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(Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
(Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Project Jacmel

Student's future uncertain after quake claims his mentor Add to ...

It only takes only a few minutes with Zaka to recognize his potential to achieve great things. Whether the Jacmel native and film student will be able to realize them is another question entirely.

Zaka's proper name is Claudel Chery. He is only 22, but he's been living like an adult since he was about nine years old, when his mother ran off to the mountains with her lover. She left him in the family home with his older sister in hopes the pair would continue going to class and earning good enough grades to keep their school fees free. The education system in Haiti is largely privatized; in Jacmel, which is home to some of the nation's best international schools, administrators have occasionally waived fees for promising students without the means to pay for class. Zaka was lucky enough to find himself in that group, but conditions at home made him rudderless.

In his teens, Zaka gravitated to Jacmel's dynamic arts community, dipping into the theatre scene and then falling in love with filmmaking, a burgeoning craft among youth in Jacmel who have been captivated by Ciné Institute, the city's tiny but renowned film school. The dreadlocked youth was a regular there in the months leading up to the earthquake, when life had finally seemed to fall into place. He was living with his best friend and mentor, the American artist Flo McGarrell, in a peach-stuccoed rental house overlooking a bucolic field on the quieter outskirts of Jacmel.

The path to success was clear and full of options: With Mr. McGarrell's gentle prodding and financial backing, Zaka had gotten into undergraduate studies at Moncton University in New Brunswick - a giant leap for a young man who can count on one hand the times he has left his home island. The pair were also working on some films together and re-energizing the youth arts community through a downtown gallery they were expanding.

Under Mr. McGarrell's wing, Zaka's future prospects were promising. Then came the earthquake. The film school was damaged. Mr. McGarrell was crushed to death inside a hotel. Zaka's life became consumed by recovering and repatriating his friend's body.

Now - again - Zaka's life is rife with uncertainty. In his logical mind, he knows the opportunities the lie ahead are rare and critical if he wants to ascend beyond Jacmel But with his life in shambles and his strongest advocate lost, he wonders constantly where he'll find the strength to seize them.

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