In her December 2000, letter, Chris enclosed a report from Steven Werlin of Shimer College who visited Matenwa while on sabbatical in Haiti.
Lekol Matenwa - The Matenwa School (excerpt)
Lekol Kominote Matenwa (The Matenwa Community School) is a beautiful place. It sits on the top of the hill in Matenwa where water is limited. It's arid and deforested. Poverty surrounds the place.
But the school is beautiful: not fancy or luxurious--you'd hardly even call it pretty--but beautiful nonetheless, for the life that fills it. Let me explain. It's a large, open, sectagonal structure with a high roof. There are no interior walls. In the center, the floor is raised a full step up. Over that center, there is a small second story office-in-the-making. When I enter the school, I like to walk straight to that center. I stand there, and I slowly turn around. I take in all 360 degrees. Everywhere, on every side of me, children are laughing and working. Their teachers are talking with them, not talking at them. And they are smiling, enjoying the kids. The kids are sitting in large circles, in horseshoes, or scattered in little groups.
The stunning uniformity of many Haitian schools--teacher in front, standing or seated at a desk, children in rows facing forward or hunched over their notebooks--is replaced by diversity. Teachers are making decisions about how they want to or ought to teach. In one corner, a teacher will be sitting in a circle with all her students talking something over. In another, students will be writing at several tables as the teacher talks with one or two. In another, students will be leading a discussion. Each class is doing something different. And all around the room, the language of instruction is Kreyol, the language that the children understand, the language they can listen to, the language they can ask question in. What one sees is life--life of the mind, of course, but a lot of plain old liveliness, too...
At Lekol Matenwa, students are neither beaten or humiliated. These are regular events at most Haitian schoosl. It is a common sight, on entering many schools, to see one or several students kneeling painfully on stone, dirt, or gravel floors. Perhaps they talked out of turn, or didn't know their lessons well enough. Also common are beatings, with belts or sticks or other handy devices. But not only has Lekol Kominote Matenwa banished such measures from its own grounds, it shows signs that it is influencing other neighboring schools in this regard as well.
This school did not appear from out of nowhere. It's taken and is taking an enormous commitment from its Haitian co-director Abne Sove, and his American co-director, Chris Low. Nor is it self-sustaining...
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