The beginning of the school year has arrived once again and we at Living Media are looking forward once again to working with the staff at our New Life Primary School to make this year full of creative education for the children there. After finishing the last school year with 86 students, we have registered over 30 new students throughout the grades K – 6. We have also added to our staff there with new teachers and a new principal as our previous director moved to the city to work as a firefighter. Over the summer we offered multiple trainings to these staff so that they would be prepared to provide the children with the most effective and creative educations possible. This year we will also be teaching the children more art and English to add to their typical curriculum.
Because of all of this, my staff has told me that this year we have a “zo lekol” which translates directly as “bone school” but it’s a phrase Haitian’s use when something’s very impressive, awesome, “zo”. The community has responded positively to our school and seen that they can count on us for a quality education for their kids, which is reflected in the increased registration.
Our physical environment for the children still isn’t ideal, however. Our plans were to start the new school year in our new building, but we were not able to reach our funding goal in time to complete the construction. We are still about $15,000 short of what we need to complete the school complex. So the children have started the year of classes in the same location that they have been in the past two years. We are hopeful that we will be able to move to the new location after Christmas break. We are also still waiting for new benches. We received a very generous donation of over 30 school benches, each able to hold at least 4 children, from some friends in Minnesota, however they did not arrive on time for the start of school. So we have borrowed benches from our Learning Institute, and there still isn’t enough seating for all of the kids. But that doesn’t stop them from coming and squishing in to learn! The new benches should be arriving any day so that we can get the students more comfortable in their classrooms.
We will once again be able to provide the children with a hot lunch every day thanks to our partnership with Then Feed Just One. We are happy to be able to give the students the nutrition that the need to be able to focus and learn to their greatest potential. As the year goes on and we adjust to the changing needs and resources of our community, we look forward to seeing how the children begin to develop and grow into the bold young leaders that will change their country tomorrow.
In our Sponsor A dreamer program we like to hold different seminars and counseling session with our participants to help them find the encouragement and tools that they need to continue on their educational journeys. During these sessions, where we attempt to inspire the young students in the program, I usually find myself being the one inspired by their commitment to their dreams and their deep understanding of what it takes to chase after them in this culture. I wanted to share some of their responses from recent interactions so that you may be inspired from them as well.
During one seminar, we asked them, “How do you define success?”
Roberson, a 30 year old in Economics, stated, “I’m not the one to say when I have achieved success because I think true success is when other people start to look at you and say that you’ve accomplished something great. It’s when younger students begin to look to me as a role model and then I know that I’ve set an example for success. But if I can’t inspire younger generations and others around to better themselves as well, then anything that I may achieve for myself is in vain. It’s only success if it spreads beyond myself.”
Serge, a 29 year old Agronomy student agreed that success cannot be easily defined. He told us, “I can set goals and I can even achieve those goals. But that cannot be defined as success because you can’t stop there. You can only succeed if you never accept that you’ve succeeded. You always have to go further. Each time you think that you’ve reached your goal. Go further. Keep going. Climb higher. If you ever say, Okay, I’ve arrived. Then you’ll never really succeed. Success has no limit. It is a constant journey always pushing to go further.”
We also asked them “What fears do you have in pursuing your dream?”
Yvette, a 29 year old woman studying business management, replied, “The only thing that we have to fear is God himself. If we don’t have the fear of God within is us, then we will never make it where we are trying to go. He is the one who created us and if we do not put our complete trust in him, then we will not realize our dreams. But we have to realize that he gave us such dreams and goals for a reason and we have to have the determination to do whatever it takes on our part to achieve them.” Then Yvette gave us an example. “My dream could be to make it to Ridore (a town about 5 kilometers up the mountain). But if I don’t have the money to pay a motorcycle,” she said, “I have to be willing to start walking. I have to put my complete faith in God that he will get me to Ridore, but he’s not going to transport me there magically. I have to be willing to take those steps if that’s what it takes.”
When Daniel, a young man of 22 years who is studying Community Development, responded to the same question he said, “I don’t believe that
we can have any fears at all. There are already too many obstacles in our way trying to keep us from our dreams. If we allow ourselves to fear anything, then that fear just becomes another obstacle. Society already places plenty of obstacles in front of us, if we have fear, then the biggest obstacle of all comes from within us. We have to be confident of what is inside of us and move forward sure of our direction.”
