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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 Press.org, 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 www.artmatenwa.org. 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

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