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Haitian drummer who was a child slave to visit Saint Francis

Bill Nathan, known as Drummer Bill, will perform Thursday evening at the University of Saint Francis. Orphaned as a child in Haiti, he was a child slave for a few years before being rescued and placed in an orphanage. (Photo by Ellie Bogue of The News-Sentinel)
Bill Nathan, known as Drummer Bill, will perform Thursday evening at the University of Saint Francis. Orphaned as a child in Haiti, he was a child slave for a few years before being rescued and placed in an orphanage. (Photo by Ellie Bogue of The News-Sentinel)

More Information

Music
WHAT: Drumming performance by Bill Nathan
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: University of Saint Francis, Bonzel Hall basement, 2701 Spring St.
NOTE: Open to the public.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Monday, October 12, 2015 09:01 pm
Bill Nathan was only 6 years old when his parents died. After he was taken in by another family, and he realized he was their slave. If he did not do the chores he was assigned, he was beaten. He was not allowed to go to school and was given little to eat. He was one of an estimated 300,000 child slaves in Haiti, according to the Restavec Freedom Alliance.

Nathan was one of the lucky ones. He was with the family for two years before he was rescued by nuns who had known his mother and had heard rumors about his situation. They were able to send him to live at St. Joseph’s, an orphanage. The orphanage is just for boys, and besides getting a good education, the youths also were given art and music lessons.

Nathan, or Drummer Bill as most people know him, is in the United States for several weeks. Part of that time he will be at the University of Saint Francis to talk with students about his experiences in Haiti and to perform on his drum.

Nathan was working at St. Joseph’s and on top of the seven-story building when the devastating 2010 earthquake struck. At eight minutes to 5 p.m. the ground began to shake, three floors collapsed and he fell an estimated 80 feet into the courtyard below, onto a concrete slab, he said. When he came to his senses, he found he was covered in blood and dust and couldn’t move his body. All around him he could hear children crying. An aftershock hit and the building above him began to collapse. Fortunately a large oak tree that stood in the courtyard caught the weight of the collapsing wall and held it.

When St. Joseph’s was rebuilt the oak tree was removed to improve the foundation of the new structure. But in a way, the tree lives on. It has been carved into a enormous angel that has a permanent home at St. Joseph’s.

“There was a beauty in that tree,” Nathan said.

Nathan was eventually taken to the United States to recover from his numerous injuries. He still works for St. Joseph’s, which has an orphanage for 20 boys in its Port-au-Prince location along with a bed-and-breakfast that raises money for the organization. The majority of the children are in an orphanage for those with physical and mental disabilities called Wings of Hope in Jacmel.

Children at the orphanage are taught about art just like Nathan was introduced to drumming. He studied in Senegal when he was 18 and was awarded a scholarship to Duke University to participate for six months in a global music workshop. He was able to bring many ideas back to Haiti and provide seminars to the young adults who have been through St. Joseph’s and are now giving back to their communities. He has expanded the orphanage’s music program, which has started the Dance Resurrection Theater of Haiti to involve the children in the orphanage in a dance program.

“The St. Joseph’s family is all about kids caring for kids. It’s a beautiful family, and now as these kids become leaders they are passing it back,” Nathan said.

They are children off the streets who have been given a second chance through the facility. Nathan said the children become strong leaders. They learned they could grow up and make a difference in their community.

Recently, St. Joseph’s has started a prison ministry. So far it has been able to help two young men out of jail who were there for no reason, Nathan said. He said that the more people that are in jail, the more money the people in charge get. It is not uncommon for people who have done nothing wrong to end up in jail and not have the means to get out. Once they are in the jail system there is no support. The ministry donates clothing, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Even these small items are greatly appreciated, Nathan said.

More Information

Music
WHAT: Drumming performance by Bill Nathan
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: University of Saint Francis, Bonzel Hall basement, 2701 Spring St.
NOTE: Open to the public.

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