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Yearly Updates

Letters from Chris

Matènwa Yearly Update 2011



“Anpil men,chay pa lou.” “With many hands,

the load is not heavy.”


Dear Friends of Matènwa,

We have exciting news to report; it has been a year filled with progress and promise. But first, we send you our sincere thanks for joining hands with us to make it all possible.

Your support and confidence give us the determination to prove every day that children in rural Haiti can learn in the language they all understand, without being hit or humiliated. We are determined to make this model the norm in schools across Haiti.

It has been 15 years since the Matènwa Community Learning Center (MCLC) began as a one-room schoolhouse. Now MCLC provides a preschool to ninth grade education and an arts campus with life giving programs that are shaped with the collaboration of many educators and activists from in and outside of Haiti. Instead of the common image of rote memorization, dictation, corporal punishment, and dictatorial classroom management, one sees hands on materials, critical thinkers, authors, and collaborative leaders for peace and justice.

As we celebrate 15 years, we celebrate you ~ our long-standing and our recent supporters. With many hands, the way forward is made possible.

With love and appreciation, Chris, Abner

& Juliette



Progress and Promise: Mother Tongue Books

“If you could only see how the children’s eyes light up when new Mother Tongue Books come to Matènwa. They love these books so much!”
(Writer and MTB mentor, Connie Biewald)

Books written by children for children are beginning to show a child centered way to meet Haiti’s need for reading material written in Creole for elementary school children. It’s literacy, it’s empowerment, it’s real cultural exchange as these trilingual (Creole,

French, and English) books are published and exchanged between Matènwa and US schools.

Early work has been supported by Rotary Clubs: Port Au Prince, Puerto Rico, and Skidaway, Rotary International, the Fayerweather Street School, and the Basic Science Partnership. There is much promise in this growing initiative. We encourage you to join in, through classroom and service learning projects, and through your financial support.

For examples of Mother Tongue Books, see:, the “Matènwa” tag. A site for kids is in progress: To get involved contact Saskia:

Progress and Promise: In the News

Through the years, Matènwa educators have been collaborating with prominent Haitian linguists Yves Dejean (above) and Michel DeGraff (below) to further the cause of classroom instruction in Creole for Haiti’s children. Haiti’s Department of Education passed the Bernard Reform in 1979, stating that instruction should be in Creole through the 4th grade to promote Universal Education. Implementation has been very slow. But, there is promise and Matènwa has led the way. Articles in the Boston Globe, “The Power of Creole” by Leon Neyfakh and on BBC NEWS, “Should Creole Replace French in Haiti’s Schools?” by Cordelia Hebblethwaite, both cite Degraff’s work in Matènwa. Through his research, Degraff has witnessed the unsurprising: Children succeed if educational programs are offered in a language the students understand. DeGraff states: “Haiti will never be able to rise to its potential if you have 90 percent who cannot be instructed properly. Once you open up that reservoir…. Imagine how many well prepared minds you would have to try to solve the country’s problems.”


FACES, a world cultures magazine for children ages 9-14, devoted its Fall 2011 issue to Haiti. Among its features were interviews with 11 Matènwa students. Here is a sample interview:

“My name is Chrisla Fleurant. I am 9 years old. I am a fourth grade student at the Matènwa Community School. I live in a family of 10 people. My mother and my father are the ones who work to give us what we need. I love my country very much because it is a beautiful country that has a lot of  fresh air, beautiful sun, and nice temperatures. We also have a beautiful culture that has a time for everything and a language that many other nations enjoy,”

Peace and Justice Award

The Peace and Justice Award was given by the City of Cambridge, MA to Chris Low in June 2011 in recognition of her work to build bridges and create community  between and among people, crossing divides of neighborhood, ethnicity, gender, race, and class. Family and friends were present to join in the applause!

Schools for Schools Partnerships 

Schools for schools Partnerships were started in Puerto Rico thanks to Anna Grimaldi Colomer. The Interact Club working with the Parkville and Commonwealth schools spearheads an annual Heart for Haiti community celebration, which has led to funding of the Matènwa Library. It is one outstanding example of what can be done. We are hoping that other schools and clubs will get involved. Please contact Pam Smith at

Progress and Promise: In the Gardens

Across rural Haiti, most families survive by farming small plots of depleted, non-irrigated soil. Little attention is given to improving the knowledge or techniques used by farmers even though such skills determine the very survival of the family. But in Matènwa gardening is an integral part of the curriculum, and the school garden serves as hands-on experience, breakfast food, and a demonstration site. Students and teachers make a wall to stop erosion. Children work together at school and bring these techniques back to their home gardens.

