From Cabaret to Malpasse: My Haitian Literacy Trip
The Rough Cut
I had wanted to edit the videos for length and to insert translations. I had wanted to choose a more inspiring background for the samples of children’s work. There were so many ideas for a sleeker and more compact presentation. Forgive me. Three months into the school year, what I must offer now is the rough cut and hope that the story herein reaches you in its rare form—uncut, ebullient, transparent.
From August 6-18, 2015, I traveled throughout the Ouest (East) Department of Haiti, seeking opportunities to speak with people who had been deported or who had voluntarily fled the Dominican Republic as a result of changed immigration policy and heightened social unrest. Specifically, I sought to interview youth and to conduct an art and literacy workshop to provide an outlet for creative expression. I was afforded two special opportunities to converse with Haitians and Dominican-Haitians who were directly impacted by these policies.
The first encounter was an interview with two sisters, Tania and Liliane “Bebe” Noel, who had been living and working in the Dominican Republic for several years. Now back in Haiti, they were visiting their older sister, who is married to my husband’s cousin. The interview took place at a family home in the neighborhood of Guiton in the city of Cabaret. Cabaret is located in the Arcahaie Arrondissement of the Ouest Department. Speaking in Kreyòl, they describe their length of stay in the Dominican Republic, the kind of work that they had performed, their employment conditions, and their desires for the future. In the next few months, I plan to finish a bilingual transcript of the video. Until then, here it is in its raw form: Tania and Bebe's Interview.
Extended Day Charity
Tuesday, August 11, 2015 was the date of my second experience, in which I set out to find children who had recently been deported and to gift them the school supplies that I purchased through fundraising. On Sunday, there had been local elections for the positions of Deputy, which is similar to a Congress member, and Senator for each city. Claims of voter fraud and obstruction led to acts of violence on the roads, including broken glass, burned tires, and some fatalities. Cautious but undeterred, my husband, two friends and I set out on a trip to the southern city of Malpasse, which is also in the Ouest Department, but in the Croix-de-Bouquets Arrondissement.
Malpasse shares a border crossing with the city of Jimaní, Dominican Republic; it is one of four major crossings between the two countries. Unlike the familiar density of mango and plantain trees that I had been accustomed to seeing in Cabaret, the area of Malpasse near the border was characterized by rocky mountains, sparse greenery, and wide but shallow pools of ocean water. On the main road, I counted several long eighteen wheel trucks, passenger vans, and trucks carrying men in construction hats. Every now and then, I spotted a woman. At a local rest stop, we bought fritay, typical Haitian finger food comprised of fried plantains, pork and root vegetables covered in a piquant slaw of carrots, cabbage, onions, vinegar and habañero peppers called pikliz. We asked questions about the deportees and met a young man who hopped in the front seat of our late model SUV and directed us to where we could find them.
In about two minutes, we arrived at what resembled an outdoor elementary school campus, like ones that I had seen in East Palo Alto, California during my undergraduate years. In English, its name is the Fond Bayard Community School. There were what seemed to be about forty elderly, middle aged and young people walking around. I watched and listened. They all spoke in Kreyòl except for one teenaged young man who, when my husband stated that they were all Haitian, replied in a breathy, slightly nasalized, Haitian-Southern accent, “Not me. I’m Black American. I speak Kreyòl very well.” We all laughed, and I told him in Kreyòl that he could be my cousin. No, he insisted, he was Black American.
Notably, I did not hear anyone speaking Spanish, or French, only Kreyòl. We were introduced to Pastor Saintilus, who explained that he was responsible for all of the people gathered in the school. The school building served as a shelter and also held services for the church, Mission de Dieu en Jesus Christ.
With the exception of “Black American” and his young adult friends leaning near a fence under the shade of a tree, most of the other people had been gathered at the door of one large building, where small children occasionally exited with cookies, small bags of water and something colorful made out of paper that I could not make out. After a few minutes, adults began to walk out carrying bags of rice, beans and cooking oil. There were murmurs in the crowd and an argument erupted between an elderly man and a young woman who looked to be in her twenties. A woman said that they should not be carrying on like that in front of the visitors, and they should show that they are civilized. The crowd agreed, and the young woman quieted down, after throwing a few more digs.