We recently held another workshop with them to help them develop their creativity. During which the guest leader, Melany, told them, “You can’t be afraid to fail. If you have an idea that you think might be good for your community, you have to give it a try. If you fail, so what. You’ll get another chance. But if you succeed, then everyone will want to follow you.” The next morning, Kesnel, a 27 year old studying agronomy, came to me and said, “Melany was right, Lee!” I asked him what he meant. He explained to me, “This morning I woke up at 5:30am and I got on my motorcycle and I drove to Mirbalais (a community about an hour and a half away) to visit a group that has a sweet pepper nursery. For a long time I’ve been thinking about how my zone, Terre Blanche, could be a great place to grow peppers and have wanted to start a nursery there for the community. I know that it could help a lot of people make an income because peppers are very desired here and sell for a good price. And I know that our soil would be ideal for growing them. But I have never taken the steps to get it started because I was afraid that it might not work. No one’s ever done it before it and I didn’t want to fail. But this morning, after hearing Melany speak, I decided that I had to give it a try anyway. So I drove to Mirbalais, a picked up a bunch of pepper seedlings, and now I’m going to go start a pepper nursery in Terre Blanche!”
This is what Living Media is all about. We’re not about economic development, medical work, or agronomy, but by doing programs that encourage young adults to become strong, creative leaders that are passionate about following their dreams, we don’t have to be about that other stuff. These dreamers are going to make it happen.
“It’s difficult to have a dream in Haiti.” A local high schooler once told us while talking with an American visitor to Mizak. “It’s difficult to have a dream in Haiti.” For young adults especially, they feel the odds are against them and it’s a waste of time to bother with dreaming about their future. A young friend of mine once asked me, “Lee, how am I ever supposed to find life in this country when all I have is a mandarin tree, a donkey, and a bunch of rocks?” That’s all the farther they see their futures reaching.
In the United States, the land of Opportunity, we’re raised to believe a much different message, that you can be anything you want to be. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve known exactly what I was created to be. If you would have asked me when I was five years old what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would have told you, “I’m gonna be an artist!” And from that time, throughout my life, I’ve been presented with every opportunity necessary to follow through with my intentions completely to become an artist today. Before I ever even started school I was exposed to childrens books and Crayola crayons and Disney movies that encouraged creativity and fostered my imagination form the beginning. In school I always had art classes and dedicated teachers to help me learn the skills I would need. I had the chance to study art in a university and travel many places to view other art and meet many talented artists with different techniques to share. I’ve had galleries and museums to visit, books to read, and libraries and internet to do research. I’ve always known that if I was put on this earth to be an artist, then there’s nothing on this earth that can stop me from becoming one.
Young adults in Haiti don’t know that. Ever since they were kids they’ve only been shown obstacles. They’ve learned the reasons why they will never become anything extraordinary. They’ve adapted to being comfortable with simple survival. How are you ever supposed to have a dream when all you have is a mandarin tree, a donkey, and a bunch of rocks?
This is why Living Media International exists, to help young adults in this community to believe in their purpose in life and help them create a path to achieving that purpose. We encourage them to dream. On that path towards realizing their dream we train them to become strong leaders, provide them with ways to expand their creativity, and support them in initiating community development. We help them make their dream matter.
This is why we are proud to announce the launching of a new program called “Sponsor A Dreamer.” It is a program that we have been developing for over a year with the help of many friends and are now kicking it off with our first team of 8 Dreamers. Living Media selected these 8 qualified young adults from specific specific criteria focusing on community service and the potential to positively contribute to change in their society’s future to participate in the program. These individuals will now be connected with a foreign sponsor who will pay for further education or training to prepare the young adult for their chosen vocation. This sponsor will also serve as a mentor to the participant to guide and encourage them through the process. It is in this way that we hope to provide these young adults with ways to overcome the obstacles that prevent them from reaching their personal goals.
The program is designed to reach much further than just the individual’s education, but provides the participants with many other opportunities to use what they are learning to educated others in the community. Participants will visit our primary schools and other local schools as well as our kid’s clubs to share what they are learning from their experience and show kids practical and fun ways to begin learning too. They will also communicate through a local radio show to inform the general population about how what they are learning can be applied to everyday life and how everyone can take steps to making a more beautiful community. In the local high schools participants will have the chance to advise other young students on what to expect after graduation and how to prepare for success after secondary school as well. All along, pursuing their own personal dreams, but weaving what they learn into the fabric of the community.
We have a variety of dreams in the program. Agronomy, nursing, pediatrics, economics, business management, and development engineering. The idea is to connect the Haitian Dreamers with a foreign sponsor that is in a somewhat similar field to foster the mentor and advisor relationship between them. We facilitate frequent communication between the sponsor and dreamer and also encourage sponsors to visit their dreamer in Haiti. If you would like to find out more information on this program, you can download a complete program overview here. You can also view all of our dreamers available for sponsorship and read their personal profiles at our Facebook page. If you would be interested in sponsoring one of these young adults, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you some sponsor guidelines and help you follow through with the process. Thank you!
