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.