Electricity – 01/09/14

This morning, we woke up and went to observe Evens. Today, it was a 7:15 am 8th grade English class. They moved from the present simple to the present progressive tense. Gregory, Marie and I sat amongst the students took observational data in the form of written notes.  The method of instruction was what we have deemed to be traditionally Haitian. The flag was raised at 7:45 in the morning, and then we went inside to eat breakfast. The morning menu consisted of three different types of steamed bananas with sweet potato, served with spicy onion sauce and avocado. Antionette, the house cook, is wonderful. She also made us coffee and grapefruit juice.

The remainder of the morning was spent planning our ESL lesson for the community. Based on the large number of attendants yesterday, the class was divided into three groups, although we plan only one lesson. We planned to review what we taught yesterday (routines and the simple present), and then move on to body parts (per the suggestion of Evens). We also spent some time planning for the teacher workshop that will begin tomorrow.

Then, I observed a 3rd grade French class. Students focused on forms, and the conjugations of verbs, like “avoir” and “etre” in tenses like the simple present indicative and the simple past. They knew a lot of grammar for a class of 8 year olds! After class, I hung out for a bit in the courtyard with the students. A couple of days ago, I would ask student what their name was. I am never able to hear or understand what they say (Haitian French sounds different than France French, especially when little kids are speaking), so I would ask them to write their name in my notebook so I could see what it looks like. Now, students approach me, asking if they can write down their names in my book. It would seem that students consider writing their names down equivalent to knowing them personally.

Before lunch, I went with James and Jean Louis (Pere Noe’s cousin) to James’ grandmother’s house. We drank milk prepared especially by her – boiled with sugar, then refrigerated. It was delicious. Then, we went back to the house to eat lunch: it was lamb in sauce, rice, salad, and French fries. Again, Antoinette outdid herself. Pere Noe explained that Haitians eat two big meals- breakfast and lunch. Dinner is usually light, and tastes somewhat like what Americans would think of as dessert. We waited until our afternoon class.

The lesson plan consisted of two main topics – the human body, and describing sicknesses (with the verb “to have”). On the whole, the class really liked this lesson, and they felt like they learned a lot. We also sang “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” I tried to incorporate a Haitian way of conjugating the verb, and lots of oral repetition. I was pleased because I was able to conduct the lesson in a very American way that was a little less shocking than the first class they had.

The power kept going out today. Pere Noe asked an electrician to come to fix the solar panels on the rectory (where we’re staying) and also to set up the computer lab. He is bizarre, to put it mildly. However, he is also here to help set up the electricity for the computer lab. The lab might not be ready by the time we leave, but the ball is definitely rolling. Pere Noe even showed us the desks he wants to buy.

We’re beginning to plan our teacher training workshop, and have begun planning a bit for it. We will likely prepare more tomorrow. Can’t wait to see what the workshop will bring.

Banana Soup 1/7/14

Today began with a 7:15 am English class with Evens. The classroom is relatively small, but we were informed that there were many absences due to an extended Christmas vacation from students who live farther away. So, the 24 students whom we had the pleasure of working with were spaciously seated in the room at desks (which are really some boards nailed together to make a desk/bench device that can seat about 5 students). This morning, Gregory, Marie and I all originally planned to conduct classroom observations. However, Evens wanted us to have a part in the class. So, we wrote a dialogue about Christmas on the board per his request. It was read it to the class two times by us, translated into French, then the class read it aloud together in English, then volunteers read the dialogue aloud to the class, then we read it one last time in English, and I translated it one last time into French. There’s a lot of oral repetition in Haitian instruction. It can also be categorized as largely teacher-fronted. The three of us learned a lot in this half an hour of instruction. We had come to 9th grade English with the intention of being conscientious, objective, inconspicuous observers. However, we soon discovered that there won’t be any chance of this in the next couple of weeks. Maybe because two of us are about as white as can be.

The students gathered in the courtyard at 7:45 for the raising of the flag ceremony.   They first sang a worship song in Creole, and then raised the flag while singing the national anthem. Students went to their 8:00 class, during which we had breakfast with Pere Noe. Today it was fried eggs, bananas, pineapple, bread, coffee, and juice. Afterwards, we joined Evens for the remaining amount of his next English class.

