Haitian man living in Utah describes violence impacting his friends, family

Mar 15, 2024, 3:05 PM | Updated: 7:16 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Symphony musicians with strong ties to Haiti are in touch with people impacted by the humanitarian crisis.

Gang violence has intensified, leading to neighborhood raids and limited food and water coming in.

Getro Joseph, a cellist from Haiti, is currently living in Utah on a visitor’s visa. He’s a student with the Haitian Orchestra Institute, a teacher training platform founded in 2017 by John Eckstein and Yuki MacQueen, along with other members of the Utah Symphony.

“If we could bring the faculty of musicians from the Utah Symphony to meet the students, who are typically teachers at their schools in Haiti, then we could create the kind of training opportunity that’s readily available in the United States, but has never been available in Haiti,” Eckstein said.

Utah Symphony Performs Virtual Duets With Haitian Youth

Joseph comes to the US to receive training and perform.

“The Haitian Orchestra Institute, which we founded, is based on donations,” Eckstein said. “We’ve had some fundraisers, and we decided one very meaningful way to show our donors what we’re doing would be to have one of the students come.”

When he left home in October, Joseph didn’t know things would escalate to where they are now. He’s not sure if he’ll be able to go home in April when his return flight was booked. Gang activity closed the airports in his home country.

“My mother, she’s there, and they’re always giving me news,” he said. “It’s always bad news.”

Joseph was born in Haiti’s capital city, Port Au Prince, and moved to Mirebalais.

“It used to be one of the safest places in Haiti,” he said. “Right now, it’s pretty dangerous because all the gangs are trying to have this territory because having more territory for them, it’s power. And Mirebalais is like the intersection for the country.”

Joseph posing with this cello.

Joseph posing with this cello. (Shelby Lofton, KSL TV)

Eckstein and MacQueen said they’re in contact with some of their other students. They said they call food a luxury, and travel can be risky.

“Things are very, very complicated in Haiti, and the Port au Prince area is in sort of a war footing at this point, making it impossible for our students to even travel to the safer north where we do our work normally,” Eckstein said.

They said the Haiti they know is so different from the images currently shown in the news.

“I don’t really like to share negative things from my country because it is very beautiful. It could be better, a very interesting place for tourism, but things are not good there,” Joseph said.

Even though he’s thousands of miles away, he’s trying to help his mother move somewhere safer. He said with limited electricity, spotty internet, and high gas prices, it’s difficult.

“For food to come into the town is very dangerous,” Joseph said. “Each time we get out, we don’t know if you will get back home.”

He said that despite the violence, his friends are still playing music, and so is he.

“Even though they are in a really bad situation … they are still practicing,” he said. “Music gives joy and love. They are still doing what they love.”

MacQueen said she sees some of the students posting videos of them practicing their instruments.

“It’s kind of like they’re refuge where they can forget just temporarily for 10 minutes, half an hour,” she said. “I still see them posting videos and smiling and enjoying music. It’s inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time.”

While he’s living a world away, Joseph turns to music to escape.

“Even though I’m here in a safe place, I’m still under pressure,” Joseph said. “I’m still scared for my friends and my family.”

So many thoughts weigh heavily on him, but this one constant in his life keeps him and his friends connected.

“Music is a great vehicle for these students, for communication,” Eckstein said. “I know it sounds cliche to say hope through music, but it really is something that provides them with hope and gives them something to latch onto.”

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Haitian man living in Utah describes violence impacting his friends, family