UPTOWN — A Polish American filmmaker is partnering with the Haitian American Museum of Chicago to bring some relief to the center of Haitian-Polish life in the Caribbean island.
The village of Cazale in Haiti houses much of the Haitian population that is descended from Polish soldiers. In 1802, some 5,000 polish soldiers were sent by Napolean Bonaparte to quell an insurrection in Haiti, but a number of the soldiers deserted Napolean’s army to fight with the Haitians.
After the war, about 400 Polish soldiers stayed on the island, settling in the mountainous village of Cazale.
The history of the Polish-descended Haitians is the subject of a documentary produced by Evanston filmmaker Pawel Granjert and Elsie Hernandez, who founded the Haitian American Museum of Chicago in Uptown.
“The mission is to give the people of Cazale an opportunity to speak on this,” Granjert said of the film. “They recognize they have this identity, and it’s had pluses and minuses in their history.”
While in Cazale to film for the documentary, the filmmakers noticed that the village was lacking the infrastructure and amenities taken for granted in the West.
Hurricanes have destroyed the village’s main bridge and roads. There is no electricity. Since four hurricanes hit Haiti in 2008, Cazale’s schools have been without textbooks, which were washed away in devastating floods.
“We knew we couldn’t help with the major infrastructure problems,” Hernandez said. “So we asked, ‘What can we do that will have the most impact?'”
Villagers told the filmmakers that they would like textbooks for the area’s schoolkids. Now, Granjert and Hernandez are seeking funds to help buy the books. The filmmakers are seeking to raise $7,000 to bring textbooks to Cazale’s middle and high schools for the first time in more than a decade.
To raise the funds, Granjert and Hernandez have launched a GoFundMe and are seeking donations from Chicago’s Haitian and Polish communities.
The Haitian American Museum of Chicago, 4654 N. Racine Ave., was founded by Hernandez in 2012 to help connect Chicago’s Haitian population to their home country. She is hoping that Chicagoans of all descents will recognize the need Cazale has, and will help them out in this small but important way.
“Education is the key for this population,” Hernandez said of Cazale.
The fundraiser is also targeting donations from Chicago’s large Polish community. Many people of Polish descent have heard of the Polish connection to Haiti, but Granjert hopes his documentary will foster a deeper connection between Polish Americans and Haiti’s Polish population.
While the documentary, titled “Cazale: A Haitian Polish Connection,” is still in the works, Granjert said he hopes the local Polish population helps out with the book drive.
“We want to get the Polish community involved so that these communities can feel a kinship,” Granjert said. “There’s a way we can connect each other and help out in the process.”
To donate to Granjert and Hernandez’s GoFundMe, click here.
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.