What a time to be a woman! In the words of Maya Angelou, “I am grateful to be a woman. I must have done something great in another life.”
Although we still have a long way to go in terms of gender equality for every woman across the world, Verve wants to use this day to spotlight the Haitian women, known as the ‘Madan Sara’ who are strong, powerful, hard-working and resilient.
It’s fair to say that those of us in the UK live a fairly privileged life; yes we have a cost of living crisis and a government in shambles, but this weighs less in comparison to a country like Haiti; a nation plagued by economic turmoil – from natural disasters to civil unrest; it’s safe to say it’s one difficult place to be a woman, but these Madan Saras’ are a testament to making lemonade from the lemons life does throw their way.
The documentary film, Madan Sara by Etant Dupain, throws the spotlight on the sheer resilience and brilliance of these women. They are entrepreneurs who function as the ‘middle man’ in the food supply chain where they collect produce from farmers and sell it to the markets.
On average, Madan Sara’s would start their day at 3 am and continue till around 9 or 10 pm when the markets close. They are responsible for feeding the community and also providing income for the farmers and the market women.
From this trade, generations of Madan Sara have been able to sustain themselves and take care of their families.
One of them featured in the film is Clotide Achille, who dropped out of school to start her business. “I have five children and have raised all 5 of them with my business,” she says.
These children often go on to be doctors, nurses and lawyers not just in Haiti, but within the diaspora. Sometimes, it means mothers going hungry, or spending years saving money for their children to buy a passport, get a visa and leave the country.
It comes at a great sacrifice with Madan Saras often being the victim of theft, rape and fires stirred by political unrest.
Lulaine Childs, co-producer of the film tells Verve that the inspiration for the documentary was producer, Etant Dupain’s, experience as a child accompanying his mother, a Madan Sara, to the marketplace.
“I think it was important to tell the Madan Sara story now because it is a story that needs to be told. Most, if not all the stories about Haiti are essentially doom and gloom or stories about corruption, violence or disaster. While the Madan Sara documentary does have some harsh parts to it, I think the overall theme of the film is one of women’s empowerment and perseverance,” Dupain says.
In essence, the people of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince are able to enjoy fresh produce because of the sacrifice and labour of these women.
“If the Madan Sara’s are not collaborating with the farmers, the country will come to a halt; if we did not work together, we would not have jobs,” says Chosnet Norvil, a local farmer, starring in the documentary.
“Not only would the city suffer but the countryside, Our crops would go to waste. If the Madan Sara does not exist, neither does the farmer,” he adds.
They are at the heart of the economy. Camille Chalmers, an economist, says that they allow for the circulation of money as hundreds of millions of dollars worth of goods are sold each day.
As I watch the film and take in the scenery: bustling markets, women in wrappers and head-ties, I feel a sense of nostalgia. Growing up in the cosmopolitan city of Lagos, Nigeria, I would go to local markets and buy fresh produce. As I watch, I’m able to put the pieces together. We have our own Madan Saras’ who collect supplies from village farmers and sell them to the markets near my home.
I’m now able to appreciate the Madan Saras in my hometown.
Ultimately, co-producer, Childs says his hope is people will see a different side of Haiti than the one that is mainly depicted throughout the media.
“I think this film shows how much progress Haiti can make if the right investment into the Madan Sara were made. Despite everything, they are able to find a way to carve out a living and that is huge. There are a lot of themes in the film that people all over the world will be able to connect with. Themes like black empowerment, women empowerment, global development, slavery, colonialism, and corruption of public officials are just some of them. I think viewers who live or have family from countries in the global south have a version of a Madan Sara,” he says.
As of now, the producers are holding private screenings of the film for different audiences around the world, and have plans to get distribution in the near future. For more details on the Madan Sara project, you can visit their website.
As we celebrate the day of the woman, we remember that women are the gift that keeps on giving.
I started with Maya Angelou, and it’s only fitting that I end with a powerful quote from her poem, Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women:
“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
That’s me.”Maya Angelou
To all the Madan Saras’ – past, present and future; we tip our hats to you.