Haitian-Born CSU Professor Finally Hears from Parents

COLUMBUS, Ga. - Cécile Accilien has been glued to her cell phone and CNN coverage since the recent Haiti earthquake.

The Haitian-born French language professor’s parents were known to be in Port Au Prince on Jan. 12 when the quake struck.

She couldn’t eat or sleep until hearing two days later from a cousin that Letroy and Veronique Accilien, both in their late 60s, had been seen in Haiti’s Central Plateau region and reported to be safe.

Though her parents moved to the United States when Cécile was a child, Letroy, in his retirement, has maintained a second home about five hours driving time west of Port-au-Prince. The couple, not owning a cell phone, previously used a cyber café close to the home in Haiti to communicate with their children. They were in the capital city transporting a family member to the airport the day of the quake.

“The news that they were seen brought great relief,” Cécile said.Cecile Accilien

However, worry resurfaced as days passed while Accilien, right, sought to locate and speak directly to her parents to feel assured.

Finally, close to noon on Friday (Jan. 22), Accilien spoke to her parents by phone. “I breathed another big sigh of relief,” she said.

Accilien and three siblings — living in Maryland, Germany and Afghanistan — are in constant contact among themselves and with friends and other family members outside of the affected region, tracking news on friends and other family members suspected to have been in the city and surrounding, affected areas. While remaining hopeful, Cecile and her network have faced some inevitable bad news, discovering several family members on her mother’s side have been reported dead.

The traumatizing events from her native country, however, have not distracted Accilien from her teaching and scholarship. With assistance from Haitian-American Giselle Remy Bratcher, a CSU Archives assistant, she has organized a “Haiti in Our Backyard” lecture and film series, which kicked off with a Jan. 21 screening and discussion of The Agronomist.

A second event in the series, “A Forum on Haiti” led by Accilien, is set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26 in Illges Hall, room 318. Admission is free and open to the public.

Accilien, co-editor of the book Revolutionary Freedoms: a History of Survival, Strength and Imagination in Haiti, said the mainstream media doesn’t provide a meaningful representation of her home country. “Most Americans know Haiti simply as a poor, backward country,” she said. “This series will demonstrate Haiti’s rich history and vibrant culture in art and music, plus its cultural, historical and economic connections to the United States.”

Accilien said she wants to deliver the series both on campus and out in the community to reach as many people as possible.

She also plans to focus her efforts on Haitian society. Since the quake, she has assisted international aid organizations in translating documents (such as a guide for safe drinking water)from English and French to Haitian Creole — the only language spoken by the majority of Haitians.

“Once the news cameras leave, there’s a concern the world may forget about Haiti, but there will be an opportunity for the Haitian diaspora around the world — which I’m a part of — to step up and creatively influence the rebuilding of a decentralized social structure of sustainable communities and schools with less dependence on the national government,” Accilien said.