At 9:00, we went with him to his 8th grade English class, and respectfully requested to observe in order to see what a Haitian class is like. Evens agreed, so he let us sit down in the front of the class after our introductions. He taught the class the simple present tense, which was interesting to observe. There was a lot of student participation, as there were 36 students in the class, and they weren’t afraid to shout out the answers. The students were actually a little rowdy. But all very cute, and interested to see us.

At 10:00 was recess. I talked with Mr. Baldet, the “Surveillant” of the school, second in command to Pere Noë. He goes to church, which is where I originally met him on Sunday. I asked him questions about the school and about the student’s schedules. He informed me that after recess, the primary school has class, and the secondary school leaves for the day. This could be due to a space issue, but I wasn’t sure how to ask. Then, I talked with several other teachers, and many adorable primary school students, who all wear green uniforms. The girls have elaborately done hair, with corresponding barrettes that match every color in their uniforms. I asked a group, and they said that their mothers are the ones who do their hair. They are possibly the cutest kids ever.

James is has a large role at school, being the disciplinarian. However, he told me that he hopes to be a French teacher next year, as he has passed his diploma. While he has never taken university-level classes, he taught himself outside of school by reading books. So, he guest taught in the 6th grade in the class of Mr. Gerard. Gregory and I observed this class, because we thought that it would further exemplify Haitian instruction, specifically language instruction, thereby informing how English is presented to these students. This was the least teacher-fronted class we saw, as James made sure to do a lot of check-ins. They were learning the passé simple. Every student knew the conjugation of every verb that was mentioned. I was very impressed.

Lunch was at 1 pm, because the remainder of school was cancelled due to teacher absences. We ate rice, lamb, beets with tomatoes, and fried okra. The woman who cooks is named Antoinette, and we must say she is an incredible cook.

Being that our adult English class was at 4 pm, Sora and I went with James to get a few supplies. We went to the bank, which was an experience due to the fact that it was the only air-conditioned building with three armed guards that I had ever seen in Haiti. The line was pretty long, but because James knew someone, we were out in a jiffy. We ventured to the market, which was a large indoors place with barely enough room to walk because of the amount of vendors. People were selling everything – I even saw a used toothbrush for sale.

We planned a very vague lesson that we hoped was accessible by everyone of diverse ages and proficiency levels and fit into a 1.5 hour period. Here it is:

– Why do you want to learn English? What are your goals for this class? (10 minute discussion for schema activation)

– Family tree discussion and design – model then make your own and compare with a partner (30 minutes)

– Partner introductions to the class which answer questions like “What is his/her name?” “What does he/she like?” What does he/she do?”

We found that Haitian time is much different than American time, as the exact total amount of people is undetermined because people were coming until 20 minutes from the end. We also discovered that they really don’t know what to do with partner and group work. We had resolved to not speak any French during class, but due to a total lack of student understanding (and potential lack of knowing what our expectation for their role as students is/was) proved to be a very difficult way to elicit participation. By the end, I was explaining everything in French. I was mad at myself, although on some level it couldn’t be helped due to the fact that it was the first class. Pere Noe determined that there were over thirty students. They ranged from children to the teachers from the school. Even Darus, Jean-Baptiste and Monsieur Baldé came to show support, along with James Lacroix and Evens. We are very pleased to get to know the members of the community as well as learn from them what culture is like here.

For dinner, there was banana soup. Père Noé says that it’s what Haitian hosts give to guests who have provided a great service. It’s “soft.” While we can’t be sure how much we have helped today, it’s certain that the ball is rolling. Right now, it is 10 pm, and Sora is reprogramming all of the XO laptops in the Director’s office. Marie is sleeping, and I am listening to what can only be described as a Haitian horn-honking, crickitish, moto-driving, dog-barking, camion-bulldozing, street-vendor yelling, reggaeton block party that never ends. It sounds like happiness.




Dimanche 1/5/14

Today was Epiphany Sunday, and we woke up around 7 am to get ready. Mass began at 8, and Pere Noe instructed us to sit interspersed among the parishoners. I sat next to a girl that attends St. Andre’s, and who was gracious enough to help me with the program whenever I got lost. The service was in both French and Creole, and formally clear when the speaker would switch. Pere Noe introduced us to the congregation, and announced that we will be teaching English every week day to adult members of the congregation from 4-5:30 pm. We are delighted to have the opportunity to give back to the congregation and get to know them a bit. We also are looking forward to learning more about where the students are coming from, and see this as a chance gain more information about the context of the community.

