Sunday, October 13, 2013

Look How Far We've Come!

In an effort to collect my thoughts and attempt to get back into the habit of blogging, I was reflecting back to this post, exactly one year ago today. I am amazed at how much has changed, how the kids have grown, the abundant provision of resources we have to work with (thanks to the incredibly generous people in my life), and how the teachers have embraced it all and made it their own. 

The 2013-2014 school year started October 1st, on wonderfully peaceful note. Despite the absence of many children on the roster (who all showed up the 2nd week of school, which seems to be quite common in Haiti), it was a busy, yet oddly stress-free occasion. 

First Day - Modeling the new uniforms in front of the their house
I am continually learning the art of delegating and empowering, rather than trying to do it all myself, which is an incredibly freeing feeling. I gathered equal display materials for each classroom and handed the entire pile to the Haitian teachers with a few suggestions and let them put things wherever they saw fit. I'm so proud of the adorable, engaging learning environments they created...and they even went home the weekend before school started and created more of their own posters! 
My class (2-3 yr olds) - The "Barefoot Bears

The Pre-K (4 year old) class - Yet to be named

Kindergarten - The Sunshine Class
I am incredible honored and blessed to be able to provide professional development support and teacher resources to additional Haitian preschools in both Jacmel and Petionville. Fanel Leme, who works at the Hands and Feet Project, has seen his vision of starting preschool in a very poor community near Jacmel come alive this school year. All my little munchkins from the toddler house that I worked with in 2011 will be attending his school. I'm so proud of the hard work he has put into it, and excited to partner with him to help educate the next generation in Haiti. You can read more about Eagle Kindergarten in Jacmel here

Here are a few of my favorite moments from the first 2 weeks of school:

Djenica said she was building a church
Praise the Lord for Kindermats!

Painting "red" with crazy brushes

Crawling through the tunnel on the playground
Swinging with buddies on the new swing set

Everything is a telephone in dramatic play, even a banana!

The new Pre-K teacher, Margareth, showing them the right way to hold a hockey stick :)
Making circles and "O's" with our big curves and little curves from Handwriting Without Tears

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Stop For The One

I spent an hour today at the Mother Teresa hospital in my neighborhood, which cares for sick and very malnourished babies. 46 little white metal cribs, all numbered, in rows. A flurry of Haitian caregivers and a handful of visiting volunteers greeted us when we walked in: fixing plates of baby cereal, feeding babies, changing diapers, and giving medicine.  It was overwhelming, heartbreaking, and oddly soothing. 

Sometimes when you find yourself in the middle of a situation where there is great need everywhere you look, it's easy to identify the one with the greatest need. Other times you have to seek out the one who needs what you have to offer. And then there are times, like today, when the one who is in need goes after it and stops you in your tracks. 

I had finished feeding one little peanut, and succeeded in making another one "fache avek mwen" (mad at me) for trying to wake him up to eat. I came to the end of the first row of cribs and stood talking to another American volunteer for moment, until I felt two tiny little arms wrap around my waist. She had pulled up on her knees to reach me, because her little legs are too weak to hold her up standing. I picked her up and her little feverish body curled up in a partial fetal position with her arms sprawled out across my shoulders. No cry, no sound, no expression at all, really. She just clung to me like a little monkey and stared up at my face. 14 months old and probably not more than 10-12 pounds. A few minutes of just staring at each other, then I started to sing to her. She suddenly became this animated bundle of grins and giggles. She kept touching my face, poking my eyes, trying to stick her fingers in my mouth, laughing every time I pretended to take a bite. I set her back down in her crib, but she would not let go of my hand. She kept turning it over, inspecting each finger and clapping. Then she grabbed my hand and put it over her face, clearly indicating a game of peek-a-boo was in order. I reluctantly pulled away when it was time to go, expecting her burst into tears like the little one in the crib next to her the moment he was set down, but she didn't. Her face turned serious, but she just watched me walk out the door. She knew what she needed, and when she received it, she was okay to let go. Love touched her. She was changed. And so was I... 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Preschool Tales of Life and Limbs

There are many, MANY things that are different about teaching preschool in Haiti vs the United States. But one thing that crosses cultural divides is the concern parents have for their child's education, especially if that child has a disability. Case in point: today, while driving downtown with one of my students to Project Medishare, his parents grilled me with questions. Who will be Jouven's teacher next year? Will I be teaching him? How long will I stay at the school? How long will I be in Haiti? The barrage of questions was intermingled with stories  (in broken English) of how Jouvens was badly injured in the earthquake, how he lost a lot of blood as a tiny infant, how they went to multiple hospitals seeking help for him before finally being airlifted to Santo Domingo, where the attending surgeon gave Jouvens' father a choice: life or limb. Of course, it's an easy choice to make when it's your youngest child. But life is not easy for people in Haiti who have lost limbs. Since the earthquake, Project Medishare has done a PHENOMENAL job of providing training, skills, and opportunities for amputees to have meaningful, successful lives, and at the same time is making huge strides in change public perception of people with disabilities in Haiti.

The parents also shared with me the concerns they had about finding a good school that would accept Jouvens "in his condition" and help him grow and learn. This is not unlike many conversations I've had with parents over the years. They want their kids to have the best opportunities available. Parents want the world to see their child as they do, not for what is "missing", but for who they are and the potential that they have.

His mom told me she's so happy with the way he is cared for at school, they consider me his "2nd mom". Wow! They called me a friend and invited me to come to their house to visit. This is one of the greatest joys of my job, when what I do in the classroom impacts the family as much as is does the child. For some students, I'm part of their story for a short season. For others, their story becomes part of my story and the seasons become years of watching these little ones grow up and blow us all away by what they can become through sheer determination, perseverance, and love.

Jouvens' dad told me that he hopes I stay in Haiti for a very long time because "You know everything about Haiti". While I have a LONG way to go before that statement can be said with even a hint of accuracy, I am incredibly humbled that this family has such confidence in me, and honored to part of their story.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Happy New, Spring!

I know, I'm due for an update. (understatement of the year!) I like to say there's a bit of a time warp in Haiti. Sometimes there is so much going on it's practically impossible to believe a full 24 hours hasn't passed. And other times you blink, and suddenly it's the middle of April!

Lots of great things are happening, and I promise to get back into the habit of blogging about them. In fact, I've penned another blog for just such an ocassion! I'm starting a new adventure as a Barefoot Books Ambassador. You can hop on over to, follow me there, and keep with all the happenings related to my adventures with Barefoot Books in the classroom.

Happy Spring and Happy Reading!