Applied ecologist Greg Cronin has spent a lot of time in Haiti in various capacities over the past decade: working as associate professor of integrative biology and sustainability at the University of Colorado Denver, running his nonprofit Yon Sel Lanmou, and recording Haitian rappers.
On his most recent trip, Cronin had planned to spend spring break in Haiti, but two days after he got there, the country’s borders were closed, and he doesn’t see them reopening any time soon. He says being there for the pandemic isn’t as scary as United States television makes it out to be.
“I know enough people here and have enough friends and family here that I'm well taken care of,” he says. “I mean, it does concern me that the medical facilities here are subpar. And so if I was to get sick, I would be kind of on my own, whereas in America, I would have access to medical care. And at the age of 53, I can't say I'm not concerned. It scares me a little bit, but I've done the risk assessment and risk management, and I made the choice to be here.”
While he will be stuck there longer than he had planned, he’ll still be staying busy working to sustain Haiti’s degrading ecosystems. He’s helping plant edible forests, hoping that within ten to fifteen years, mango and avocado trees will be growing, providing shade and food to locals.
Aside from his work with ecosystems in Haiti, Cronin, who was the bassist in Denver band Mute Man Microphone for eight years, started working with rappers there following the 2010 earthquake and helped make a public service announcement video on how to avoid cholera with the help of Wheelchair Sports Camp’s Kalyn Heffernan, who joined Cronin on a trip to Haiti to help launch Royalty Free Haiti, a crowdfunding project that aimed to create two music schools in the country.
“It was played on Haitian radio and television,” Cronin says of the 2010 video, “and people tell me that it saved their life. It presented something as simple as washing your hands and going to the doctor if you have diarrhea. It sounds simple, and it is simple, but it literally saved lives.”
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Last week, Cronin’s organization Yon Sel Lanmou, which he founded in 2012, teamed up with Haitian rappers Joewolf Nerath and Josimar Juste to create a PSA to inform Haitians about how to avoid COVID-19. The nonprofit is also taking donations to buy masks, hand-washing stations, medications and air time for PSAs to help Haiti face the pandemic.
Thanks to a $35,000 grant from the William and Sylvia Zale Foundation, Yon Sel Lanmou opened its own recording studio last year. A lot of the artists who record there specialize in rap Kreyol, or Haitian hip-hop.
In Haiti, "you can't go anywhere without hearing live music,” Cronin says. “Many people don't play instruments, because they don't have access to instruments, but they sing. There are just so many stories down here to tell that everybody raps, and the rap genre is really about storytelling."