After church, we sat at the table with Pere Noe’s family and ate pumpkin soup. He explained that every January 1st, Haitians eat pumpkin soup as a tradition. Being that it is the first Sunday of the month, we got to eat it – it was so good! Then, we went for a walk with James. James is 19 years old, and is the main disciplinarian at St. Andre’s. He is also the president of the youth group of the church, and our guide around town. Today, we walked to a Catholic church and went to the very top of the building for an amazing view of Hinche. The inside of the church was decorated for the holiday, and there were many paintings of different biblical scenes. We noted that Jesus was white.

James took us to his grandmother’s store so we could buy a beverage and get to talk to her. Haitian beer is called Presitge and Marie says it tastes like Budweiser. Definitely a lager beer. I think it tastes great, especially when it’s hot outside, which is always.

We went back to the house for lunch with the family. We had rice, chicken legs, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, and a cheese and pasta dish. After we ate, we talked at the table  and then went up to our rooms for a bit. Pere Noe’s 10-year old daughter, Lexi did my hair in a Haitian bun because it wouldn’t stay in braids like hers.. I’m pretty sure I got a face lift.

Later, we went to a small meeting of the church youth group. In a very self-organized fashion, they discussed their goals for the new year. Their main goal was to invite more people to their group. With Sora’s help, we made a small announcement, saying that we are looking forward to working with the older students to get the XO laptops up and going in the classroom. More importantly, we discovered that they had never seen these laptops. Tomorrow, we will talk to Pere Noe about his vision for our time here, and also how he thinks the laptops can be best integrated into the classroom.

We went for another walk with James, and he took us to his friend’s mother’s store. Marie and Sora bought fried plantains with “pikliz,” which is like Haitian sauerkraut. We also went to his cousin’s club, which was empty, although it was lit with a blacklight and had blasting music like it was full to the brim. We made our way home and had a small lesson in Creole, which I can explain in a future blog post when I know more. Then, we took time to outline a lesson plan for the English class and create some goals for our (hopeful!) meeting with Noe tomorrow.

We have to be ready to go to church at 5 am tomorrow morning. Pere Noe also said we will be going to an Epiphany party, as there is no school tomorrow. So, I must say bonne nuit!


Bon Voyage 1/03/14

Today began at 3:50 am EST in Miami with a malaria pill. Upon arriving at the airport, it finally hit me – this is the day that my Curriculum Design team has been planning for since the inception of our project at the beginning of September. I heard Haitian Creole for the first time in the line for the security checkpoint, and instantly realized that it was a lot less like French than people had made it out to be. The short flight to Port-au-Prince concluded with a beautiful aerial view of the country, which can only be described as a tropical Caribbean paradise.

By 8:45 am, I was standing with Marie at the window of perhaps the nicest customs officer I have ever met. Marie is a member of our group who has recently graduated from the Monterey Institute with an MATESOL. She considers this project a wonderful EFL opportunity both because of it’s location in a third world country, and the potential that it carries for both our school and St. Andre’s.

We meet Sora in front of the Natcom store.  I had the pleasure of connecting with Sora at the OLPC conference in San Francisco in October. Sora is currently finishing her last semester of high school and works for Unleash Kids (an “unsung hero of the OLPC movement”) as an extracurricular activity. She has been to Haiti several times, and her apt use of Creole testifies to her love of the country, and serves as a valuable tool for places such as the Natcom store and the pool of potential cab drivers outside of the airport.

Gregory joins us soon after Sora. He is about to begin his second semester in the MATESOL program at the Monterey Institute, and will be continuing this project in his Curriculum Design class in the Spring of 2014. He and I speak French, which we hope will be an asset on the ground.

