Youme Landowne's Sélavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope
Ages 8- 11
Restoring Hope Through Radio Waves
It is a sad day when children witness violence and expect that to be a normal part of life. It is even sadder when violence takes down families and leaves young children to roam the streets. But sélavi, that’s life in Haiti.
In the beginning of Sélavi: A Haitian Story of Hope, we are immediately confronted with the traumatized memories experienced by a young boy who suddenly finds himself homeless.
Youme Landowne’s ghostly illustrations open a window into the world of this young victim of violence as he wanders the streets of Haiti in search of food and shelter.
Again, she captures how overwhelmed he must feel after traveling many days on foot: amid a large map of Haiti is the very small detail of this young boy who has just arrived at its capital, Port-au-Prince. It is where he meets TiFré, who offers him food and asks where he is from.
No doubt, the young boy is scared: his hands cover his face with just a sheepish glance at the new boy who is trying to befriend him.
Without giving him a chance to reply, TiFré continues by saying that he could choose a name, like “Hungry, Sleepy, or Little Traveler…” The boy replies, “I am all those things, and that’s life!” And from then on, he is given the name “Sélavi,” which is Kreyòl for “that’s life.”
Sélavi learns from TiFré that there are more children living on their own, and TiFré takes Sélavi to their home in a banyan tree.
There is a sense of peace and familiarity in this colorful scene as Sélavi is introduced to other children in his same situation. These other children graciously take Sélavi in, tell him their hardship stories (again, portrayed with ghostly images that are used to express their personal struggles), and share the food that they have collected throughout the day.
Now a part of this small family, Sélavi learns the daily routine of looking for work, or begging food or money from people. However, it is only a matter of time before officers (whose violence is captured in the ghostly reflections off their sunglasses) find where they are living and scatter them.
Once again, Sélavi is alone.
Afraid of what may come next, Sélavi runs to the nearest building for safety. It is a church, and the people gathered inside are in a meeting. Sélavi hears the meeting leader say,
“Alone we may be a single drop of water, but together we can be a mighty river. We must help each other to become strong!”
Without hesitation, Sélavi responds, “I need help!” Sélavi tells them that there are others like him, and at once, the members plan to build an orphanage for Sélavi and his friends. Once completed, they name it Lafami Sélavi, (Kreyòl for “Sélavi’s Family”), and together – community and children – they make food, wash clothes, teach, and learn.
Sélavi and his friends want to do their part by working to buy food, but work is hard to find and food scarce.
They decide to paint murals with messages to raise awareness, such as “if children are sleeping in the streets, what are we doing for them? – but to no effect.
The murals were painted over and, worse yet, their house was burned down, leaving them once again homeless. Another traumatizing moment in the lives of Sélavi and his friends; however, Youme cleverly ties this horrendous loss with a ray of hope by creating a quilting scene, where each pattern describes the children’s longing to learn, coupled with the community’s plans to rebuild their home.
This time, though, the community will make a way for the children to be heard by finding materials to create their own radio station. Naming the station Radyo Timoun, which is Kreyòl for “children’s radio,” they are determined that this time, “We will write our messages in the air where they cannot be painted out.”
Review - Sélavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope
Though this true story of Sélavi tells of a time in Haitian history that took place over twenty-five years ago, poverty and violence still exist.
Each day is still a sad day as some children revert to violence while others choose to make their voices heard through Radyo Timoun, which lives on today.
Included at the completion of the story is historical information that is well worth the read. To make this book a reality as well as bring life to her wonderful illustrations, Youme went to Haiti to meet and interview the young activists of Radyo Timoun. And for that reason, Selavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope, is a work of love for all the homeless children of Haiti. To all readers of all ages, this book is an eye-opener and a “must have” for your book collection.
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