Home Gardens for Ten Families

Thanks to a grant from Pacific Rim Voices, MCLC has initiated a home gardens program. In 2011 ten families each received 2 water drums, 2 gutters with installation, kandelam plants for live fencing of a 10 square meter space, and wire fencing to keep out goats and chickens until the live fencing grows to a secure height and width. Luisine speaks about her garden: “I have already benefitted from my garden. We have eaten from it and sold from it. I live close to the water pump so even though the rains were not coming I walked to the pump and carried buckets of water to my home each day.”

Ten Communities Embrace the Matènwa Model 

For more than a decade, MCLC has served as a model for what education might be in rural Haiti – a place that respects the rights of children, offers instruction in Creole, includes both core academic and arts classes, provides teacher training in pedagogy, content, and classroom management, and prepares students as critical thinkers capable of improving their lives in their mountain community. This year, with many thanks for a grant from The Boston Foundation and support from Beyond Borders, MCLC is bringing its model to ten surrounding communities. Our goal is to reach out to schools across Lagonav.  How wide an impact we can have depends on your compassion and generosity to support our work.

 “Everyone is very motivated to work together. We give a little theory and then go try it. Walter, (one of the Home Gardens beneficiaries) is explaining how organic composting has made his vegetables flourish.” Says Creole Gardens Outreach Coordinator Abner Sauveur.

Progress and Promise: Arts and Music

The MCLC Arts Colony comes to life! Our beehive buildings are providing arts, crafts, and music classes with support from you and the Magpie Giving Circle and from the Hand/Eye Fund.





There is much enthusiasm as the community works to create jobs and income. We need your help to market items for local and international sales.

Progress and Promise: Building Friendships

Last year, teachers asked for educational games. Volunteers brought Bananagrams donated by the company, and other games to play. It worked so well that in July 2012 we will start another exciting experiment.We invite those of you who speak Creole (adults and children), or who can afford a translator, to come share your talents with the Matènwa Community. Matènwa children and adults will express what they would like to learn and we will try to match those interests with volunteers’ desires to teach. Volunteers can come for one to four weeks.



Progress and Promise: With your help!

We began many new initiatives this year. Many children and parents of Matènwa are putting their heart and soul, their mind and strength into working for a brighter tomorrow. Will you join us?

Give alternative gifts for holiday presents:

  • *82 cents/day~$25/month will provide books and breakfast for a child for a year.
  • *Less than $1/day~$30/month will cover a child’s education for a year.
  • * 1.50/day~ $550/year will provide the fencing, tools, and seeds for one home vegetable garden.
  • * 200 /month~$2,400/year will support a teacher’s salary.
  • *250 /month ~ $3,000/year will support change in one of our surrounding community’s school and garden for a year.
  • *Mother Tongue Books ~ create and publish in your classroom; contribute to Matènwa’s MTBs publication initiative.
  • *Art and Music ~ help us to market local crafts; come to Matènwa and teach a skill.

Please send your tax-exempt contribution to:

Friends of Matènwa
P.O. Box 494
Lincoln, MA. 01773

Stay in touch!

Best wishes to you for the 2012 New Year from all of us in Matènwa!

December 2011


An Evening of Education and Hope 2009

Your Invitation

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Atrium School

69 Grove Street, Watertown, MA
6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.


Matènwa Community Learning Center

Annual fundraiser

On March 21st, 2009, the Friends of the Matènwa are hosting An Evening of Education and Hope to tell the story of a remarkable school in the remote mountain area of Matènwa, Haiti.  Especially challenged by an autumn that brought several devastating hurricanes to Matènwa and to other impoverished communities of Haiti, the Matènwa Community Learning Center has poured its energy into home reconstruction, feeding those most at risk, and sustaining its educational and community programs. It has led by example in these hardest of times.  Please join us in celebrating and supporting this inspirational school.  We are fortunate to have as our guest speaker, Jean-Robert Cadet, an advocate for Haitian children’s rights and the author of Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American.