Together, we seek to purchase internet access at the Natcom store. Natcom is the most reliable internet service provider in Haiti. They sell Sim cards and USB modems that allow internet access in unreliable internet locations (like Hinche). We purchased three, in order to post to this blog as much as possible during our time here J

The next mission was to find our way to the guesthouse. We scheduled a  driver to meet us at the airport at 9:30, but for whatever reason, he didn’t arrive until 11:20. During this time, we found a new driver. On the bright side, Sora got the cab driver to take us to the same place at the same price as the original driver. Unfortunately, this new driver didn’t know the location of the guest house. After an hour of searching the streets of Port-au-Prince, several expensive minutes of international phone calls, and an exasperated new cab driver, we were discovered at the Sol gas station on Route National #1 by our original driver. Within five minutes, we were comfortably seated in a living room with fruit salad and orange juice.  Our hosts are delightful, and we encourage you to consider their guesthouse on your next trip to Port-au-Prince.

I have to admit that once I got to the room, I passed out on my bed for about 30 solid minutes. I may or may not have snored, according to Sora and Marie. We were scheduled to go to an orphanage at 3 pm to meet one of Sora’s contacts from her previous trips. His name is Pastor Silar, and he and his wife began the ORORAEDH (Orphanage of the Organization for Aid to Children in Difficulty in Haiti) in 2008 (both an orphanage and a school). Here is the link to her blog post http://blog.unleashkids.org/2013/08/04/silars-orphanage/

This project started with about a dozen children to care for. Today, Pastor Silar and his wife, Jeana care for 67 children from ages 1-19, and 250 who attend the school in grades 1-12. We had the opportunity to be shown around the building, and Pastor Silar explained to us some of the challenges that he is facing. The main reason for the increase of children is due to parent fatalities during the earthquake in 2010. These children were left on the streets, many of them sexually abused or trafficked in order earn money to eat. In the orphanage, the girls and the boys sleep in separate rooms, though Silar says that there are many problems with both genders living in the same house. He described that he and Jeana sleep the most during the day, because at night, at least one of them is awake at all times in order to ensure the gender separation. We were all amazed at the sacrificial compassion that Silar and Jeana show to these children, no matter what age or hour of the day.

The main house cost $50,000 in 2008. They have about 20 XO laptops, which are kept in great condition by the whole community. These laptops connect to another XO, which acts as the main server. The server is connected to a Natcom USB modem, and also internet in a box (a small device that allows off-line access to over 100,000 Wikipedia pages, presented as a web page). When there is electricity, the laptops are charged for use both in and out of the classroom. They are maintained by Jeanide and Junior, the “professors d’informatiques.” Jeanide began working with Unleash Kids in September, and Junior has been working with the XO laptops for about 3 years. Unfortunately, we were unable to meet Junior today, although Sora will likely meet with him at another point during her visit. This was a helpful component of our visit to this location because it is a model of what we hope to set up in Hinche.

Jeanide organized a memorable student performance for us, which involved all of the present students performing sketches, music, dance, riddles, and jokes. All of these elements involved portions of the XO curriculum that Jeanide has been following. The students were well-behaved and enthusiastic, and above all, visibly joyful.

Pastor Silar shared his dreams with us during the performance. He hopes to purchase the property next door from him for $51,000, though he worries because he lost his job after the earthquake. He hopes that he can take in more children, though there is not currently enough room to hold any more. He would also like to acquire 20 more laptops so computer instruction can be provided to more students. Sora will be helping him to make a website in order to promote his charity. She has made the point that some organizations are all about promotion and don’t actually help kids, while others (like Silar’s) are helping kids, but aren’t promoted. With her help, it may be possible to make donations to Silar’s orphanage. We will keep you posted as further information becomes available.

The day ended with an enormous dance party that included everyone present at the orphanage. Two big speakers blasted three different pop-music praise songs on repeat. Everyone from adults to babies joined in to form an enormous conga line that soon turned into a giant running circle. All at once, it was dusk, and we found ourselves in the back of a pick-up truck on the way back to the guesthouse, wondering how we were ever able to part with those kids.

Our dinner was rice and beans, lamb, plantains, and salad. As the four of us sat, we discussed the day, and found it hard to separate ourselves from the people we have had the pleasure of meeting. Even though we are here to implement a new curriculum, today revealed the true heartbeat of our trip: We must learn and connect with those around us in order to gain perspective, and in turn, help them learn about their world. It’s not about laptops – it’s about people.