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PROJECTS BLOG 08/04/2012

Slacklining in Haiti-People Inspiring People

Burners Without Borders is proud to have provided a grant for this incredible project through the 2012 Grants Program.

I love slacklining, and though I haven’t been a dedicated practicer everyday and am not one of those fearless people that does crazy jumps up and down the line, I’d say I have a few tricks in my pocket. After being accepted to work with an Ecological Sanitation organization in Haiti earlier this year, my slackline (50′ of 1″ purple tubular webbing, some end pieces of gold webbing, and 3 carabiners) was an item thrown into the backpack. Upon arriving in Port au Prince, I was overwhelmed with the devastation of the 2010 earthquake and the cleanup still taking place: buildings were collapsed, it was dusty and hot (I was reminded of Burning Man), and thousands of people were/are living in camps. I fell into work and learning the Creole language, and though I tried looking for a few trees to put up the line, the language barrier and the sprawling city were daunting. There were no trees nearby to hang up the line.

After a month in Port au Prince, I was sent up to work in Cap Haitian, and there I have stayed since for the past 4 months. Cap Haitian is a far smaller city, with intact infrastructure (though still no sanitation system), and lo and behold – parks! Even better, a park down the street with trees and grass! First day out and the line was up. People had never seen a slackline before, and the emotions radiating back at me were curiousity, amazement, fear, and confusement. Still struggling through Creole, I didn’t get many takers for trying it out. The next 2 weeks after that were spent intensively teaching and helping 2 new Haitian friends learn how to walk, and I was amazed that they picked it up so fast. Since then we became a team trio, picking a spot in the park to practice everyday and helping others to give it a shot – our little slackline club. The problem was: there was only one line with 3 of us already intensively using it and also offering it to others to try. We needed more.

Burning Man has been a wonderful place for me over the past few years to connect with others, participate in amazing projects, and explore different sides of myself. Given my new job situation, I didn’t apply for a ticket this year, but I remembered always spending moments at the the Burners Without Borders signboard and seeing people take positive energy from their Burning Man experiences and infuse it into influential projects throughout the world. I wondered if our little slackline club could be one of those projects. An application and a few emails later, Charles, Peterson, and I were so excited to find out that we were being supported to expand our club! When I took a short trip back to the U.S. in May, I picked up the lines and since then, it’s been wonderful to watch more people be able to practice. Some days we have more spectators than participants, but as more and more people are able to walk across the line by themselves, we’re getting more people wanting to get up there.

This club is not about the actual sport of slacklining. It’s about people inspiring other people – Haitians inspiring Haitians. In a country with so much hardship, it’s been truly amazing to see that people from all economic backgrounds can come together in a public place (the park) and help each other try something that they have never done before, something that they are scared of. Now coming to the park is something that people look forward to everyday, to practice and persevere at something when they own nothing and live on the street. It’s something that people with jobs who are strolling through can take a moment and interact with everyone else, laughing and cursing the line as everyone does on their first try. More importantly, putting the lines up creates a space where people can have fun – and there’s nothing like watching a facial expression of someone who’s just completed their first solo walk!

This club is meant to function and exist without me – it already is as I no longer keep the lines, but just go to the park and help out when I’m not excessively working. I see that it is already building self-confidence and creating a community, wherein I hope this positive energy can expand into other projects to rebuild the country. Already these new slackliners are talking about having clubs in other cities to build connections, have competitions, and spread the joy (and my Creole is now good enough to understand these desires). What I’ve witnessed about Haitian people and culture is that when people are inspired, they will do it – for instance, everyone picks up trash off the soccer field when there is going to be a game. I hope that this same enthusiasm can help build connections and community all across the country. It’s been truly inspiring for me to facilitate and be a part of this project, and I look forward to watching it develop over the coming months and year!

-Monika Roy


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