The Matènwa Community Learning Center offers a model of hope and change. The teaching encourages children’s curiosity, develops their skills of inquiry and investigation, and provides projects that impact their community. It is a place where children are taught first in their native language, Creole.  Founded thirteen years ago by Abner Sauveur, a local Haitian educator, and Chris Low, a Cambridge-based educator, the school has grown, serving 242 students as well as engaging hundreds in the community.  Furthermore, it trains and inspires many educators in other parts of Haiti.  Matènwa’s adults are also working together to solve shared problems. Some of the Center’s solutions include a community library, social programs addressing human rights, adult education, an agriculture program, and a growing arts program.

The Matènwa Community Learning Center receives no public funds while serving one of the most economically poor areas in Haiti. It costs the school $300 a year to educate each child; on average students are asked to pay less than $10 per year.  In addition, the school feeds all Matènwa students a full hot and healthy meal three times a week, at a cost of  $18,000 a year.

Join us for this special evening. We hope to see you on March 21st at the Atrium School in Watertown. If you cannot join us, please consider making a donation. Your support directly impacts the lives of the children and families of Matènwa.


Friends of Matènwa

Tickets are $60 each.

December Update

Dear Friends,
Happy holidays! The Matènwa Community Learning Center has finally caught up with the 21st century! Now you can read all about us at

I am so happy to share some of our recent accomplishments and new ventures. For the next several years Juliette and I will be living in Haiti from February to August to further these projects. As part of our efforts to be a TOTALLY GREEN school we are revitalizing local arts and food products that have been disappearing in favor of imported goods. Children are learning to weave and sew. We are planting bamboo and other plants that we can utilize. We already compost and use natural fertilizers as well as solar energy. Haiti has over 300,000 child servants called restavecs. Having access to education, Matènwa families feel no need to give away their children. Last year I trained several adult literacy teachers to use a program by Kathy Cash aimed at improving the treatment of children. Through reading illustrated stories of common abuses with discussion and role-plays afterwards, adults were transformed; some pulled their children from the restavec system, others started giving their restavecs time to play. I was so impressed with this program that I want to implement it across Lagonav. I’ll talk more about this at our fundraiser March 21st. Our guest speaker will be Jean Robert Cadet, author of Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle -Class American.


Love, Chris and Juliette

Mother Tongue Books
It is illogical to think that a child can read for meaning in a language for which he or she does not have a rich oral vocabulary.

Equipped with a dozen brand new MacBooks, printers, scanners, cameras, a satellite dish, and solar power (thank you, Rotary), we are making an old dream a new reality. Since our inception in 1996, the elementary classes have been making their own handmade books, but now we are able to publish them and send them to our partner schools here and abroad. By sharing books across borders and translating them into a mother tongue, children are contributing to each other’s education and helping one another become literate. This social justice project brings joy to all who are reading, writing, and exchanging books. We foresee the creation of many Mother Tongue school libraries. ACPrint will produce our most popular titles.

Matènwa teacher Millienne and I received the first Mother Tongue book from Fayerweather Street School students in Cambridge, Ma. Send one in!

The Garden and Breakfast program
Tree and vegetable gardening is one way students learn to appreciate their rural community. It’s a skill that directly improves their lives. It provides much of the food for our breakfast program.


“We take such good care of the garden. The plants don’t die. Growing food in your own garden feels great. You get to eat vegetables without spending money to buy them in the market.”~MCLC student

Visits: Life changing experiences for
teachers, students, and families

Many of our goals are being met through exchange  visits with Haitians and foreigners. We learn from each other by exchanging ideas and experiencing different environments. Our model’s impact is reflected in the voices of our visitors and hosts.

