THE SOUND OF HOPE                    By Sarah Kidwell                  I                          n early June, Cathy Hsu ...
THE SOUND OF HOPECathy Hsu ’00 with the artist who painted the sign on the newlyrefurbished building that houses the music...
THE SOUND OF HOPE     notions about how to help, but fail to take                         And, she points out, music is a ...
THE SOUND OF HOPEHsu ’00 with children of Corail on one of her first trips to Haiti.choir — and English — they registered o...
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The Sound of Hope, Cate Bulletin, Fall 2011

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Article written about Catherine (Cathy) Hsu and her work with Hope on a String in rural Haiti

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The Sound of Hope, Cate Bulletin, Fall 2011

  1. 1. THE SOUND OF HOPE By Sarah Kidwell I n early June, Cathy Hsu ’00 spent five days with over a hundred community members in rural Haiti, helping to clean up a nightclub-turned-brothel to make room for a shipment of guitars, keyboards, saxophones, clarinets, trombones, trumpets, drums, and sheet music. “It’s not exactly what I envisioned for my career in international development,” she allows. “But you never know where you’re going to end up.  I just try to go with my instincts and look for work that really speaks to me.” Rehearsing for a dance concert at Hope on a String’s Corail, Haiti headquarters.22 CATE B U LLET IN / F ALL 20 11
  2. 2. THE SOUND OF HOPECathy Hsu ’00 with the artist who painted the sign on the newlyrefurbished building that houses the music-inspired nonprofit. What spoke to Hsu was the idea that international development, an area in “Haiti has more foreignmusic could be a catalyst for community which both of us had previously worked.empowerment and economic development After the earthquake, Pierre knew he had d nonprofit organizationsin Haiti, specifically in the impoverished to go back to work in Haiti, a country tosmall town of Corail, in Arcahaie, 35 which he felt he owed a great debt.” per square mile than anymiles from the country’s capital of Port Bennett and Pierre then came to HsuAu Prince. She heard about the concept with their idea for an organization, which other country. But youfrom Pierre Imbert, who grew up in Corail, they named “Hope on a String.” Evenand an American, Bennett Rathbun, who though it represented a departure from have to wonder—whymet each other in Haiti shortly after an the work she was doing at the time, andearthquake devastated the island nation in in an area of the world she didn’t know isn’t it working? Why isn’tJanuary of 2010. The two men wanted to much about, Hsu was compelled. “I knewcontribute to Haiti’s rebirth, and they seized they were on to something,” she recounts. the country developing?”on the notion that music could bring joy “It was like the stars were all aligned forand healing, and give voice to the broken this opportunity. I couldn’t turn it down.”nation. They pulled in Hsu, who at the time Haiti, as Hsu quickly learned, hadwas working for California’s Department no shortage of people trying to help. Theof Public Health, writing a grant for an outpouring of support and relief after theinnovative federal pilot program for low- earthquake was monumental, she found,income food assistance recipients. but not always successful. “Haiti has more “I had met Pierre at a picnic in foreign nonprofit organizations per squareSacramento one year before the Haitian mile than any other country. But you haveearthquake,” says Hsu. “He was working to wonder — why isn’t it working? Whyat the California Department of Social isn’t the country developing?”Services and I was at Public Health, She theorizes that organizations oftenbut we both wanted to get back to come in from the outside with preconceived W W W. CATE . O R G 23
  3. 3. THE SOUND OF HOPE notions about how to help, but fail to take And, she points out, music is a perfect of being accepted on a grassroots level. local conditions into account. She cites way to draw people in, especially in While the town had not suffered major the example of a reverse-osmosis water Haiti. “It’s integral to Haitian lives and an physical damage from the earthquake, the purification system implemented in Corail absolutely ingrained part of the culture. psychological damage was great. Everyone, after the quake. “Although it was great in There is a beat and song to everything, the says Hsu, had lost a friend or family the short run, the community didn’t really ice trucks, the water vendors, the sandal member in the quake. “Everyone can tell understand how it worked, so when it broke sellers, the way you call someone’s name in you exactly what they were doing and what a few months after installation, there was the street. Everyone in Haiti loves music – happened at the time,” she says. Since no ability to repair it, and it was just a hunk it’s the universal unifier.” many people from Corail worked in Port of useless plastic and metal.” Hsu calls music their hook, and au Prince, the small town filled with those Working with Imbert, Rathbun, and a beginning, but not an end. The who had returned without jobs. In short, it others at the newly formed organization, organization also developed a resource was a community in need of help, and hope. Hsu looked for ways to advance the idea center where they could offer classes to Hope on a String’s startup funds that gathering a community around the develop concrete skills beyond music. “We came from a private foundation in Boston theme of music could achieve much more wanted to be responsive to the community, that agreed to match the donations than simply teaching