November 13th will mark the one year anniversary of the Living Media Kid’s Club. After starting our sponsorship program for elementary children in the community we were looking for a way to provide some extra educational opportunities outside of the regular school setting for these children. Being able to send them to school was a huge step, but in this country there are many things that the schools are still lacking in the creative areas of learning and even on the weekends the children needed extra chances to find safe ways to have fun. So we developed our Kid’s Club to meet these needs.
In deciding where to start with this club we began looking at the area of Mizak called LaVoute, which is where we had the heaviest concentration of sponsored kids. It’s also an area of the community which was really lacking in opportunities like this as there are other groups who carry out kids programs in other parts of the Mizak area, but LaVoute was too far away to ever benefit from these. We also had a lot of our young adults who participate in our other LMI programs who were from around there and excited to lead these children in the weekend club. So we began talking to the Director of the Catholic school and the Priest who are responsible for the church and school grounds in LaVoute that we were hoping to use as our space to hold the Kid’s Club activities. They accepted with enthusiasm and encouraged us in this endeavor because they saw it’s potential for providing a positive activity for the children of the area.
It was the perfect location. We had classrooms available to use with benches and chalkboards, a large open yard for the children to play complete with some playground equipment and a large secure wall surrounding it, and latrines for the children to use and plenty of space for the leaders committee to meet when they needed. Best of all, it was free for us to use.
Things started off well with over 100 children attending every week and our leaders providing them ways to exercise their young imaginations through the arts, music, dance, poetry, and more, every week. And we spent the year that way, however knowing that when you are in a space that’s not your own, it limits what you are able to do with the children. As the year went on, those limitations became more and more apparent. For example, if anything at all went wrong on the school grounds, whether a flower got broken or a piece of trash got left on the ground, our kids were automatically the ones to get blamed even though we were always very intentional about ensuring they respect the grounds.
Then, at the beginning of this year, some changes were made in the staff of the St. Terese Catholic school, which affected our club leaders as well, and we began feeling like were weren’t as welcome on the property anymore. We began hearing gossip around town about the possibility of the club being kicked out, although none of the church or school leadership ever communicated anything to us officially about this. So, we continued to meet there until one Saturday morning the kids and leaders showed up to find the front gates locked and they were unable to enter to have the club that day. Assuming that it could have been a mistake and the groundskeeper was perhaps out of town and forgot to leave the key to let us in, they just decided to have the club in the street that day in front of the school. Then the next week it happened again, and the leaders knew the groundskeeper was in town but could not get in contact with him. The message was clear, we were not welcome there anymore.
So the leaders thought quickly of what they could do and remembered an old empty house nearby that could possibly work for the morning. They had no choice but to trespass. They led the kids there and held there activities there for the day. The couple that used to live in the house had died long ago and the kids had moved away to the city, leaving the house to deteriorate. There were a couple benches and a plywood chalkboard available from a makeshift school that had been meeting there without official permission as well. They met here one week. The next week, still clearly unwelcome at the Catholic school, they were forced to meet here again. Now they have spent four weeks meeting here and the situation has become urgent for us to act.
I went down to LaVoute Saturday to see with my own eyes and what I saw hit me like a brick in the face. This space is a deplorable and unsafe environment for children in general. When I showed up I found all of the children squeezed into the main room of the building and onto a total of 6 benches. There are walls in this house that are ready to topple at any moment and with those children inside, no one knows how they will fall. If one small child decided to run or even turn too quickly and bump one of these walls, the results would be disastrous.
Majorie Gere, LMI Director of Volunteer Services and also a trained and talented educator that teaches at the public school in Mizak, visited the site with me and she pointed out, “Psychologically this isn’t a healthy environment for the children either. They may not say anything out loud to the leaders, but you can see it in their eyes that being here is affecting them mentally and emotionally.”
After the club finished on Saturday we sat down with our committee of club leaders to talk to them about he situation of the club and what we can do. It was clear that we could not stay here, but we have no where to go. One of the options was to begin holding the club at the church of a pastor who is also one of the leaders in the committee. However, his church is also just tarps supported by branches and would be lacking a lot in what the kids need for a healthy, inspirational environment to learn and play. It was also a distance away from the current location and would also still be a very temporary solution. Committee member, Rose Mina, pointed out, “when you are homeless, you can keep walking from neighbor’s house to neighbor’s house each night, but you quickly lose your dignity and become exhausted and discouraged very easily.” That’s not the solution that we are looking for our children either. Even as Rose Mina sat there and said this I was afraid for her safety thinking that if she sneezed that wall behind her head might collapse on her.
