To the delight of Chris Low and Joe Fleury, Juliette Bei-Chen Low Fleury was born on September 10, 1999, the date of Chris's late mother's birthday.
In the past years I have returned to the U.S. each fall, bringing Haitian teachers
to observe in progressive classrooms and to raise funds for my "baby,"
the Matenwa Community Learning Center (MCLC). This fall, however, I returned
to give birth to my baby girl, Juliette. I found it very interesting that many
people-both in the US and in Haiti-assumed I would now give up my old "baby"
for my new one. Many expressed concern for Juliette's health, safety, and educational
opportunities if she were to grow up in Haiti and advised that I close up shop
and move back to the U.S. for her sake.
The attitudes only strengthened my conviction that those of us fortunate enough
to have grown up with all the advantages of healthcare, education public facilities-even
a simple three meals a day-should pool our resources to help provide these basic
necessities of life to the children on Matenwa.
Presently, these children eat only one meal a day while at least three-fifths
of them are malnourished. They live off the land which is rapidly eroding away.
Many of them work from dawn until dusk, tilling fields, caring for goats, sweeping
dirt floors, hand-washing their clothes, cooking their food -usually a ration
of beans a corn meal-over open fires, and carrying heavy containers of drinking
water as much a mile uphill to their homes. Waiting for what is ever more than
a modest harvest, they eat fruit that hasn't ripened yet. And, sometimes, families
are forced to cut down their last fruit tree to sell as charcoal just to get
money to buy food.
All children deserve to live in a safe and healthy environment and have the
best education possible. So, just as you believe that Juliette and the children
in your own community should have these things, I hope you also believe that
my neighbor's children in Haiti should have these things as well. Juliette will
survive in Haiti. We will have the money to buy her food, water filters, clothing,
books, and even toys. For me and my neighbors, raising Juliette here will underscore
the inequities among children growing up in their world. They will no doubt
envy the ease with which she can leave Haiti and travel to the U.S.-a land filled
with wealth and opportunity they can scarcely imagine. But, by developing the
programs at MCLC, I hope we can narrow the gap of these inequities.
In 1999, we hosted a number of visitors: two artists-in-residence from Massachusetts; two graduate students in a development program from the University of Bordeaux, France; three students from Lynchburg College in Virginia; several members of the First United Methodist Churches of Germantown, Pennsylvania, and Fonkoze, a bank for the organized poor of Haiti; and three visitors from Switzerland. In 2000 we have volunteers coming to provide assistance with preventive health care, further develop the artists' studio, and participate in our Haitian Creole language program. Thanks to the Rotary Club, the center now has solar panels for the computer, a copy machine, and a generator. Now we can type and copy our children's writing to distribute as books in order to promote the establishment of libraries at neighboring schools.
I feel our best accomplishment has been our influence on the ways in which students are disciplined. Corporal punishment has been standard in schools across Haiti, but some neighboring schools banned the practice after their teachers received training at our center.
For me the community school will be a true success when it reaches a level of quality that I would want for my own child. In practical terms this means that we need to finish the building and grounds-expanding the vegetable garden and terrace projects-develop the library and classroom resources, further educate the teachers, and design a hands-on curriculum pertinent to the community's needs. People here want to learn to read and write, simple skills we take for granted, but ones that are essential to the improving their lives.
How you can help Matenwa