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Haitian Montrealers celebrate country’s independence by helping the homeless on Jan. 1

Montrealers kick off 2020 by helping the homeless
WATCH: It’s the new year and a group of friends in Montreal decided to start off 2020 by sharing. Global’s Phil Carpenter reports.

For Haitians Montrealers, Jan. 1 isn’t just New Years Day.

“Jan. 1 is our independence day in Haiti,” said Aly Acadia, beaming, as he stirred a large pot of soup in the kitchen at Pikliz, a restaurant in the city’s St. Henri neighbourhood.

He was there with about a dozen other Haitian Montrealers preparing the soup to hand out to the homeless.

Myriam Joseph, who organized the event, explained that the soup is significant.

“We call it our freedom soup and it’s meant to be shared,”  she told Global News.

READ MORE: Fabienne Colas talks diversity as Montreal’s strength and her hope for the Haitian community

Haiti, a former French colony, brought Africans to the island as slaves for centuries.  During much of that time, “slaves were not allowed to eat soup at all,” according to restaurant co-owner Akim Acadia.

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“So on Jan. 1, 1804, when the country got independence, they celebrated by making soup.”

That, he said, is why the tradition continues to this day.

“Haitians don’t play,” he laughed.

“When it’s Jan. 1, we all have soup with family.  It’s a big thing for us.”

Montreal Haitians show support for people in Haiti
Montreal Haitians show support for people in Haiti

But Joseph pointed out that the soup, called Joumou — containing various ground vegetables, meat and even pasta — is meant to be shared, especially with those who can’t afford to feed themselves.

That, she said, is one reason she decided to organize the event.

“Yes, we’re going to do it today, but we’re going to do it often,” she said.

Event co-organizer Marilou Yoshimura said they gave out 175 soups — some to homeless shelters, the rest to people on the street.

“We had a social worker helping us also, and she knows the people and knows where to go,” she explained.

READ MORE: Montreal homeless drop-in centre keeps doors open throughout holidays

Joseph pointed out, though, that another reason she put the project together is that she knows four people who are homeless.

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“It breaks my heart to see them on the street struggling,” she said, noting that all of them are women who are victims of violence.

One of them, she claimed, is her friend.

“I’m always looking for her, searching for her,” she said.

Joseph hopes her friend will be all right.  She and her friends say they want to make soup for the homeless every year now, and also do whatever they can the rest of the year to help them.

Montreal students knit for charity
Montreal students knit for charity