It was agreed that the only acceptable solution would be to find a way to create our own space to have Kid’s Clubs and meetings.
There is a piece of land in the area which has been donated for community use and offered to Living Media to construct upon. Our goal is to build a shelter on this piece of donated land which could be used for these purposes but also for the much needed purpose of a general community center for the people of the zone. The current plan is to construct a simple shelter out of cement columns and a natural palm leaf roof with a separate small building for storage.
We are hoping to raise $4200 within the next month in order to complete this urgent project and lead our children out of the unfortunate situation that they’ve found themselves in and into a new phase of beautiful creation where they can find hope. If you would like to help us reach this goal, please go to our “Donate” tab to make a contribution online. While making your donation, please include a message specifying that you want it to go to the Kid’s Club Location. As always we thank all of our friends for supporting us so far so that this kid’s club can exist at all. We hope that we can count on you to continue walking alongside us to make this path brighter for the children’s futures.
Last year Living Media was given a special opportunity to get involved with an elementary school that was called Foyer St. Jude. This school was the victim of good intentions gone bad by a foreign aid organization that was tragically out of touch with the situation on the ground in Mizak. After everything I’ve seen this school go through in the past year I am very critical of this organization that established it, so I won’t name any names. The organization’s administration in the states had decided that they wanted to build an orphanage in Mizak, without any local research or planning, because “where there is poverty, there must be a need for an orphanage.” When the Haitian representatives actually surveyed the situation locally they decided that an orphanage wasn’t actually necessary in the area (surprise), but what the community really could use was an affordable elementary school. So they continued the process to establish Foyer St. Jude as the area’s first and only “free” school. Registration was set at only 100 gourdes ($2.50 US) which was exponentially lower than any other school in the zone. They hired a staff and found a dilapidated old building that hadn’t been deemed suitable for humans to live in for years and decided that that was where they could have a school. The house was severely damaged from hurricanes and age so they covered the crumbling walls with some USAID tarps that they had on hand. With the 100 gourdes that they got from each student for tuition they built some benches and made 3 chalkboards for 7 classes to try to share.
They opened classes last October with almost 140 students registered. These students came from some of the poorest families in the community and many had never been to school before. Most of them wouldn’t have gone to school then if it wasn’t for this school.
I had heard about the school and as someone interested in education in general decided to visit it just a few days after it opened. I went down with my friend Sony and witnessed these 140 students trying to learn in an environment that was the farthest thing from inspirational that I could imagine. The building was a mess. The children couldn’t fit on the few benches that were available and had no textbooks to learn from. The teachers themselves didn’t have books or other materials to teach with.
As we walked away I told Sony, “Sony, I’m in trouble.”
“Why?” he asked.
“I’m going to want to help that school.” I told him.
“So?” Sony didn’t see the problem. “They need help.”
“I don’t have the resources to help them and my organization has way too many other activities right now to coordinate to try to worry about an elementary school too.” I explained to him. But somewhere deep down I had a feeling that this school wasn’t going to let me walk away that easily.
But I did walk away and I didn’t pursue any relationship with the school figuring that whoever established it knew what they were doing. Then almost three months later, just before I was ready to travel back to the states for Christmas, the principal of St. Jude, Ernstceau Phillippe, and two other teachers, Johny and Jesula, showed up at my door. They explained to me the situation. The staff hadn’t been paid since they began. They had been promised salaries, they showed me the paperwork from the sponsoring organization detailing how much they would be paid, but they hadn’t received any of it. The children were still coming to school in the same environment, without materials, without books, without uniforms, just coming to hear the teachers talk at them. The rainy season would be coming soon and those tarps weren’t going to keep the students dry.
The parent organization had apparently suffered some extreme miscommunication. After three months of operation, and absolutely no support, the American leadership had decided not to fund the school because their original agreement was for an orphanage. It didn’t matter that the staff had been working and the children had been attending for three months, it wasn’t the orphanage that they had envisioned, so they just decided to abandon it. The Haitian leadership, afraid to admit failure had never told the local staff anything in an attempt to salvage their mistake. But at that point it was beyond hope and these three staff members came to me to see what I could do. If they didn’t find any help soon, the school was going to fall apart and all of those kids were going to lose their year of school. Which of course, I couldn’t let that happen.
All three of these young adults who worked for St. Jude were also students of mine at the Living Media Learning Institute and involved as leaders in our other activities in different ways, which is why they turned to LMI for help. And if there’s anything that I like more than making sure children get the education they deserve, it’s encouraging young leaders to make positive change in their community. So, after talking to them, I agreed to put it before Living Media to see what we could do.
