November 1, 2002
The Matènwa Community Learning Center (MCLC), now in it’s 7th year of providing a productive education for children and adults, has been growing steadily with the generous financial help of their supporters outside of Haiti and the continued dedication of it’s community teachers and local leaders. Visits from several committed friends from abroad have been providing opportunities for the educational growth of several groups that have emerged from the center. For example, with the collaboration of Women’s Rights International, the Courageous Women’s group is raising social awareness of the plights of young Haitian women; with the help of artist Ellen Lebow, the Women Artists of Matènwa now have a viable business selling their hand painted silk scarves; with the help of musician Lisa Brown, a local band is equipped with instruments and MCLC is developing an elementary music program. Much positive energy has been focused on this small mountain community on the island of Lagonav over the past several years. As a result, MCLC has received many visits from educators and development workers from the mainland of Haiti, as well as the United States. These visitors were either seeking training from the center or wishing to collaborate to further MCLC’s mission to spread alternative education practices into the private and public schools of Haiti. Through example and teacher training, MCLC feels it is accomplishing its goal. Teachers are now rethinking their use of rote memorization in French and corporal punishment as educational methodologies. At a time when their society is struggling to move from a history of slavery and dictatorship to a democracy with peace and justice, good education models are essential.
We believe the first step to a peaceful world is a peaceful classroom. MCLC teachers are eager to eradicate the traditional system of disempowering students through corporal punishment and verbal humiliation. These traditions create unproductive frustrated youth by stifling by their creativity instead of celebrating it. MCLC teachers run model classrooms where children experience the teacher as one who respects their rights and listens to their ideas. Teachers see their role as a guide encouraging students: to learn to educate themselves; to respect each other’s opinions; to feel comfortable giving and receiving critical analysis to problems they are facing in and out of the classroom; and to recognize their responsibilities in their community. The students and teachers discuss, document, and then implement what they feel are sound principles for the classroom. Producing their own set of rules and consequences allows them to decide what is just, and hold themselves accountable. This kind of education promotes a sense of empowerment through diplomacy and justice.
Haiti has two official languages, Haitian Creole and French. At MCLC all community meetings, teacher training, and school courses are conducted in Haitian Creole. French is being taught as a second language. French is only spoken by 5% percent of the Haitian population and this 5% resides in Port au Prince. Yet in the countryside, almost all schools still have their students memorizing information in French. Concepts are often difficult for teachers and parents to explain even in their first language because they have only memorized these concepts from French textbooks without fully comprehending their meanings. Given this complication over language, it is no surprise that 80% of the population is still illiterate. This year, 8 out of 14 of our sixth graders passed the national exam; this is higher than the national average. We believe their success is due to the fact that they are being taught in a language they understand.
With your financial help, MCLC can continue to train teachers in other schools. This would effectively multiply the number of children that will have a positive, non-violent school experience. Your financial and educational exchanges have helped the center grow into a community development center that is addressing educational, health, social, and economic needs. What we need now is to find committed friends that are willing to make a yearly contribution for the next five years to assure the sustainability of this project.
For only 20 dollars a week, you could be paying a teacher’s salary to teach 22 school children. For 10 dollars a week, you can cover a year’s worth of classroom materials. For 5 dollars a week, you can contribute to our library project. Where else can you put your money and know you are providing a chance for so many children, so directly? Please consider taking this opportunity to be a five-year partner of the Matènwa Community Learning Center. Together we can help the poorest children in the Western Hemisphere build a better future for themselves.
Live more simply, so others can simply live.
One of the most successful tools that MCLC uses to promote literacy in the early grades is the CLE method that Rotary International introduced to us several years ago. Children listen to stories or have an experience that they then recreate in skits, illustrations, and words. Their stories are then published into hand made books that they can reread over and over again and share with other students. This affirms their creativity abilities to work in their language and validates their language as equal to the French language. Having beautifully illustrated published storybooks in schools is the next step in creating successful school libraries for children in Haitian schools. Traditionally they have only had French exercise books to memorize. They have not had the experience of reading for pleasure or being read to for pleasure by a parent or teacher. Rotary Petionville now wants to make this possible for children in our Haitian schools. They want to start the ball rolling for children to enjoying reading at a very early age, using books with illustrations of Haitian children in countryside settings. Children that they can identify with and therefore to reading about them.
The Courageous Women’s Group (CW), made up of female teachers at LCMC recorded two more of their popular theatre plays for radio. Women’s Rights International has been collaborating with CW to promote and develop their work. Their plays reflect the most common problems that young women face in Haitian society.
We opened our new preschool building this September with a class of 22 four year olds and 20 five year olds. Donations from Angela Burke has turned this place into wheels of fun.
We welcome twenty-seven year old Sarah Roche from Chicago this year who is a volunteer teacher. She is teaching English in grades 1-7 as well as two evening adult sessions.
Robert Magloire and I have been publishing a bi-monthly newsletter called “The Community is Speaking.” Robert interviews people on topics of the environment, current events, and health issues. The newsletter is printed in 16 font in order to give all the adult literacy graduates something to read. It is a way to help them hold on to and increase their new ability to read in Haitian Creole.
Artist Ellen Lebow and I began a silk painting project two and half years ago. Going strong, the sixteen women have aided the Matènwa economy with sales of over 2000 scarves and baby blankets in the US fairs and shops. For more information, email Ellen at Lbo@cape.com
Open Space (OS) is an alternative way of running meetings where participants are invited to meet on a specific theme but they create their agenda at the beginning of the meeting. People break up into smaller groups throughout the day to discuss the topics of most interest to them. They have the freedom to move between groups. MCLC has been offering Open Space to the local community to discuss development issues. We find that this non-hierarchical method allows for all voices to be heard. So far a water committee, reforestation committee, and soccer committee have emerged from these O.S. meetings.
Collaborate efforts between Courageous Women and Charles Provilien, with a local male nurse, has turned this house into a mobile clinic on two occasions. CW hope to receive more training in order to turn this into a Women’s Clinic and First Aid station. Harvard Medical student, Joel Sawady, and Harvard Health Administrations Student Rebecca Weisman, did some volunteer training of the women during the summer of 2001.
Lisa Brown, professional percussionist and music teacher at Wellfleet High School, brought three of her students to experience Lagonave and communicate through music.
Nancy Casey, a math professor, will be coming in January to help our director, Abner Sauveur expand the school vegetable garden and begin two new projects that the community has been asking for: goat cheese making, chicken coops and composting.