Excerpt from a letter from Chris Low

November, 1998

Instead of going to work in the Kindergarten class today, I sit here writing. The task always seems too great--to capture what I am experiencing, to effectively share what I am seeing, what I am hearing, what I am living. It would be so much easier if you could just come and sit on my front porch: to smell the mountain air; to feel the heat of day and the cool breeze at night; to hear the hum of thousands of crickets only broken by the dogs, roosters, and donkeys sounding off to each other under the massive star-filled skies. I know that it would move you to wake up to men chanting together to the rhythm of their hoes at the break of day; or children laughing as they joke and march single file back up the steep path from t he water source, each with a 10-gallon bucket of water on top of their heads; or a woman next door singing as she pounds corn, washes clothes or rocks her crying baby; or the big friendly "Bonjou" of a woman passing above my house on her way to market with a basket full of goods on her head and a loaded up donkey. This is true immersion. I only wish I could "beam you down" for a day.

Haiti moves everyone who visits her. Some are moved by the strength, vigor and positive spirit of such an oppressed people and decide to join them in their struggle for justice and their human right to LIVE, or others are moved to never return here because the misery is too overwhelming.

Over the past two year, the MCLC has been training teachers to move away from Haiti's traditional educational method of having students memorize all their academics in French. French is the second language of the elite of Haiti who make up 5% of the population. Hardly anyone on Lagonav can speak French, including the teachers. Moreover, comprehension of the material, formulating one's own ideas, and developing critical thinking skills are not priorities. Students are often subjected to corporal punishment when they fail to recite information verbatim. At MCLC, teachers spend time in discussions with students which cover topics which are pertinent to their daily lives. Students formulate texts in their first language, Haitian Creole. They create their own class books, which are now the beginnings of the MCLC Community Library. The climate in these classrooms is one of exchange and cooperation because students interact through dialogue and reflection instead of silence and fear.

So many positive things have happened thanks to monetary contributions, networking ideas, and visits from friends. It's hard to list them all. The building itself, although still without windows and doors, is a structure that everyone marvels at when they go by. It has already been used for elementary school, adult literacy classes, teaching seminars, association meetings, neighborhood meetings, holiday celebrations, a wedding reception and children's theater. This year we have 105 elementary students and 8 teachers. In August, MCLC had a week long training for teachers, school directors, and members of AAPLAG. I have been most encouraged by the fact that corporal punishment seems to be lessening in some of these other schools as more teachers, parents and students hear how "The Matenwa Community School doesn't hit the students!"

I believe that providing this type of education where critical thinking skills are developed is the only way that these Haitians will ever see true development and democracy in their lifetime. If methodologies alone could solve the world's problems of illiteracy, illiteracy would have been eradicated long ago.

Now that children are being taught to read and write in Haitian Creole instead of French, we are beginning to see our students teaching their parents how to read! With their new ability to read and write, one parent group wrote to MCLC and received a load to build a dirt road that now connects Matenwa to the main village below it. They are paying off their loan by mining and selling sand which is now accessible because of the road. With literacy and a little capital, a lot can happen.

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