After discovering that children in New Life for Haiti’s (NLH) child sponsorship program were unable to read at their grade level, New Life for Haiti leadership was convinced that they needed to build a new kind of school—one that would serve as a pattern for better education in the Grande-Anse River Valley. In order to make this dream a reality, a fundamental question arose: where should this new school be located?
NLH’s base of operations in Haiti is located in Marfranc, one of the larger villages in the Grand-Anse River Valley. Marfranc is one of several villages that lie along the north banks of the river, all linked together by a winding road.
“This side of the river is the more populous area,” explained Fran Leeman, Director of New Life for Haiti. “Across the river you have smaller villages.”
Most of the smaller villages are located higher-up in the range of mountains that continue to the south of Marfranc. New Life for Haiti already built two schools in those mountains, in Plik and Plen Marie. In searching for a new location, they wanted to find a site for the school that would meet two requirements. 1) They wanted to find a good, flat piece of land that would facilitate the construction of the school. 2) They also wanted it to be in an area that is underserved educationally.
“If it’s near other schools, our Haitian teachers and our school director might have too much communication with the other schools. It might be too easy for them to ‘fly like the other geese’ and default back to the ways that Haitian schools traditionally feel, look, and operate,” said Director Leeman.
During past trips to Haiti, New Life for Haiti teams walked through a broad valley many times on their way to-and-from various projects. They didn’t know what the area was named but became somewhat familiar with its terrain.
“I’ve always been taken by that valley”, confessed Director Leeman. He told Vilex Plaisir, the young Haitian man who serves as the organization’s administrator in Haiti, that he wanted to further explore the area.
The prominent feature of the valley is a small river and its tributary streams. Although it has no proper villages, the valley does have many hills and hollows that are dotted with houses. This means that the area has a decent concentration of people. Upon further exploration of the valley, Leeman and other NLH members have learned its name. It is called Rivye Mawo. The name is taken directly from the Rivye Mawo itself, which is the small river that runs through the valley before joining the Grand-Anse River.
During their first exploration of the land, some locals observed Leeman and Plaisir stopping to size-up the land in various places. When they approached them to ask what they were doing, Director Leeman explained their quest to build a new kind of school. The locals confirmed that they really needed a school in that area. Director Leeman explained the collaborative effort needed. When New Life for Haiti builds a school, they engage the people in the community. The community volunteers to carry rocks from the river, dig the foundation, and then hauls water to mix cement once construction starts. This encourages those in the community to recognize that the school is truly theirs.
Director Fran Leeman meets with people in Rivye Mawo
“They were very passionate about wanting to engage us,” recalled Leeman.
Encouraged by their enthusiasm, he told the small group to spread the world. He asked for everybody in the community who wanted a school to come back the next day for a meeting. At five the following day, close to 100 people gathered for the meeting.
They commented, “We don’t have a school. We have a terrible need.”
They explained that not only did they not have a school, they really had no formal institution within the community. Most of their children didn’t go to school because they couldn’t afford it or they could not cross the river during the rainy season. This made schooling unreliable for students in their area. Director Leeman reiterated to the group their need to invest in the school through time and volunteer labor. He also explained the need to buy the land at a decent price.
“We don’t expect people to give up their land for free, but we do need a good price,” assured Director Leeman.
Land for the model school in Rivye Mawo
With the need expressed and the land decided, the project progressed and continues to be in-process.
“I’m thoroughly convinced that we’ve been divinely taken to the right place—the place with the most need, and therefore the most willingness, on the part of the adult community to really engage,” reflected Director Leeman.
“We’re excited because this is a community that has nothing. Once we have this school launched and running, they will have literally the best school in the whole of the Grande’Anse province. I’m very excited about that and about having a place where teachers, school directors, and pastors can say, ‘This is what great education looks like.’ And if they fall in love with it, then we’ll help them do it in their village too.”
Want to help build the model school? Text HAITI to 41444 to donate!
Ladies’ night has been reimagined. On Friday, April 15, women got together for a “ladies’ night” at Lifespring Community Church in Plainfield. There were finger foods, (lots and lots of delicious finger food), refreshments, and bouts of laughter. On the surface it looked like any other ladies’ night. It was the purpose behind the gathering that made the evening so significant. Dana Eisenach, the hostess, recognized a trend and connected it to a higher cause.
