian women on a daily basis. Whether it is my mother, aunts, cousins, friends, or my BelTiFi sisters. I’m in awe of their success and hard work. Haitian women as a collective are very resilient and hard working. They want the best for their family and will do whatever it takes to survive. We don’t have to look far to see an admirable Haitian women. She isn’t an actress, singer, or model. She is your everyday woman.
What’s the biggest hurdle that the Bel Tifi family has faced as it’s moved to accomplish its mission?
CARMEL BALAN: As Board of Directors we are all passionate about our mission and the collective vision we all have for the organization. We have hundreds of ideas, and every day there is a new one, which makes it difficult to implement because of limited funding. In essence, this is what makes us beautiful. We make them happen to the best of our capacities, anyway. With the help of wonderful supporters and networks, anything is possible. We prioritize progress, discipline and embody tact, with a Haitian-American essence that cannot be replicated. Our beauties work on different sectors of the organization eg communications, media, programming, marketing, social media interaction, research, and funding. At the end of the day, we are all active in execution. We are never afraid of challenges and trials, because they help to shape and mold us. A BelTiFi is never inactive. After hard work, tossing ideas around, and seeking the support of our networks, when an event, workshop, and/or project is finally executed and appreciated by our communities, we are all proud, because WE are BelTiFi.
Historically speaking, anyone in particular that you feel is especially fascinating?
CASSANDRA PIERRE-LOUIS: We had an opportunity to personalize our own tribute for Haitian Flag Day, through paying homage to the women that were involved in its history. To name a few, we recognized women like [Sanite] Belair, a sergeant who served in the army of Toussaint L’ouverture during the Haitian Revolution. Victoria Montou, a certified soldier and freedom fighter in the army of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Marie-Jeanne Lamartinière served at the Battle of Crete-a-Pierrot, dressed in a male uniform fearlessly. Marie Claire Heureuse, the first Red Cross nurse, who nursed fallen soldiers back to health. And how can we forget, the important contribution of Catherine Flon, who sewed our beloved flag. Having the opportunity to introduce and hopefully educate the young community with who these women were and their individual stories were indeed fascinating.
Still, the women that have been in our lives have made history in our eyes. It is our mothers, aunts, and sisters that impacted us through their achievements. The women that we’ve met since inception: Top Haitian professional women, young Haitian students excelling in every field, the BelTiFi of the months that we highlight, will all make history one day. It is through their lives and giving us the opportunity to be a part of it, is how we hope BelTiFi will make history too.
The Bel Tifi organization is thriving. What are your goals for it?
VANESSA BELLAN: Our plan is to conduct more workshops and events based on our community’s needs. We want to continue to touch young women and discuss topics that are involved in their development. We will be launching a separate sector for our teens, expanding our communications sector and finding our perfect outlet to connect with women in Haiti. As a committee, our ultimate goal is to expand and create chapters in highly population Haitian communities. We want to continue to inspire and educate our community.