The family child care providers in All Our Kin’s network come from all walks of life. Some have been working with young children all their lives. Others, like Dionne Lamothe, an All Our Kin provider in Bridgeport, have had long careers in other fields.
Blazing a trail for women in Haiti
Dionne Lamothe was born in Saint Michel de l’Atalaye, a city located in the Central Plateau of Haiti, and she started singing when she was just four years old. “It is in my blood,” she told me at her home in December. “I was born with it, and nothing can stop that.” Even as a child, her talent was impossible to ignore.
By the time she was 20 years old, her voice was well known throughout Haiti, but as a woman singer, her path was limited. She wanted to perform with Haiti’s Big Bands – the most famous of which was called Bossa Combo – but at the time, “they never allowed a woman singer to do much.”
“I said, ‘Nuh, uh. That has to stop. I have this talent that God gave me.’ Other people didn’t like it, but then they heard me sing. They started saying, ‘this is great.’ I was one of the best in Haiti.” In the 1980s, Dionne became the first young woman singer to perform with Bossa Combo. “We went on tour all over. France, Canada, Florida, Chicago, New York, Canada, places with big Haitian communities. I sang in every language – English, French, Spanish, Creole.”
A new career
One year, Dionne decided to stay in the United States and start a solo career. Every weekend, she would travel to a different city to sing. After a few years, she had a child, a daughter who is now 22 years old. “Sometimes I wished I had a dozen of my own children,” she laughed. “I love having children in my life. But I was always so busy with singing.” Finally, after leaving her day job at a Connecticut hospital in 2009, she decided to start her own child care business.
“I started with just one little child, and then soon that became two, three, then four,” Dionne said. “I found out about All Our Kin from a flyer, and one day, I decided to call. I went to the CDA [Child Development Associate] classes and got my CDA. I learned so much from Miss Maureen, and also from my peers in that class. Even though I have my own child who I’ve raised for 22 years, I don’t know everything about children. There are always more things I want to learn to improve my program and upgrade my daycare. And it helps me too. When I am increasing my education, when I am working with the kids, it keeps my brain working.” All Our Kin has helped her to feel more like a professional as a child care provider: “The most important thing that I have learned from All Our Kin is that I am not a babysitter. I am a child care provider. I provide education.”
Dionne doesn’t see her singing career and her work as a family child care provider as being completely separate. “During the day, when I have these angels with me in my day care, I sing for them. They learn from the music. We sing songs to learn about letters and numbers, and we dance every day – they love to dance.”
“If you have faith in your dream, it can happen”
Dionne is passionate about Haitian culture, and she wants to bring more Haitian music to her city. “There are so many kinds of music that have come from Haiti,” she said. Every year, she organizes and headlines a local Father’s Day Concert with the goal of helping the children in Bridgeport’s Haitian community learn more about Haitian culture and values. “I wasn’t raised with a father; he was missing in my life. This concert is for everybody, for kids with fathers and for kids with no fathers, to learn about their traditions.”
In November, Dionne found out that she had been selected to sing at the United Nations for the families of the 102 UN staff who had been killed in the devastating earthquake in Haiti five years ago. “I was humbled by the invitation,” she said. Last week, she and nine other Haitian musicians traveled to New York City for the January 8 tribute service, where she sang “Haiti Cherie,” a traditional patriotic song in Creole. She wrote new verses that highlight Haiti’s natural beauty and call on Haiti’s people to work together for peace. Although the lyrics speak out against the centuries of suffering that Haiti’s people have faced, Dionne told me that the song is not meant to be political, or pessimistic. “It is a song about peace and patriotism. It tells the rest of the world, ‘Haiti is the pearl of the Caribbean.’”
Dionne’s performance was incredibly well-received, both by the families of the 102 fallen UN staff members, and by current UN staff, who said that her voice “provided comfort and warmth” to all. After her performance, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon left his seat to thank Dionne personally and greet her in a Korean ritual salute.
To listen to Dionne’s performance and the rest of the tribute service, click here.
“Going to sing at the UN is a big step, a blessing and a big, big thing in my life,” Dionne said. “I say thanks to God who helped me to be patient. If you are not patient, you cannot get your dream. Your dream is not just going to happen to you one day. Don’t mess it up. Don’t go with somebody else’s dream. If you have faith in your dream, it can happen.”
Congratulations, Dionne! We are so proud of you, both for being a dedicated child care provider and for representing Haiti at the United Nations last week.