The distribution of food had finished. Members of the crowd moaned in disappointment. About three teenaged girls, two teenaged boys, a grown man and a grown woman emerged from inside of the school. All of the women wore bandana head-ties and ankle length, loose fitting skirts. The men wore T-shirts and jean or khaki shorts. They all wore wide smiles, hugging, carrying and laughing with the children who followed them around. They were missionaries from a local church, Pastor Saintilus later told us. As serendipity would have it, we had arrived on the one day of the month that the church members came to distribute food and water. All of the children had been fed, hydrated and were ready for another round of visits—and gifts.
All or Nothing
“Bondye renmen tout timoun! Amen! God loves all children! Amen!” As Pastor Saintilus gave the call, the little voices in the packed school house responded in fervent unison, and my own nerves mounted under the expectancy of nearly two hundred eyes. They were seated on narrow benches made out of wood. Did I have enough backpacks? Some were babies, some were toddlers, others appeared to represent all grade levels through high school. I explained to Pastor Saintilus and to his assistants that the project was for school-aged children. My heart sank when they went through the aisles and led some toddlers out. Some refused to go. One girl who looked to be about ten years old had been holding a toddler on her lap. She told me that there was no one else to watch the baby, and I nodded my understanding and smiled, both to reassure her and to mask the surprise and sharp despondency that I had felt from her words.
First, the children helped us to form "tables" by arranging two banks together such that the seating was on either side. We then draped a neon-colored table cloth on each table, and the space was transformed.
Second, the school volunteers and my team—consisting of my husband Hermann Thelusca, cousin Emmanuela Thelusma and friend Jamson Albert—set to work with distributing one hundred backpacks filled with notebooks, paper, folders, pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, crayons, and colored pencils. There were not enough…so, I encouraged them to share with each other. There was more than enough for everyone if they all shared, I told them. Nonetheless, I promised that I would return again with more backpacks for those who did not receive this time.
After distributing backpacks, we led the children in creating flowers using tissue paper and pipe cleaners. You could see the curiosity on their faces as we handed them the colorful paper. After all of the pieces had been assembled, those same puzzled expressions gave way to smiles of delight and of pride.
With flowers decorating their hair and the walls of the school, we turned to an integrated drawing and writing activity. For the older children, I asked them to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up and to then write a description of the picture. For the younger children, I asked them to draw a picture of what they see in their communities.
There were some themes that developed. We have aspiring music artists, doctors, lawyers, journalists, deputies (congress members), and presidents.
“I would like to be a doctor in my life.” By Steve Merius
“I am Chihaϊder. I would like to be a journalist.”
According to their drawings, there is an abundance of houses, plants, dogs, big trucks, planes, fish, and, of course, children in their community. And, finally, they have desires. They want elaborate houses. They want to go to school. They want soccer balls.
“Rom: 8 V31…I love my house.” By Jeanthony Gineas
This literacy trip allowed me to give the best of what I had to offer as an educator. In order to plan and facilitate this project, I drew on sociolinguistic techniques that I had learned as an undergraduate student in Linguistics and African and African American Studies. I applied differentiated teaching techniques that I had learned as a graduate student and teacher of Special Education. I had always envisioned facilitating international, multilingual education projects, and I am honored to have been a part of this essential work towards creating more equitable educational opportunities in Haiti. Without the perseverance of my team and the selfless generosity of donors to my Go Fund Me campaign, “Kahdeidra’s Haitian Literacy Trip,” this work would not have been possible. Along with the children and families of Fond Bayard Community School, I say muchas gracias, merci beaucoup, mesi anpil and many, many thanks.
“I tell you all that have come today that I am very happy because you came to do beautiful work with all of the children. I wish that you have a good day. Thank you. Goodbye.”
By Williara Lubin
This initial trip completed the first phase of a broader literacy project. The second phase of the project includes:
Creating an online presence for the children's writing and artwork
Creating a multilingual print magazine featuring the children's work
A donation of 150 bilingual children's readers
To read more about the vision for the project's second phase, please see our official Go Fund Me campaign.
Until we meet again...peace.