After a lot of discussion and analysis of all of the pros and cons, Living Media decided to support them in part, to help them finish out the year, but we were clear with them that we were very limited in what we could offer.
Thanks to all of our supporters for responding to the need and to God for responding as well, by a miracle, the school was able to finish out it’s year and we were also actually able to provide some structural improvements to the building adding a tin roof with a visiting team. At the end of the year all of the students in the school took their final exams and 100% of the 6th graders passed their exams to move on to secondary school! Yet, at that point, no one really knew what the future would hold for St. Jude.
I had seen the potential of both the students and the teachers for them to bring those kinds of results at the end of the year after struggling to overcome so many obstacles and I couldn’t consciously just let the school fade away. I knew that it was still a necessary establishment for the community aware of the fact that there were still many more children unable to attend school that could benefit from the services of such a school. I also knew how much the typical elementary education in this country was lacking without any sort of teaching in the creative arts, and really was craving the opportunity to influence that aspect of these young imaginations.
So throughout the summer Living Media undertook measures to be prepared to accept full responsibility of the school in the upcoming school year. Acting on faith, still unsure ourselves how we were going to be able to take on such a significant assignment that we hadn’t planned for, we started re-envisioning everything about the school. We renamed it “New Life Primary School,” believing in the possibility that this school could experience a rebirth. Little by little, we began finding some support and had hope that the school year could proceed with relative success.
Then, just a week before all schools in the country were scheduled to open for the year on October 8th, President Michel Martelly announced a dramatic renovation in the country’s education system. Public school would be free to all children. He also announced that the government would be opening new schools for those children who had never attended school before.
This changed everything for us. We would no longer be the only free school in the community. And anytime Haitian’s hear anything is “free” they flock to get theirs. Now that parents who couldn’t afford other schools for their children had another “free” school to choose from, of course they’re going to choose the one that’s not made out of tarps and rusty tin.
But that’s not the whole story. Because although Martelly has declared the schools “free,” it is only the tuition that the children do not have to pay in these schools. They still have to buy their uniform, pay for their school lunch, and purchase all of their textbooks on their own. At New Life Primary we ask a simple fee this year of 250 gourdes ($6.25 US). After that, through the generous help of our donors we are able to provide the children with all of their textbooks for free. In other schools this ends up being the largest expense for parents, in the higher elementary grades costing as much as $55 US for books. We are also fortunate to have the partnership of Then Just Feed One, an organization that will be providing the students with daily hot lunch for free. After that we have had many other friends come alongside to help us out with other basic needs such as benches and chalkboards, and materials for the teachers, so we do not need to ask parents to contribute to those things. So in reality, our “really, really inexpensive” school turns out to be much more to parent’s advantage than Martelly’s “free” schools.
Now it is taking time, but we are getting the parents to see that and we are seeing more children return to our school after having left in that first week seeking something more “free”. They’ve seen that things aren’t as good as they originally sounded in Martelly’s schools. It’s true they don’t have to pay tuition, but the teachers now have also been working for 3 weeks with no materials. Even chalk hasn’t been provided by the government that declared them free. The leadership of these public schools never even received any official information on how this was going to all work out. Most of them heard the news that their own schools were going to be free over the radio. Now their classrooms are overloaded to the point that children don’t even have space to sit and teachers can’t effectively work with children because there are so many.
Now our tarps and rusty tin aren’t looking so bad with the free textbooks and plenty of space for students to sit.
I am not criticizing President Martelly, however. I actually must congratulate him on doing as much as he had. It’s true, not everything has turned out so smoothly for his free schools right off the bat, but much of that is due to the tragic lack of organization in between him and the local school leadership. Also, even though it’s not perfect right now, in many areas of the country where a New Life Primary School is not available, what Martelly has done will prove to be a huge blessing for many families struggling to send their children to school.
In the meantime we are waiting to see how things go day by day at New Life Primary. We are keeping registration open for a while aware that this year is going to be another strange one. For those students who do choose to attend New Life, though, we know that it will be a much more beautiful year than the last.
Another day I will write more about the future of New Life and where we are planning to take it. For now, if you would like to donate to this primary school please go to our “Donate” tab and use the button to make your tax-deductible contribution online. We have received an extraordinary offer from one of our donors who will match any donations made to New Life Primary at this time. So if you would like to help out, now is the time because your gift will be doubled!
Thank you very much to all of those who have contributed to this project in so many ways already! You have allowed us to make it this far, which many never believed possible. Now we invite you to continue alongside us as we make these children’s education as beautiful as possible!