“Chita tande, mache wè.” – Haitian proverb (Sit and hear, walk and see – experience is the best teacher).
Ile de la Gonave
JANUARY 13, 2015 / ANISHAKATLURI
Hills straight into ocean views on Ile de la Gonave
Map of La GonaveBonjour from the island of La Gonave, were I am about one week through my three week stay on this mountainous, arid, tough yet beautiful island of rocks-meet-ocean! La Gonave is roughly 40 miles long by 10 miles wide, off the coast of Port-au-Prince and even less densely populated than its size might warrant because it is dry and relatively isolated, even by Haitian standards.
I am here learning Kreyòl, working in the community surrounding the Ecole Matenwa model school, getting the lay of the land and building a deeper understanding of what it means to live and raise a family in Haiti.
The beyond-bumpy road leading up to Matewa
The beyond-bumpy road leading up to Matewa
Motorcycle or “moto” – my ride while on La Gonave
The village of Matenwa is situated up in the hills, accessible from the main port town via the bumpy, unpaved roads that criss-cross the island. The roads are so rocky and pocketed by boulders that they are virtually impassible by car – motorcycles are the only vehicles I really see here, apart from donkeys. As the founder of the Matenwa school eloquently phrased it, La Gonave is “an off-road biker’s paradise” but for a normal girl like me, every trip out beyond Matenwa involves a rather adventurous ride.
I am living with a local family in Matenwa and staying in their small “kay” (kreyôl for “house”) which sits on a plot of land that is shared with the “kays” of the large, extended family. There is no electricity or running water in any of the homes, which means showering happens from a bucket, the toilet….does not exist, cooking and washing all happen outdoors, and the day pretty much begins and ends with the sun.
Two sisters and single moms, Loretta and Zaza, are my primary hosts and caretakers. They have four and five kids each, ranging from the ages of 18 to 5. Between this troupe and their extended family, I almost always have company. I have acquired several adorable and eager little shadows who love to tag along as I go about my day. There is always someone to watch doing housework, someone to chit-chat with, people passing through to say hello, and groups of the family gathering to discuss something or the other.
The family speaks only Kreyol but their nephew Wadson speaks some French and a little English. Wadson is my primary language helper and helps me muddle through the translations of everyday living. Apart from him, I am surrounded by creole speakers 24/7. It is exhausting and frustrating at times, but it’s also rewarding. And I have many “professors” here because the whole extended family has taken it upon themselves to impart an understanding of the kreyôl language and Haitian culture to me.
In spite of how tremendously difficult the everyday life here is, there are so many vibrant smiles around me and such easy laughter. It’s contagious, and I find myself laughing so many times a day. It may sound a bit like a cliché reflection from a fresh-faced foreign visitor, but it is to me one of the most pronounced facets of my time here so far.
Two more weeks ahead of me here on La Gonave. More to come soon!
This post was written on January 14th and published after my return to Port-au-Prince and internet connectivity.
“Matènwa is not only a must-see because of its revolutionary approach to education in Haiti, but also because of how they welcome visitors. The opportunity they offer to do a homestay is very unique in Haiti, and it’s a fantastic way to connect with locals. The students are accustomed to outsiders coming in to observe, so you get a better picture of what’s actually going on at the school.”- Sora Edwards-Thro
Dear friends of Matènwa,
We have some exciting new developments to share with you in this latest update.
MCLC has recently created an advisory committee in Haiti to advise the school on how to best tap into resources in-country. The committee members come from different walks of life and bring a unique set of skills and knowledge with them. (Left to right) Ernso Jean-Louis is a pastor and has a business helping small businesses grow, as well as running his Eucalyptus Guest House in Port-au-Prince. Freda Catheus has collaborated with MCLC since its inception and has extensive experience working in the field in adult literacy, women and child’s rights, and micro financing. Michaelle Auguste has worked for Teacher’s College, Hunter College and the New York Board of Education in Bilingual Education. She has written child and adult literacy programs for the Haitian Ministry of Education that MCLC staff use. Steven Werlin was Dean of Shimer College in Chicago and presently works at Fonkoze, a microcredit agency, while on leave in Haiti. He has done extensive work with MCLC on how to use Reflection Circles with students and teachers and the wider community. Caroline Hudicourt runs the Acacia school in Petion-Ville, and is the executive secretary of COSPE, a consortium of private schools in Haiti. Abner Sauveur and Chris Low are the co-founders of MCLC. Louis-Henry Mars runs a non-profit and works in conflict resolution.
Meeting our students’ needs
With the addition of a 10th grade class, we needed more space to accommodate the secondary students. Therefore, we have enlarged two classrooms below the library. We also added a porch for a Pre-K and First grade breakout space. We think these three first graders look pretty happy out there. Do you agree?
Cultivating and sharing our talents
At MCLC, we nurture the extra curricular interests and talents of our students. Some are really into sports and others into music or art. We provide students the opportunity to develop their skills. In music class, the kindergarteners love to sing and dance; the first and second graders love to play the conga; many of the older students choose to play the guitar, drums, or keyboard. They all enjoy sharing what they have learned during school assemblies every Thursday. The preschoolers recently performed a dance routine at one of these assemblies and the 6th graders did a play on the importance of respecting other people’s belongings.
Using the gardens to teach and train
We work regularly in the school garden to ensure that there are enough vegetables throughout the year. Right now, we have cabbages and different types of peppers. Having a successful garden is important to us in at least three ways: 1) We always have some type of vegetables to serve the students in the school breakfast program; 2) Students can continue to do hands-on learning in the garden; and 3) We can demonstrate to the teachers who come from other schools for training how to create, maintain, and integrate a garden into their curriculum.
Spreading Across Haiti
Two groups of educators came to be trained this month for one week. Five people from the Central Plateau and Five people from Jacmel. We heard that the Director from Jacmel (center) reported to his sfunders from Community Coaltition of Haiti saying, “We are going to be the Matènwa of Jacmel!”
Learn Creole in Matènwa
Coming from New York City, Anisha just spent 3 weeks in Matènwa learning Creole before starting a new job in Port Au Prince. We will be posting her reflections soon!
Chris W. Low, Executive Director FOM
Ezner Angervil, Director MCLC
On December 4, 2014, we were proud to have Abner Sauveur,co founder and Educational director of Matenwa Community Learning Center (MCLC),participate in the opening ceremony of Haiti’s Creole Academy.Sauveur was invited by Michelle DeGraff, a Haitian born MIT linguist who has been pushing for the realization of a Creole Academy in Haiti.The MCLC is the concrete model of what is possible to achieve in countryside schools when they use their mother tongue, as the language of instruction. This Academy should bring more respect to the language. Michel DeGraff has been leading the data collection and evaluation of literacy rates in 5 pilot schools that are using MCLC’s Mother Tongue Books methodology. The results after 18 months of implementation are very encouraging. Linguist Yves DeJean has been pushing for Creole to be used as the language of educational instruction for decades.
At the same time, Matenwa’s work towards this cause was recognized on National Public Ratio. Click on the link below to listen to the podcast. I hope you will be inspired to be a contributor and join Friends of Matènwa to keep this vital program moving ahead in Haiti. It is an essential institute of learning for other school teachers across Haiti.