Fundraiser brings award-winning Haitian food, music to North Park

Tuesday, October 8, 2019 | 12:01 AM


Pittsburghers will have the opportunity to experience Haitian cuisine and music at a North Park benefit raising funds to improve the Caribbean country’s environment.

Haiti Friends is presenting Manje Manje, or “eat food” in the Haitian Creole language Oct. 17 at North Park Lodge, Allison Park. Event start times range from 6 to 8 p.m., depending upon the ticket level purchased. Tickets start at $25.

The event will feature food from Miami-based, award-winning Haitian Bon Gout BBQ. Guests who purchase $100 “foodie” and $500 “leadership” tickets will dine on chicken, ribs, brisket and Haitian sides and have access to an open bar. Leadership guests also will sample pumpkin soup joumou.

Haitian DJ and record producer Michael Brun will entertain the crowd and meet with “leadership” patrons.

“He’s really interesting because he’s created, you know, a sound where he uses a traditional sound and works with a lot of legends from Haiti but has kind of created a world beat that makes it accessible to people outside of Haiti and it’s really gotten a lot of international notoriety,” Eddie Rawson, Haiti Friends executive director and Bon Gout BBQ-co-owner, said.

Time magazine referred to Brun as “a cultural ambassador for his island home.”

Rawson’s mother, Lucy, founded Haiti Friends in 1985 to benefit the Hopital (Hospital) Albert Schweitzer Haiti, which his grandparents, Gwen Grant Mellon and Larry Mellon built.

A Life Magazine story about Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s commitment to bringing medical care to equatorial Africa inspired cattle rancher and Mellon banking heir Larry Mellon to become pen pals with the missionary and philosopher. Mellon was so inspired by Schweitzer that Mellon decided to sell his ranch, attend medical school and open a hospital of his own, naming it after Schweitzer.

“Throughout my childhood I spent a lot of my time down there, and then later in my 20s, I lived out there and I got a big U.N. (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) grant to do an infrastructure project in that region after the 2010 earthquake, and then later I worked for an energy company in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and lived there for a few years, as well,” Rawson, a Pittsburgh native now residing in Miami, said.

For the past five years, he has overseen Haiti Friends, a subsidiary nonprofit run in collaboration with the hospital that focuses on reforestation in Haiti’s mountainous Artibonite River Valley.

Haiti Friends has planted more than 3 million trees, Rawson said.

“Right now, we are in a global climate crisis, and you know, with carbon dioxide levels rising high and advancing with global warming. Anytime we can mitigate that by planting trees to try to absorb some of that that’s a benefit to the whole planet.”

He said the program entails “more than just dropping seeds.” Agroforestry experts work with farmers to plant the trees and other crops in between. They develop terraces to prevent erosion and water-capture systems to hydrate plants during the dry season.

According to Rawson, farming with these techniques can impact a family’s income.

“These trees are life. You know, for people to gain a better life, to send the kids to school, I mean, they are living off these trees in a very literal way, whether they use them to create lumber or to sell the fruit from them or eat the fruit for themselves. It’s a really life-changing experience for people to start farming trees there.”

If you go:

What: Haiti Friends presents Manje Manje

When: Oct. 17; entry times depend on ticket level purchased

Where: North Park Lodge, North Ridge Drive, Allison Park

Tickets: From $25, haitifriends.org