Matènwa Community Learning Center Rotating Header Image

March, 2010:

A Continuing Struggle

by Schuyler Engel

Hello again from Ile de Lagonav. Life here continues to be a struggle for most and nearly impossible for others 2.5 months after the earthquake. Homes that cracked will only get rebuilt slowly as people are able to save the money. Unfortunately, accumulating any savings now will be even more challenging than in the past as food prices, which really jumped here after the quake, have not dropped much. From an informal overview of the area in and around Matènwa many families don’t have adequate shelter and with the rainy season soon here I am unsure how they could possibly manage.

The Matènwa Community was already involved in providing financial support to complete 22 homes. But for many living so close to the bone, this collaboration does not always mean success. For example one family has their foundation almost done but the process stopped when the family became so poor they could not provide the builder with meals while he labored.

In the context of such sustained poverty I have been priviledged to witness many wondrous moments of hope and strength. Last Sunday I attended a meeting of women. At least 200 ladies from all over the island attended, some walked 2+ hours. One of the most interesting portions of the summit was a dramatization that about 10 of the women presented. The subject was inflation and how much harder it is now to make a living than it was before the quake (hard to imagine). They used props and wore costumes. One was a charcoal seller, another a cabbage and carrot merchant, etc. The dialogue and physical humor were adlibbed and inspired. The entire room was attentive and echoing agreement and cheering on the actors at various moments. Why don’t we do dramatizations during our meetings?

Prior to departing the states, Chris managed to purchase and arrange delivery of 200 bags of rice and beans (100 pounds each) (no small feat working the system from Cambridge to get food transferred to Matènwa from Port au Prince especially during such a time of chaos) and these are being sold by the school cheap to the market ladies who then sell at a price lower than would otherwise be.

School is back in full swing. Although the main building faired well during the quake, inevitably there was fear about entering the structures that had cement roofs. Some are corrugated tin. Classes were running even the week just after, but within a few days the government made radio announcements that until cement roof buildings were formally inspected, if there were further injuries or deaths, the schools would be held responsible. This increased the fear on the part of parents and staff. Now you may ask, are there such inspectors? Right. No. At first a compromise solution was to hold a kind of camp. Lunch was served each day. When Chris and I arrived most of the community’s concerns were diminished. It was clear to us amateurs (I do have some architecture training) that the structural integrity of the schools buildings were intact.

A “One Laptop Per Child” pilot program has begun here with some representatives from Waveplace doing the trainings. Mentors from around Ayiti are here learning the Etoys programs and preparing to take the laptops back to their hometowns and train other trainers and teach the children in their own communities.

I have spending much of my time helping in the library. While we were in Port au Prince Chris bought new books. It’s not easy to find books written in Kreyòl, but one particular publisher, Kopivit-L’action Sociale, makes it a point to print Kreyòl textbooks and literature. Although from the French-speaking elite, the president of the printing house has spent his life advocating for the use of Kreyòl at all levels of society. Mostly I’ve been cataloging all the new books and organizing some new systems.

The laptop group is here until the 2nd of April. On the 14th teachers from the Fayerweather and Cambridgeport schools from Cambridge, Massachusetts are expected. I am certain that the Matènwa community will provide the same warm welcome it does to all visitors.

P.S. The boys are playing soccer outside the library in the school yard. They’re playing with a small hairless tennis ball. Must get word to the next visitors that soccer balls are invaluable gifts.

March Update: Good News

Lots of good news. Men anpil chay pa lou: many hands lighten the load. With donations from you and others we bought $7,500.00 worth of rice and beans: 4400 pounds of beans and 15600 pounds of rice arrived. Abner, Benaja, Enel, Feronel, and Robert were all there to help load it onto a truck and bring it up to Matènwa.

Unfortunately, they had to guard it as other people in need tried to climb up and take some sacks off the truck on route. We are going to sell to local market ladies, food co-operatives, and individuals at a subsidized price. We thank Guts Church for letting us share one of their containers, renting and driving the freighter, and unloading it right on Lagonav.

Neil Van Dine from Haiti Outreach will be visiting us this month to assess the safety of our buildings. Meanwhile, the children continue to work at tables and sitting in circles on the grounds.

Our earthquakes response team has given 19 families in 6 communities each 25 sacks of cement for home repairs. We are about to choose another 20 families in need. As funds arrive we will continue to rebuild, one home at a time. These communities are so grateful for support from individuals, civic and school groups. Thank you! And special thanks to all our partners in Puerto Rico. You are very special Caribbean neighbors.


Chris Low in behalf of the hundreds of people you have touched on Lagonav.

Chris and Schuyler in Ayiti.

by Schuyler Engel

Mwen rele Syèl.

Given it’s only been a week my Kreyòl is coming along. The translation is: My name is Sky. Actually my name is Schuyler Engel. I’ve traveled here with Chris to do some blogging for the community and to learn Kreyòl. (I’m a social worker in Cambridge, formerly at Cambridge Hospital, and a very large number of my clients have been from Haiti.)

Not the pictures I’d seen nor the words I’d read could have prepared me for what I observed during the 5 days we traveled in Port au Prince and the surrounding areas. And of course this is over 2 months after the quake. People here are so shaken by what they have experienced. It’s all that they want to talk about. They have seen such bloody pain. Some have had to walk away from the sounds of human moans rising muffled from the depths of a concrete pile, helpless without tools or the strength of a thousand. Others watched family die. There are still many without tents using sticks and worn sheets for makeshift lean-2s living on the median strips. The food lines (rice and beans) go on forever with people touching belly to back. It rained last night and all I could think of were all those in mud and no real cover.

Here at Matènwa some houses are down and broken, many are fine and the school has only minor cracks. Nobody has been inside the buildings because on the radio the government announced that no schools were allowed to be in session until a structural engineer inspects their structural integrity. That would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Classes have been held outside, but because of the warnings, many families have been afraid to send their children.

Yesterday during a school community meeting the group sang a lovely song about the earthquake and the devastation. The melody was sweet and sad and hopeful.

Tracy Kidder to Speak at our Third Annual Fundraiser

T H I R D  A N N U A L  E V E N I N G  O F  E D U C A T I O N  A N D  H O P E

C E L E B R A T E  A N D  S U P P O R T

T H E  M A T È N W A  C O M M U N I T Y  L E A R N I N G  C E N T E R

L A G O N A V , H A I T I

S A T U R D A Y , M A Y 8 , 2 0 1 0
Fayerweather Street School
765 Concord Avenue, Cambridge, MA
6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Guest Speaker
Author of Mountains Beyond Mountains & Strength in What Remains
Caribbean Hors d’oeuvres, Discussion and Dessert


Download a printable invitation


Tracy Kidder on YouTube about his new book Strength in What Remains.