Night has fallen over Mirebalais, a city nestled among the mountains of central Haiti, and Gerdes Fleurant’s hands dance in the muggy Caribbean air as he talks about poverty, corruption and hope. Two centuries ago, his people cast off colonial rule and founded their own republic. But nothing’s ever that easy. Today, Fleurant says, the selfishness of Haiti’s wealthy upper class has left the country in dire straits.

“They don’t want to do anything that would endanger their own privilege,” he says.

Though Haiti is among the world’s most impoverished countries, the problems Fleurant describes ring eerily familiar, particularly for those on the margins of American society. Homelessness, poverty, lack of accessible health care. That last, you’ll note, is the subject of our cover story this week.

Normally a reporting trip to Haiti would be well beyond the Indy’s budget. For that matter, so would a trip to Seattle, which is where next week’s cover story will take you, to learn about innovations in senior citizen care. These stories are our contribution to phase two of the Montana Gap project, a statewide multi-paper collaboration backed by the nonprofit Solutions Journalism Network.

Our mission was simple: Find promising solutions to Montana’s current mental health crisis and share them with readers. There’s no silver bullet to improving something as complex as health care, but by casting our net beyond the state’s borders, we’ve been able to explore some compelling ideas that can help carry the conversation forward. We also found that Montanans, and Americans, aren’t alone. Our challenges are universal.

Fleurant, an ethnomusicologist, studied at the Boston Conservatory, earned a PhD at Tufts and taught at a number of colleges in the Cambridge area. But a return trip to his home country of Haiti in 1995 prompted him to follow in the footsteps of his idols Albert Schweitzer, Johann Sebastian Bach and Marcus Garvey, to name a few. He and his wife constructed a cultural center in Mirebalais to give back to the community. Twenty-one years later, they host seminars on arts and crafts, run a school for 190 students, and are planning a nearby holistic center to focus on spirituality and healing. If that effort sounds relatable, it’s because sometimes solutions can be universal too.

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