by Cristyn Filla
Hello, my name is Cristyn Filla. I am a junior at the College of William and Mary and a member of the WM Haiti Compact team. I am an anthropology major and plan on joining the Peace Corps after graduation.
On January 4, 2015 I set out on my second adventure to Haiti. This was my first trip to Haiti with the William and Mary Haiti Compact team as well as my first to the Northern portion of the country, Cap Haitien. We had spent the last two to three months preparing for and anticipating this trip and it turned out to be ten times as amazing then any of us expected.
Our WM Haiti Compact team travelled to Haiti this year with the goal of aiding the Cima elementary school in building up solid curriculums and bringing new resources to the teachers.
Education in Haiti is a complicated issue. The national language of the country is French due to the long French colonial occupation; however, most of the population speaks Kreyol. As such Haitian children learn Kreyol at home, and then are introduced to French at school at a young age. This can often be confusing in a poorly run educated system and can result in high illiteracy rates. Furthermore, it is difficult for many children to attend school due to the cost of attendance; this often leads to an uneducated populace. Fortunately, in Cima the school is run by the Sonje Ayiti foundation and there is no cost of attendance along with free lunch and uniforms provided.
Our goal was to help to improve this education system at the Cima location. To prepare for this trip our Haiti Compact team did education into the Haitian education system and wrote curriculums for each subject taught at the schools. These were translated into French and given to the teachers at the school in Cima. Then while in country we introduced the material to the teachers and showed them how to put new strategies and learning tools into action.
When I landed in Haiti it bombarded my senses. Haiti is full of bright colors and fast paced sounds of Kreyol skipping off Haitian tongues. The sticky heat made me immediately want to peel off my sweater that I wore to arm against the airplane chill. Directly after muddling through the Cap Haitien airport we met Gabie, our Sonje Ayiti and Haiti Compact contact. The people are my favorite part of Haiti. They are friendly and interested and they always seem to make the best out of their situation and are probably the best pressed people I’ve met despite their lack of resources. Gabie is no exception; she is a confident woman and clearly in charge of the situation.
For the next week we stayed with Gabie and her two kids on the edge of the city. Each day we climbed into a colorful van and navigated our way through the insane Haitian streets to get to Cima and the elementary school. The children had classes in the morning in an open air school house (I have provided a sketch of the structure below). Each grade level was divided by a chalkboard “wall” that was moved in and out of place as needed.
While the kids were studying, or at least trying to while staring at the pale foreigners, we observed class structure and technique and painted. There is never a lack of manual labor to complete. By the end of the week we had painted the well house, the storage closet and the school structure, as well as the outhouse
After the classes ended the kids got lunch outside and we sat in the school house with the teachers to enjoy some Haitian cuisine of our own. Then it was down to business. Dahanah and Sora both speak fluent Kreyol and were thus invaluable assets to introducing techniques and curriculums to the teachers. We sat on benches and talked for a couple hours a day. At first it seemed to be a one sided conversation with us talking at the teachers trying to introduce a lot of information in a short amount of time. Then, fortunately, we were able to form a conversation. The teachers are smart. Some of the strategies we brought to the table they were already doing and they were also implementing strategies we didn’t even think of. It really became a back and forth between us. The teachers pointed out which techniques they liked and thought most useful for their situation and which ones were good but needed tweaking to fit in with the Haitian environment. For me these were some of the best experience over the week-long trip. We were really able to communicate and share information across cultures and languages, I’m not sure there is a better feeling in this world.
We did manage to take one day off of work while we were in country for what Gabie called “me time”. The team hopped into the van but this time instead of heading to the school we headed to the beach. The teachers from the school met us there and we spent the day playing games and talking and generally have a very unique bonding experience.
Eventually, however, it all had to come to an end. By the end of the week I was beginning to (rather pathetically) miss some of my first world comforts, but I was by no means ready to say good-bye. It is always sad to leave a place that you have really grown attached to and people you truly adore. I have no doubt that I will return to Haiti soon…it’s the waiting that’s the hard part.
My sketch of the school house along with a few other Haitian doodles (above)
Some drawings by Kevonson, the cook’s son, in my journal (below)
Delicious Haitian recipes! (above)
Some of my Kreyol lessons (below)