“The whole adult coloring thing is huge right now”, Dana said. Dana works as an Independant Scentsy Consultant, a company that specializes in wax warmers. “Adult coloring books, paint nights—these things are everywhere.”
When Scentsy released a new wax warmer that can be colored with permanent markers, Dana knew she had to get some.
“It’s something nobody’s ever seen before—coloring a wax warmer. I saw this warmer come out and the name was Reimagine…just perfect for what New Life for Haiti is doing right now. Reimagining education,” she stated.
New Life for Haiti has embarked on a project to reimagine Haitian education. A new school is being built that will serve as an example for other schools in the Grande-Anse River Valley. It will feature new teaching methodologies, host training for teachers, and will change how children approach their education.
Dana explains, “We’re doing something these Haitian people have never seen before. We’re changing education for them.”
Dana felt compelled to tie her career to her work with New Life for Haiti. Bedsides selling Scentsy products, Dana volunteers on the New Life for Haiti Creative Expansion Team, whose goal is to expand the reach of the organization. In her moment of inspiration, the event was born. While some of the ladies’ night discussion was about New Life for Haiti, the event was also about getting to know one another. Women conversed and were able to relax in the “warming” environment.
Donate to the cause by texting HAITI to 41444
This story is about Chedlie Pierre, a fourth grade girl who launched a new adventure for New Life for Haiti. Like any other fourth grader, Chedlie spends much of her day in school. She loves learning and seeing her friends in the classroom. Yet, there is something that sets Chedlie apart.
“Chedlie, can you read?”
Fran Leeman, the Director of New Life for Haiti, was in Haiti helping the children write letters back to their sponsors. He looked at Chedlie after asking the question. She put her head down and avoided his eyes. In the quietest of voices, she responded.
Up until then, Fran assumed that Chedlie was shy. She was often quiet and didn’t say anything when Fran asked her if she read her letters. Chedlie evaded his questions and acted sheepish. It wasn’t until that moment, when Chedlie told her truth, that Fran realized the real situation. It hit Fran hard. Over the years, New Life for Haiti managed to build five schools for Haitian children like Chedlie. Despite that fact, some children still couldn’t read. The problem was deeper than imagined.
Chedlie struggles due to the quality of her education. When she has trouble learning how to read, there is no way to tell anyone. Her teacher never offers to help or to explain things more clearly. This is due to the way education is conducted in Haiti. In a typical classroom, the teacher stands in front of the classroom and lectures. There are copious amounts of students in each class. Most have anywhere from 50-60 students. Some classes have up to 100 that range in age. Even the youngest students, (those in kindergarten or first grade), learn by lecture. There is no engagement, no explanation, no opportunity for students to work together, and no learn-by-playing.
The students write things in their notebooks while the teachers write on the board. There is recitation within the lesson and students will repeat words or simple math equations. In this setting, it’s impossible to know if students are making progress. If a student can’t write or read, they are left at an even greater disadvantage because the entire system is built on the lecture and recitation method. It is easy to be left behind in the sea of students.
There used to be mandatory tests that would determine if a student could pass to the next grade level. Those have been eliminated. Schools move all children to the next grade level, allowing students of all abilities to pass without having the necessary skills. At the end of sixth grade students take a government standardized test. Due to the flaws in the system, many students are unable to pass. They just stop going to school when they fail.
Marnie Van Wyk, head of Operation Better Learning for New Life, teaches second grade in the United States. When she came to Haiti on a trip, she observed these issues. She saw the chaos in the schools, the lack of connection between teacher and student, and the lack of creative and helpful teaching methodology. Marie and Fran sat down and talked about the problem. Through that conversation, the Model School idea was born.
This is our next New Life for Haiti project. The Model School will be a school run through Haitian leadership. The teachers will use new methodology and will be trained by experienced teachers from the United States. The Model School will be exactly that: a model that can show all other schools and teachers what education can look like when done differently.
Fran says, “A picture is worth a thousand words. We have to show them. They have to be able to come into a school and see something so different from anything they’ve imagined, and hopefully fall in love with it.”
So, that is what we’re doing. It was little Chedlie who made the difference. Her smile, her eagerness to learn, and her embarrassment over not being able to read, helped us realize the depth of the problem. It isn’t enough to build more schools. New Life for Haiti must impact the educational system so that every child has a real chance for hope and a future.