Who knew that I’d write my very first post on my new self-titled blog in a van traveling up a winding, pothole-riddled gravel road on a 5,000-foot mountain side in northern Haiti? Only God could have planned this. Perhaps it symbolizes the great adventure this blog will take you on this year!
Anseye Pou Ayiti (translated to “Teach for Haiti” in Haitian Creole) invited me on a five-day tour of the country so that I might come to understand how education works (or doesn’t work) for the children here. I landed in the coastal city of Cap Haitien two days ago and now I’m traveling southward toward the small town of Gonaives, and then I’ll spend the last two days in Port au Prince, the site of the epic earthquake of 2010.
What I’ve learned so far and why you should care:
Haiti is a majestic, tropical, mountainous country that shares one-third of the Hispaniola island with the Dominican Republic. It’s the only country in the world that saw its enslaved Black Africans successfully revolt against their European oppressors (namely the French), and in 1804 became the first independent Black republic on earth. Haitians are proud of their heroic history and they celebrate their independence with grand fanfare each January 1st, which is equivalent to our 4th of July in the US.
Yet, more than 200 years later, Haiti now exists as one of the most economically challenged countries in the Western Hemisphere. A complex mix of racist international banking and trade policies coupled with relentless political in-fighting has led to more than 30 coup d’états (the most in the world of any nation) and abject poverty that presents itself in these sobering statistics:
* Some 88 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day.
* Of all the K-6 primary schools in the country, 88 percent are private and require tuition and the other 12 percent are public, but require the purchase of uniforms, books, supplies, etc.
* Only 30 percent of the population will complete 6th grade; 10 percent will complete secondary school; and 1 percent will reach university–and far less will actually ever attain a college degree.
* Even though the vast majority of Haitians speak Creole as their native tongue and do not speak or understand French well, nearly all official Haitian government business is conducted in French (banking, court proceedings, standardized tests, etc.), ensuring that only the educated, elite class of Haitians remain in power.
* The school day is only about 5 hours–including recess–and freely employs corporal punishment on students in classrooms that are overwhelmingly led by poorly teachers.
I could go on and on about the challenges in Haitian education–not to mention the crisis in the nation’s healthcare, agriculture, transportation, housing sectors. It’s steeped in spiritual warfare, as well. When a country has an unemployment rate of 70 percent, you know its in trouble.
But all is not lost!
I’m so grateful to former Chicago Public Schools CEO and Anseye Pou Ayiti (APA) Board Chair Jean-Claude Brizard for inviting me to come to Haiti to help tell this story. APA’s Executive Director Nedgine Paul Deroly has been amazing, taking me and four other American educators and advocates around the country to visit schools and national monuments. APA provides asset-based professional development for teachers and school leaders that celebrates Haitian culture, customs, and community. For example, they insist on eliminating the practice of beating students for misbehavior, but rather employ social emotional learning and supports. The five APA partner schools also teach in Creole, instead of French. The teachers, students and parents I’ve talked to love it!
So instead of me dedicating my inaugural post to my goals for my new blog or explaining what I’ve been doing during my year-and-a-half-long blogging hiatus (i.e. I relaunched Teachers Who Pray and wrote a book about Jesus as the master teacher during that time), I’m choosing to spotlight on Haiti.
Black Haitians are the direct descendants of the warriors who led the only successful African slave revolt in the world. But now this sun-soaked country the size of Maryland, that’s less than a two-hour flight from Miami, can barely feed its children–let alone educate them.
Might this bumpy mountainside I’m on have seen far worse days? Days when the blood of a thousand men was flowed down its dusty path in the seven-year guerrilla war that overcame the world’s most formidable army?
Might a single Man’s blood which was shed for Haiti–the blood of Jesus, the Christ–still have the power to liberate this nation out of the pit and make it prosperous once again? Yes, indeed, I do say so!
“To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit.” –Jonah 2:6 (NIV)