Teacher to teacher, school to school


November 9, 2010

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Bonjou! My husband and I arrived in Port-au-Prince's international airport yesterday. The original structure has deep cracks and rubble-filled rooms visible by the new parallel hallway that leads arriving passengers to the new terminal. The wafting live music greeting us is the only thing that is reminiscent of my travels here two and twelve years ago. While the new building seems makeshift in some respects, technology is more apparent as are many more international visitors. The talented musicians play an endless welcoming Haitian song.

Our family comes to Haiti to visit, help and learn. In a mountaintop village on the island of La Gonâve is the Matenwa Community School. After a breathtaking and arduous journey on a ferry and two motorcycles, we come to the school bearing school supplies and medicine. Here it is a step back in time, and hopefully into the future. Because it is so removed and mostly self sufficient, many of the traditions of Haiti are intact and still taught, the art, farming, weaving and music practiced daily.

After the earthquake many people from the bigger towns and Port-au-Prince returned to Matenwa. It is a stress on village families to feed and house more but it is what a Haitian family and this school community does.

Today, most people have returned to Port-au-Prince. Class sizes have returned to normal, twentysomething per grade in this progressive pre-school through ninth grade school. Lekol Comunite Matenwa teaches in the student's native language, Kreyol; does not use corporal punishment; and is free. They also provide a meal every morning to each student.

As a fourth grade teacher at Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon, I sat shoulder to shoulder with a Haitian fifth grade student as she showed me her mastery of multi-digit multiplication. Just like my students at home, she beamed with pride and asked for another challenging problem to conquer. The fourth grade students learning to read French hugged their kind and vivacious teacher, Vana, goodbye.

It made me miss my own students so I took lots of pictures to share when I return. After the earthquake, called goudougoudou in Kreyol, our school raised money for Mercy Corps to help Haitians through the devastation. It meant so much to me and our families, to know that children everywhere care about the suffering of others and that they can do something about it.

With the full moon tonight, everyone is out walking, laughing, playing tag and visiting. The cool night air and rocky paths lit by the moon beckon me.