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Feb 7, 2018

Art Expands the Mind

First mandalas!
First mandalas!

In Haiti, especially rural Haiti, education is about learning the right answer.  Because of the class sizes, students don't have the luxury to participate in active learning and participatory class work.  There are state exams for the 6th, 9th and final year of high school and school focuses on preparation for these critical milestones.

St. Paul's school was able to host a two day workshop with artist, Janet Strickler, to provide an opportunity for open and creative thinking through Mandala building.

A mandala is a geometric Hindu or Buddhist symbol representing the universe.  As an artistic form, they are a circle created in a geometric pattern working out from the middle.  Haitian students focus all the art around structured figures and patterns. Rulers are always a huge part of their work, so mandalas were a perfect way for them to expand their creativity.  Janet told them there was only one rule: no copying others, just use their own ideas to create their mandalas.  

After an hour, there was a wonderful array of artistic designs, each one unique!  The students were able to open up their minds and decide for themselves which pattern was right for them.

To reinforce and to make the class Haitian-led, a second workshop was offered the following week, led by Joseph Alvins, a young Haitian who took part in the first workshop as an assistant and who brought his own style to the second class. The students truly opened up even more, with larger, richer mandalas at the second workshop.

It is always important to abide by the school structure designed to best serve the educational needs of the country.  It is also wonderful to be able to supplement the standard curriculum with an out of the box program like art. It was a joy to introduce mandalas at St. Paul's and to watch the students expand their creativity. Yay Art!

Mandala Pride!
Mandala Pride!
Each one unique!
Each one unique!
Joseph runs the second workshop.
Joseph runs the second workshop.
Wanting to show off their mandalas!
Wanting to show off their mandalas!

Links:

Jan 22, 2018

Progress is more than possible, it is inevitable.

Wilda and her children in the garden
Wilda and her children in the garden

Last year, around this time, I sat with a group of Haitian detainees at the ICE facility in Aurora.  Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents took a large number of Haitian immigrants into custody near the Tijuana border and sent several hundred to Colorado to await hearings.  Having lived in Haiti for several years, I speak Haitian Kreyol, and volunteered to translate for the legal team processing their cases.

I first translated for Jean, a man of slight stature and commanding presence.  He described his path to Aurora with passion and composure, speaking clearly and firmly, willing me to understand his story.  Jean grew up in an isolated mountain town off the southern coast of the island.  After excelling in primary school, he went to live with an aunt in Port-au-Prince to attend high school and seek a college he could afford. After his first year of university he could no longer pay tuition, but stayed in Port-au-Prince fighting for odd jobs and opportunities. In 2015, he heard of a program in Brazil, a special visa for low-paying but reliable jobs.  He went, worked for some time, and when the opportunities dried up, he traveled through Central America, up the length of Mexico, and to the Tijuana border crossing. On arrival in the U.S. he was taken into custody and sent to Aurora.

“Why did you go to Brazil?” his lawyer asked.

“Mwen tap chache lavi.”

This literally means, “I was searching for life.”   He continued, “You don’t make a trip like that for vacation. It was no vacation. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t speak the languages. I can’t describe the things I saw. I didn’t do it for fun – I had no choice.”

It has been eight years this month since an earthquake devastated Haiti, killing hundreds of thousands of people, displacing hundreds of thousands more. People often ask me, “Has there been progress in Haiti?”  The question has taken on particular weight now, in the aftermath of the Trump administration’s November decision to revoke the temporary protected status of nearly 60,000 Haitian men and women living in the U.S. The administration deemed that “Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens.” They have until July 2019 to leave the U.S. or face deportation.

I lived in Haiti for more than two years after the earthquake, I’ve been there more than 30 times in the past five years, my sons are Haitian-American, and I am the director of a non-profit that supports local leaders in Haiti. It is my job to answer the question regarding progress. I’ve answered it hundreds of times and will answer it hundreds more, and yet each time I’m asked, my chest tightens as I wait to see what will come out of my mouth.

