Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Cap-Haitien, Haiti                                                                                    January 18- February 23, 2016
by: Jennifer Roth,
Elementary School French Teacher
 Mebane, North Carolina

Pre-trip Thoughts:
On January 1, 2016 I began my six month educational leave from teaching French in Chapel Hill. The main purpose of the leave was to spend more time volunteering in a country that has captured my heart, Haiti.
I came up with a plan and connected with Linsey Jorgenson, founder of Streethearts, a safe haven for street kids in Cap-Haitien, Haiti.  I was going to volunteer my time with a focus on educational support in French.  I booked a flight and my five week adventure began on January 18th.

Acclimation to Culture:
My initial focus was to acclimate to local culture.  The pace of life, process for buying groceries, getting around town, and simply managing daily living were the tasks at hand.  I rented a furnished studio apartment with a kitchen.  I hired a local moto driver named Robens Leclerc who turned out to be my right hand man throughout the trip!
Robens, left, me, Marckendy on right

My only other local connection was Marckendy Joseph, a former orphan I met on a mission trip several years ago. With both these young men by my side, I was able to make it through the first week with few tears.
Shopping for food was quite an adventure and I did not anticipate the amount of time it would take to merely pick up the basics!  There is no such thing as a one stop shop like Wal-Mart of Target. I watched and learned the art of negotiating and discovered some new foods along the way.

                      Grenadia                                       Giraumoun                     Marinade

I spent one morning with Emmanuelle Joseph, the exectitive director of education for the Streethearts program.  We toured the three schools where the boys from Streethearts attend school. These visits were helpful in providing a glimpse of how education worked in Haiti. The three schools were very different. One, very structured with a well disciplined student body, one in the midst of renovations and the third which seemed more crowded and seemed to have a very needy, harder to manage student population.

Getting to know the Boys:

I  went to the safe house to meet the kids, get to know them, and observe how the homework support time.  I monitored individual students and watched as they recited from there textbooks. On Fridays I came up with some fun, bonding activities to help them feel more at ease with me as well as went to lunch with Linsey and a small group.

Place Setting Madness!
Lunch at Mont Joli
Pillowcase Volleyball!

As the week progressed I discussed the idea of 3 weekend field trips. The Streethearts staff would help me divide them into small groups and offer a fun weekend experience for all the boys.

Hike to Bassin Manbo


Paradise Beach Fun!

Little Kings for the Day
Ice cream sundaes
FLOAM creations
Hammock Time!

Fort Picolet Adventure


Haitian School Visits:
As a veteran teacher, visiting local schools in Cap-Haitien was a must for me. Emmanuelle Joseph, the educational director at Streethearts was extremely helpful and organized visits to the three schools the boys at Streethearts attended.
I initially felt overwhelmed by the number of students, the noise level and simply trying to process the learning taking place at the schools. After several meetings with Emmanuelle as well as some of the principals I requested to spend some more time at Institut de Grandeur de Dieu. I selected this school for several reasons.
I was extremely impressed by the respect and classroom management skills of the teachers who had 30-45+ students  in  multi-aged classes.  It was also clear that teachers had a very supportive principal, Jemme Joseph.  He took time to meet with me to discuss the Haitian approach to teaching as well as spent time in the classes where I observed.
Because my experience is with elementary school aged students, I requested to spend some more time in one classroom to see if there would be a possibility for some American/Haitian teaching collaboration.
I met with Anne-Rose, who teaches the Kindergarten class including over thirty 3-5 year olds. I was impressed with her energy as well as her ability to keep students engaged.  What I did notice not only in her class but also in all other classes where I observed was that there was an incredible amount of memorization and repetition.  After class I met with Jemme and Anne-Rose to thank them for allowing me to observe and asked if there was any way that I may be able to support them professionally.  Anne-Rose agreed to team teach with me and shared that week's learning objectives. The experience was unforgettable!

Next Steps
I feel so incredibly fortunate to have spent five incredible weeks with what I consider to be my extended family at Streethearts.  I plan to return later this spring and summer. I will work with teachers at Institut de Grandeur de Dieu to provide some staff development support. I will also share this opportunity with the tutors at Streethearts so that these incredible boys that came from inexplicable circumstances can be provided with the very best educational support that they deserve.