people musical skills. because we feel that the community needs the organization raised. Hsu and her “We reasoned that once people were with to decide the direction of their future in colleagues then reached out to other small us and learning, we would form social ties order for any development to take hold foundations, networked with interested and strengthen the social fabric. That’s permanently.” individuals, friends, and family, and were what holds community development To test their idea, the group chose soon able to have the money they needed to projects together for long-term success Corail, a small town outside Port au Prince get started in Haiti. — community unity, and better yet, with no electrical grid, paved roads, or They also appealed widely for community ownership. We could build dependable water. Since Imbert had grown donations of music and musical on that.” up there, they felt they had a better chance instruments, counting on the notion that many people have an unused guitar, flute, or clarinet stashed in a garage or attic. “It wasn’t long before we had 100 instruments,” she said. “While not enough to fully equip us, the donated material provided a good start. People in Corail were going to have access to instruments — a rare opportunity in rural Haiti.” During the fundraising phase, they returned often to Corail to meet with community members for feedback and ideas. At one point, they realized there was a demand for English classes, and added them to the list of offerings. On May 21, 2011, Hope on a String announced its presence in Corail with a concert. They brought in talent from Port- au-Prince and nearby towns – choir groups, bands, folk music, and rap artists — and they invited everyone from the town and neighboring communities to enroll in the activities that would start the following Hsu ’00 pitched in on teaching some of the early English classes. month. With local instructors to teach guitar, keyboard, saxophone, clarinet, and24 CATE B U LLET IN / F ALL 20 11
  4. 4. THE SOUND OF HOPEHsu ’00 with children of Corail on one of her first trips to Haiti.choir — and English — they registered over her. “Because I grew up in Saudi Arabia, guest speakers. According to Hsu, a new500 aspiring students, from ages 4 to 67, for I came to Cate as a global citizen. I knew initiative to bring an electrical grid to thetheir very first session of classes. “We were I wanted to live and work overseas and town is a direct result of meetings at theamazed by the response,” says Hsu. “We immerse myself in another culture at some resource center. “We’ve had a great abilitygot enrollees from two or three towns over, point.” The service work she did at Cate, to connect with the community. We’vepeople taking the local motorcycle taxis to particularly the trips to Los Niños, cemented reached out to them, lived with them, andus. The local food and drink vendors were her goal to work with those in need. “I steer walked with them in this journey.”selling more water and snacks. Talk about toward developing countries because of While their organization is still veryimmediate economic stimulation.” my belief that we all have a duty to use our young, Hsu says she’s heartened enough As it turned out, the organization privilege and all the knowledge that comes by the progress they’ve made to beginwas short a few English teachers, so Hsu with it to help those with less luck.” thinking ahead. If they remain successfuldecided to pitch in and teach a couple “And yes,” she laughs, “I did sing in in Corail, she and her colleagues hopesessions. “ I had never seen myself as a Camerata at Cate. I would call myself the organization can be used as a modelteacher, but since I was learning Haitian musically inclined, but not a musician. throughout Haiti, or even beyond. “ButCreole at the same time, it worked out and As I think of it, the idea of the universal that’s still a long way away — we’re only inwas pretty fun!” appreciation of music really informs how our first year!” she says. While Hsu had always seen herself we use it at Hope on a String. Music is for Just months after the center’s start,pursuing a career in international the young or old, whether you’re talented Hsu says that the former brothel’s seedydevelopment, she would have predicted it with an instrument or just like to listen. past is a distant memory. With the help ofwould focus on matters of public health You don’t have to be a concert pianist volunteers, they’ve rebuilt walls and paintedand nutrition. Her bachelor’s degree from to find the joy. The goal is unity, not a over gray concrete. They’ve plantedthe University of California at Berkeley is philharmonic. I’ll leave that for other flowers and built school benches and addedin nutritional science and toxicology, and organizations.” chalkboards. The people of Corail haveher master’s degree from Tufts is in food Back in Corail, the center is achieving found a place to gather learn, teach, andpolicy and applied nutrition. Before her job its planned goals. In addition to music listen. And there is music. From the soundwith the state of California, she worked on and English classes, Hope on a String of it, hope is taking hold.a nutrition project in Angola and consulted has already expanded to offer leadershipon a project in India. classes, electrician training, youth Sarah Kidwell is the Director of Hsu came to Cate as an international discussion groups, communication classes, Marketing and Communications.student. As she remembers it, getting lost and construction seminars. They’vein the “Cate bubble” was not an option for hosted community organizing events and W W W. CATE . O R G 25

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