Friday, December 6, 2013

Ecole Lo Limonde

Thabenie invited me to visit a primary school she supports in a rural locale called Lo Limonde. This is a walk-through of my visit. I deliberately restricted use of my camera to have a more personal interaction, so I'll use more words to illustrate the experience.

I started the trip on my first ever moto ride (I only decided to do this because most of the trip was on a gravel road and not the busy paved road). We drove for about 45 minutes to Tierra Muscady, where our path ended and we had to switch to foot travel. 
The path traversed pretty typical rural Haiti countryside with very few trees, some farm land, and a lot of open grassy areas with sparse livestock. Dusty now, in the beginning of the dry season, baking in the sun and with little water.We walked for about 45 minutes, crossing one knee deep river, before arriving at the school. As is typical in rural Haitian areas, there is no centralized village. In Lo Limonde, the school is the only building excluding fairly spread out houses.

As we approached the wooden slat structure, I was asked to sit in the shade just off the trail. We were about 50 yards away at this point, and I looked up to the school and saw the children gathering with the professors. They walked slowly towards me, in two orderly lines, at which point we continued on the trail to meet them.
The children and the professors greeted me, welcoming me to their school, saying,"Bonjou!"

As I stood facing the front of the two lines, which were blocking the path, the lines of children, under the direction of the professors, took one step out making an opening for me to walk through. I walked through them, greeting them along the way, until I was the closest person to the school. I turned around seeking direction and was guided to a smaller building to the left.

Inside of what seemed to me to be an office was a table set with three large bowls of oranges, eggs and coconuts. I waited in the room, speaking briefly with the director of the school while the professors got the children back into the building. 

The school began in 2000 with 70 students. It now has 250 students, many of which were not there the day I went because a medical clinic had come to the larger and nearby village of Casse, a trading point with the Dominican Republic. Parents pay 100 Gds a month for each child (that's about $2.25 US). Most do not have pens and paper; fewer have books. They do not get a meal. There are six professors--the school runs from kindergarten to 5th grade. The oldest students are 15-17.
The director asked me if I wanted to walk around the school first or visit the classrooms. I elected to visit the classrooms. Inside the single room building are actually four undivided classrooms. There are four teachers teaching four different groups of students four different subjects in the same room. 

As I've experience with other school visits, the children sing to greet me--this time my Creole was good enough to understand their warm words of welcome through song. After the singing, I introduced myself and the work I'm doing in Cange with the Episcopal Church. I then asked if I could sit in the classes while the professors taught. 

I began with the highest grade, which was doing a reading comprehension exercise of a short passage the professor had written on the chalkboard. It was in French, which I cannot read, so I had fun while the professor walked me through the passage and I laughed with the kids as we went through the lesson. Before I moved to the next class, a couple of children brought me gifts. Eggs, individually wrapped in pieces of paper.

I walked a few feet to the second class, which faced a different direction. Each time I moved, someone moved my chair for me, placing it where I could sit and see the chalkboard. The second class was a grade lower, and they were reviewing sentence structure (in French once again). When I finished there, students from that class brought me gifts. Eggs, individually wrapped in pieces of paper. 
In the third class, I sat in front of a board filled with simple addition equations. This time it was in Creole, so I participated with the kids in responding to the teacher as he walked them through the equations. The kids all turned around in surprise when I first yelled out Creole numbers with them. After this class, the students gave me gifts. Oranges.

I moved once more to the fourth and final class (there are five grades but four classes plus the kindergarten). This class was also learning math, with pairs of numbers written on the board. Students would write greater than, less than or equals signs on the board for each pair. Repetition repetition repetition. Students gave me gifts as I left. Oranges.

I left the main building and walked to the small outdoor classroom where the kindergarten children were. Their outdoor room was under a tree and walled on two sides with a large blue tarp. When I left there and returned to the office, the little ones came behind me with more gifts--about a dozen eggs, each one delivered by a different child. 

 Once I stored all of my gifts into the small room, I walked with the director and Thabenie to look at the land around the school. We descended down the hill behind the school to a fairly large open field. The director walked off the property lines for the school for me, explaining they had ample property. Later in discussions with the director, he mentioned their intentions to utilize this land for agriculture which could support the school. Their two biggest obstacles to this are the lack of water and appropriate agriculture practices.

I'm working on a project proposal for the school to submit to EDUSC and Pere Milor, as we work toward a solution of economic development. The ideas for the project come from the director and the community committee that runs the school. An agriculture plot or small business could help sustain the school and provide an educational opportunity for the students. In addition, if we partner with a agronomist to develop this project into a best-practices garden, this model can serve to educate the community on better agriculture as well.Should this succeed in Lo Limonde, it may develop into a useful model for rural growth in other places. Small schools are scattered throughout the Central Plateau (I've received eight unique requests to visit schools and help seek support). Many like Lo Limonde do not receive funding.

My visit to Lo Limonde ended with a hot meal they prepared for me. Thabenie even brought a Coke and ice for me to drink. They fixed fried plantains, tomatoes and onions, chicken and oranges. The students got out of school as I was eating, right at noon. The children lined up in rows to sing and lower the Haitian flag that flies over the school house, marking the end of their day and the end of my first visit to Lo Limonde.

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