Monday, May 18, 2015

Letters 2015

I will  remember this week as a turning point - so many changes have begun. It will take a while to implement them, perhaps years to see them bloom, but just as everything was new and unknown on my first trip to Haiti in 1998, and again when I made the decision to rent a house and set down roots in Cap-Haitien in 2004, now more  changes and a new set of challenges. But without challenges, we don't know what can be accomplished.

Wednesday Auguste and I met with the Notary in Sen Rafayel and the owners of the properties adjacent to our drop in center which we were purchasing. The purchases had been negotiated by our Bus. Admin grad, Danius and funded by Jasmine Foundation. Danius acted as our 'temwen' (witness) and helped verify the funds as both were cash transactions in Haitian gourdes.
First property purchase, Danius, yours truly, owner, notary
The 2nd floor of our center was an ideal meeting place.

Notaire, our neighbor the second seller, Auguste
Everyone signed the big book - a solemn occasion.

While we were meeting upstairs, staff members downstairs were busy feeding kids, facilitating study groups  and meeting with young people who were dropping by in a steady stream to deliver request for admission letters - those  had been sitting out at least this school year, many longer. We accept letters from May 4 - 29. Between the 2 centers we have received about 200 letters with 2 weeks to go. There are also hundreds looking for entry who made it through the school year, but do not have the means to continue. Those letters we accept in July after year end results are posted, if is seems there will be funds available.

Inside, coordinator Edeline accepts letters and
gives a quick read for necessary information.

If necessary information is missing, staff member
Elanie will ask for it to be added or return letter
is there is too much missing.
Outside our walls, the hopefuls wait with letters
in hand.

Reading the letters is a labor of love - as the students have taken the time to write and in many cases pour out their fears, hopes and dreams, we owe them an attentive read. First read through is for the story of their lives. Second read through we look for and highlight the information we need to move onto the next stage, the interview. Students who receive an interview (and we try to fit in everyone who writes) must bring their papers to the meeting - birth certificate, last report card or receipt from the Ministry of Education with necessary information. 

Each year we have limited funds, so a limited number of places. After admitting those we consider in crisis,  we generate a waiting list. It has been consistently approximately 300 students each year for whom there are insufficient funds. I carry those kids on the waiting list with me - their names, their stories. Each one is memorable - asking for the gift of education when it should be a right. Then the next year arrives and a new group.  Sometimes they write again, risking being turned down again but with enough courage to try.  Often I will be told that someone on our waiting list has died. We try to begin with those that seem in situations that are life threatening, but everyone of these young people is in jeopardy so it presents a challenge. We are getting better at non verbal cues during interviews.

In Sen Rafayel at Lakay
I haven't started on the Cap-Haitien letters yet. I have just finished the second highlight read for the first 100 letters. Yes - the first 100. With funds for about 30 admissions. Next the staff will read for information I have missed and use a different highlighter or write questions they have in pencil. We then enter everyone into a notebook and sit down together to generate lists for immediate interviews and those we feel can wait. There are never many on the second list.
In Cap-Haitien at Lakay  Fondasyon

I have no pictures yet - I've only seen these young people in front of our privacy wall talking to staff. So I'll share some of their words. 

The first letter we received in Sen Rafayel was from Edisson . He is 15 and has been sitting out of school since 2013. He could enter Nouvo Secondaire I, the 4th year of high school if we can find the funds. His letter and circumstance are not remarkable - they are like the other 99 I have become acquainted with over the last 3 or 4 days. 

"Rezon ki fe mwen ekri w' se paske papa m mouri lontan. Yon matant ki t'ap ede m' li mouri tou nan lane 2013...mwen pa konn ki sa pou m'fe se ki fe mwen ekri w pou mande w' koman w ka ede m' nan sitiyason sa."

"The reason I am writing you is because my papa has been dead a longtime. An aunt helped me but she died also in 2013...I don't know what  you can do , that's why I'm writing to ask how you can help me in this situation."

17 yr old Yslande writes "Mwen rive nan classe 7eme mwen fe 2015 lan chita agoz mwen pa gen moun k'ap ede m. Mwen pa gen manman ni papa toulede moun sayo vin mouri malerezman. Mwen anvi ale lekol. Mwen pa gen moun ki pou voye. Fanmiy mwen gen 4 fi 1 gason."

"I passed into high school, gr. 7 but I spent this year sitting because I did not have anyone to help me. I have neither mother nor father, sadly both of them arrived at death. I crave to go to school. I have no one to send me. My family has 4 girls and 1 boy."

In the first 100 letters, there are 21 students with both parents dead, 6 with mother dead, 51 with father dead and 13 with another significant family member dead. Of the remaining 9 students not one had a healthy, working parent. Two live parents does not equate to support,  in most cases, more responsibility for the young person forced to leave school.

18 yr old Marie's  mother is crippled and father is ill and been told by a doctor he cannot work. An uncle who helped her just died. She has been sitting out since 2013. "Mwen santim pa ka rete pal lekol paske mwen vle itil parann yo demen en sosyete ."

"I feel I just can't remain not going to school because I want to be a useful mentor in tomorrow's society".

17 yr old Miliode has been sitting out for 2 years because her papa died in 2012. "Mwen renmen lekol anpil. Pou mwen se pigwo sakrifis mwen te ka plenn tet mwen avek edikasyon. Mwen gen rev pou m rive yon moun demen pou m ka ede tet mwen, fanmiy mwen ak sosyete a. Gade let sa se tankou w'ap gade ke'm ak nan men. Mesi davans."

"I love school so much. For me it is a big sacrifice to not fill my head with education. I have a dream that tomorrow I will become someone who is able to help my family and society.
Hold /look at this letter as though you are holding my heart in your hands. Thank you in advance."

By now you're probably saying "Enough already!"  Although I read every one, you don't have to.  If you want to hear more, get in touch and I'll send you translations and copies.

In closing, the entire letter of 12 yr old Daiska. She will be 13 on Aug. 18 and has already been sitting out a year. Computer fonts are fine for getting out information, but a hand written letter tells so much more about the author. There is information to be gleaned from  the writing and the paper as well as the writing instrument.  On the paper, you can smell the pain, fear, dirt, hope, hopelessness ...

Translation: Good morning, madam

Today it with a sad (heavy, tight) heart I write this little letter to ask for help with school. I find myself in a very grave situation. It is a cousin who paid for school for me. She says she cannot continue.
I have neither manman nor papa.I do not remember them, they died when I was 4 leaving just me..
Please give me the grace to live in the situation I'm in as I know you are a mother who helps the young who cannot go to school.

Thank you in advance madam.

The author of this letter is 12 years old, just starting - there are those up to and including their early 20's asking for a chance to complete high school -- just a chance.  Education should not be just for the privileged. Please help us give these kids "the grace to live in the situation"

Please help us do more than generate a waiting list of 300 this year. Help us make the waiting list  a thing of the past.

Mesi davans


PS Corresponding letters for above quotes




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