Unemployment and a lack of opportunity are stifling for the youth of Haiti. There is rampant and extreme poverty, inadequate access to healthcare, widespread homelessness, lack of clean water, lack of energy, and minimal infrastructure. A recent New York Times piece, which featured close friends of mine, shows how even burying the dead is a daunting challenge for many. Another Times piece after Hurricane Matthew showed people living in caves for lack of a better option.

My chest tightens, I think, because while all I reference above is true, there is an important, more complex reality that hides beneath the darkness and pain: Haiti is the most beautiful place I know. Beauty in its people, beauty in its countryside, beauty in its courage and grace. It is a place of unique history and singular resistance. I’ve heard it called the birthplace of the human rights movement, due to its triumph over Napoleon’s army and its subsequent status as the first independent black republic in the New World. It is a place with long tradition of homegrown community development, of neighbors looking out for one another, and of grassroots movements organizing to great effect.

These truths are not widely known or published, and while they do not negate the poverty and need referenced above, they are an essential counterpoint to them.  People who seek to invest in Haiti should be investing in local people and local structures, in communities like the one Jean comes from.

Progress is more than possible in Haiti: it is inevitable.

When Jean spoke of his hometown his eyes grew misty and his voice cracked. It was important for him to express that he did not want to leave Haiti, that his heart remained there the whole time. The people of Haiti love their country, are fiercely proud of their history and will fight for their communities if given a chance. They have the talent, capacity, and creativity to move forward, what is required is opportunity; a way to stay and fight; tools in their hands, and a chance to use them in their own communities. Given that, they will do the rest.

Community leader, Darline, leader of GEM
Community leader, Darline, leader of GEM
Students at St. Paul's
Students at St. Paul's

Links:

Nov 9, 2017

Trash Matters- Dealing with Garbage.

Changing Plastic Garbage into Useful Plant Pots
Changing Plastic Garbage into Useful Plant Pots

Haiti has almost no waste management: infrastructure for sanitation, garbage removal or recycling. Only 17% of the country has any type of improved sanitation systems, and that number is even lower in rural areas of Haiti.

That is the situation in Petit Trou de Nippes where St. Paul’s School is located. There is NO garbage collection. What do the people do? Most of the garbage is thrown on the ground or sometimes burned, neither of which is good for human or environmental health.

At St. Paul’s School this fall, there is a new agricultural educator, Raphael Fernandez, who is passionate about the environment. He has designed a curriculum that interweaves environmental awareness and stewardship with agriculture. He has engaged students in trash cleanup both on the campus of the school and at the students’ homes. But with no garbage collection, where will this garbage go? Students will work with their new instructor and their families to decide what can be burned, what can be recycled and what must be buried. Agronom Raphael, as he is known at St. Paul's, has also found a use for the ubiquitous small plastic bags that deliver a single serving of safe water.  The children use them at school and people use them at the market, they are sold for a few pennies everywhere.  After the water is gone, there is a small plastic bag that ends up on the ground.  Agronom Raphael has put them to use as small containers for starting plants from seeds.  The school garden now uses these little "pots" for all their seed germinating!

It is not a beautiful solution that speaks of a “Happy Ever After” and the elimination of the garbage problem. It is the reality of their world, where there is no infrastructure for their waste. But it is a start. Students are learning about the waste, what is dangerous for their health, what cannot be recycled and what has a long half-life. And their immediate environment is cleaner, safer and better for their gardens and families.   

Please help us support this creative educator along with all the teachers and staff at St. Paul’s School. Help us support faculty and students work towards practical and appropriate solutions. By donating, you are supporting Raphael’s vision of interconnected curriculums supporting the environment. Trash matters and we want to help the students of St. Paul’s put it in its place!

Creating a Recycled Garden
Creating a Recycled Garden
Planting Moringa in the School Garden
Planting Moringa in the School Garden

Links:

 
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