What was your inspiration for launching this charity?
It started eight years ago when one of my best friends in New York decided to organize small friend gatherings with a goal to build stronger bonds and make our friendships more profound. I suggested that our guests wear clothes of a certain color, to add another layer of connectivity and to create a greater sense of belonging. We called these gatherings Les Couleurs, to represent the diversity of our friends and the colorful world we live in.
A year and a half later we needed a greater purpose, so we decided, let’s do it for a cause! We went to Haiti with open minds and hearts without knowing what exactly we are going to do. Unimaginable poverty being so close to the U.S. seemed simply inappropriate and unfair. We both had a strong urge to help, as everywhere around us needed it. We spent the entire week visiting schools, orphanages, and the center for after-school programs in the most violent and impoverished neighborhood, Cite Soleil, once declared by the U.N. to be the most dangerous place on Earth. Amongst the poverty, there was a safe place for kids to come after school, the center was surrounded by tall cement walls with barbed wires all around it. There were no toys, no books or anything we are used to seeing in places where kids are present. Towards the end of our depressing tour, we all of the sudden heard the sounds of music and saw a few boys making music with self-made instruments. Kids started flocking towards the musicians, and within minutes the garage was filled with happy kids, where everyone started singing and dancing, and for a minute we forgot where we were. We were fascinated by this transformation, and with my own background in arts and design, I decided to name the future program, CREATE, providing the opportunity for the most vulnerable children to express themselves through music, arts, and dance.
A month later I went back to Port-au-Prince on my own, and started teaching art classes myself. The reaction of the children was absolutely incredible, it was magical seeing their hearts opening up, and the smiles on their faces were priceless. Eventually I started hiring local artists, dancers, and musicians to continue the work I began. Today there are over 1,000 orphanage children in Port-au-Prince and Mexico City enrolled in CREATE, where a permanent team of local teachers commute to orphanages daily. I hope it will only grow and many more disadvantaged children will be able to express their voice, dreams, and share their talents with the world.
What spoke to you about Haiti and Mexico?
Haiti has always had a special place in my heart, I admired its story of independence, culture, and most importantly, their incredibly resilient people. Working and living in Haiti was the greatest challenge in my life. Everyday was full of surprises, a new disease, or virus you needed to watch out for. We would have several days without electricity, or be caught in a massive violent anti-government demonstration, and even have to get gang permission to enter some of the most violent neighborhoods.
Mexico is another country that I absolutely love. I was always a big admirer of it's very kind people, delicious cuisine, multilayered and very complex culture. I spend a lot of time in Mexico City, discovering new places, neighborhoods, museums, and ways to help.
What is the most rewarding part of your work with your charity?
The most rewarding thing is coming back months or years later to the orphanage and seeing all the progress the students have made. I remember we started a classical dance program at the orphanage in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, where the orphanage rarely had electricity and some classrooms even had missing walls. But when I went back a few months later, I saw all the kids dancing, it really warmed my heart.
How can the community get involved and support Les Couleurs Charity?
We have received outpouring support from the art community, since artists especially feel very connected to the cause, they donate their artworks to be auctioned at our events. Many artists such as Super Buddha, Sans Sucre, TRANSPARENT, Kyle Schindler, Lina Condes, Domenica Rossi, Brian Poli-Dixon have donated to the cause. We always need volunteers, so the easiest way to help is simply by spreading awareness, attending our events, or by donating at lescouleurscharity.org