Reflecting on returning home: “I hope we will settle into a less packaged-and-prepared, more healthful-and-Haitian-like diet… We have noticed that people share what they have, offering something to anyone who comes to their porch…Hopefully, we will return home with a greater appreciation for what we have and choose to live more modestly, resulting in a more balanced, informed lifestyle.” ~Teacher, Portland, Oregon

“Where I was working I always used a whip… it does not make children understand, on the contrary, it puts them into a slave mentality. [After visiting Matènwa] I made a firm decision to change myself.” ~Teacher, Dezam, Haiti


“The LKM staff has been crucial in the founding and development of the IDEAL school in the slums of Cité Soleil. They’ve welcomed folks as observers, and dedicated their time working with teachers and students there. They deserve virtually all the credit for the school’s choice to use nonviolent teaching and have been the central figures as the IDEAL kids have learned to run a school.” ~Dean of Shimer College, Port –au-Prince, Haiti

We are building on positive interdependency. As your generous support provides education, improved health, and the foundation for human dignity, MCLC also reaches out, offering ecocultural homestays, Creole immersion, teacher training programs, computer classes, and art products for sale. Together we make a sustainable difference in many lives.  ~December 2008

December 2004

December 2004

Dear Friends of The Matènwa Community Learning Center,

Despite all the upheaval, violence, and uncertainty dominating Haiti today, there is still a lighthouse of positive energy pouring out of the Matènwa Community Learning Center. Situated in the mountains on the remote island of La Gonave, with no paved roads to reach it, the community is relatively safe from the ex-military rebels, the Lavalas Chimeres, and foreign military that continue to threaten the population. Over the past year it was not guns we feared, but the increasing hunger. From September to February prices had almost tripled; more than half our students were not able to afford a balanced meal more than a few times a week. While many schools closed during the turmoil, MCLC stayed open, and the dedicated teachers and students remained focused on finishing the year. Yet by March, attendance began to wane and those who did come were falling asleep by 10 am because they were famished. MCLC responded with an emergency breakfast program for our students and students at another nearby school in order to keep our community stable.  We did not want to risk having Matènwa parents decide on giving their children away into child servitude for lack of food.  We were able to do this without hesitation because of Anna Grimaldi Colomer’s donors of Puerto Rico, our supporters generous response to our urgent email plea, and student funding efforts at The Horace Mann School in New York. After a month of healthy breakfasts you could see a difference in the children, and we finished the school year with great accomplishments.

MCLC received visitors from California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico who shared their talents in and out of the classroom. We shared our model of peaceable classrooms with 6 other schools in teacher training facilitated by educator Kristy Stoesz. Another classroom was added making it a preschool through ninth grade program with 226 children and 2 adult literacy classes. Wozo Productions produced a video MCLC is featured in called Circles of Change. This shows MCLC using what we believe are two of the best educational practices in Haiti today. Several teachers went on trips within Haiti and to the U.S. for educational exchanges. MCLC was written up in Latinamerica, July 2,2003, which resulted in two teachers receiving a year of Montessori training in Port Au Prince donated by Peter Hesse of Germany. The Courageous Women theatre group performed their social justice plays for audiences around Haiti with support from Women’s Rights International. The Women Artists of Matènwa were written up in the Fall issue of Ms Magazine, by Edwidge Dandicat; and with the support of Ellen LeBow, they are now selling online at MCLC is also advising groups in the community that are working on soil conservation, tree planting, and increasing potable water availability. Last fall Teaching For Tomorrow in Puerto Rico presented me with an Outstanding Leadership for Children Award which came with a financial award that supported many of our school programs. MCLC is a beacon reaching across Lagonave and across the water to other Haitian communities on Haiti’s mainland.

This summer, after having been away for only 4 months, I was saddened to see that neighbors and staff were visibly thinner. Even the highest paid staff is able to feed his family only once a day.  I felt determined to return to the US and make sure that Matènwa has what it needs to continue to succeed. I spent much of the previous school year fundraising outside of Haiti, and will continue to do so, because I believe successful development happens when it is not dependent on the presence of a foreigner. The MCLC staff has proven their competencies by conducting a dynamic program despite drought, civil unrest, and hunger. They are hard working and hopeful, eager and humble. They hope for another year of the Matènwa children and adults being enriched through learning. It is your partnership with MCLC that has allowed it to achieve so much. This is a gift to be proud of. We are grateful for Beyond Borders for acting as our fiscal agent. We thank you all and hope you will continue to support our educational programs that emphasize the practice of peace, dialogue, and social justice.

Anpil men, chay pa lou
With many hands, the burden is not heavy

Chris Low
Co-director MCLC

November 2002

November 1, 2002
Dear Friends,

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

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.