St. Bonaventure Alumna’s Film Documents Plight of Haitian Child Workers

HNP Communications Franciscan World

ALLEGANY, N.Y. — A St. Bonaventure University (SBU) alumna is preparing for the Western New York debut of her first documentary film on Oct. 14.

Claudia Chiesi, Ph.D., a 1969 SBU graduate, will debut The Sugar Babies, a 99-minute documentary about the plight of children of Haitian ancestry in the Dominican Republic’s sugar industry, at 2 p.m. at the Sisters of St. Francis Center, 201 Reist St., in Williamsville, N.Y.

Chiesi was executive producer of the film, which focuses on the history of slavery in the sugar industry, as well as the current conditions surrounding human trafficking and child labor in Hispaniola.

“The field of human rights is as significant to me now as when I first visited the Franciscan missions in Jamaica when I was a 16, and later, in 1988 and 1989.” Chiesi said. “While I was working at a college in south Florida, I visited the local sugar plantations and saw the impoverished living conditions of its workers.”

Chiesi credits her 16 years of Franciscan education as being the foundation for her new career. Following her undergraduate work at SBU, Chiesi earned her master’s degree and doctorate at the University at Buffalo.

Chiesi said the St. Bonaventure community taught her “to serve and to lead, as it was a big part of educating the whole person.”

Haitian author Edwidge Danticat narrates The Sugar Babies, which was shot in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The film includes interviews with the Haitian ambassador to the United States, U.S. State Department’s Office of Human Trafficking, Human Rights Watch, an organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world, and anthropologist Dr. Sidney Mintz. The film also features human rights activists, missionary priests and child workers and their families.

Before beginning documentary work in 2005, Chiesi was a college president in Maryland for 10 years. She also worked as a college vice president for academic and student affairs in Ohio, dean of instruction in Florida,
humanities professor in Maryland, coordinator for institutional research in New York, and caseworker and social worker in New Jersey and New York.

“It was a natural transition from my career in higher education and social service,” Chiesi said. “It made sense to use my professional skills to engage in more direct, proactive efforts for social justice.”

“We will be sharing the expectations we have to improve the future for the children and their families, to bring justice to their communities and to enlighten the public regarding the dismal, inhumane conditions surrounding
the business of U.S.-owned sugar companies,” Chiesi said.

For more information, phone 716-949-1543.