Testimonials–The Teaching Trip That Taught Me So Much

It is Sunday afternoon, and as I sip my Keurig coffee in a big mug I bought at the Toronto airport, I once again am reminded of just how good life is here in Canada. Three weeks ago I was in the midst of mid-30s temperatures in Port Au Prince, Haiti. My wife and I were chosen to go down and do some professional development for teachers in and around Port Au Prince. Even though it was we who were doing the teaching, I think it was we who were doing a lot of learning too! To say this trip was a life changer would be an understatement. Spending a week living near the epicenter of an earthquake that happened almost two years ago to this day, I learned a lot about people and life. We had no running water and no hot water, and the hydro was blacked out every evening due to rolling blackouts (but our school host had an inverter system to keep power available while the electricity was out). The very first thing that my wife and I noticed was how quickly we adapt to living in different conditions. Once you learned how to flush a toilet with a pail and how to stay clean using cold water, it became routine. What made it seem mundane was the fact that we would be starting a new day interacting with people that were happy despite their circumstances. If you have been watching any of the “Haiti” Two Years Later” reports, one of the common theme from people reporting from Haiti is that the Haitian people are fantastic! And they truly are! We wandered through some of the hardest hit neighbourhoods where homes were just corrugated tin walls with blankets and tarps for a roof, yet there were children playing hide and seek and flying kites! I was invited by a young lad to come and see his house, and inside that structure his Mom was using  a makeshift stove to cook supper on and they were all happy people!! Many times now when I feel like grumbling, I reflect on the conditions I am NOT living in, and I switch the grumbling to gratitude instead. 

Haiti has many, many hurdles to overcome, but they are moving forward – but at a glacial pace. There are many people doing many things to help this poor and struggling nation, and every single effort counts. Walking through Port Au Prince, we couldn’t help but think that our PD sessions were but a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed there. But as one of our translators reminded us, “every bucket is filled by a collection of drops. Each one counts!” 

My two amazing translators! Herold (left), and Milot (right).

My two translators were heaven sent. They were so great as an interface between us and the teachers that attended our seminars (all 41 of them), that we had a great time despite the language barrier. One of them is even taking us on as students in his online course that he teaches so people can learn Creole, the native tongue of Haiti.  These two gentlemen are on Facebook as well and thus we get to chat with them in live time at least once per week! Teachers in Haiti are paid next to nothing – and sometimes have to wait six months to receive even that! Benefits packages are unheard of! Many of them have to scrounge to even have chalk in their classrooms! But their dedication is palpable. One of the female teachers who attended began her walk at midnight the night before so she could make our 9:30 a.m. start time! (She stayed at the compound on a mattress on the floor for the duration of our seminars). And I thought I was dedicated! Sheesh!! 

My class and classroom (it is much too hot there to teach indoors! Christmas day was 33° C)

There were about twenty-five people living in the school compound we stayed and worked at, and they ranged in age from six to twenty-three. Nylobi, the six-year-old, was a little princess! She loved to dance and to tickle you when you least expected it! The 23 year-old was one of our translators and is the online teacher; his name is Herold. Many of the children at this compound lost homes and/or family members in the earthquake. Some have travelled for many miles to come to school here so they need a place to live while they are in school. Some of the children have special needs, such as Calens. He has very limited eyesight and so even though he is eight or nine years old, he has yet to learn to read. So my wife and I are working with CNIB to get him the equipment he needs to learn to read!

One of the two microscopes we brought down – this one donated by Ken-A-Vision. These are students from the school compound we stayed at! Calens is second from the right, and Benson is on the far right (ask me about him sometime – it is a miracle he is alive!!).

And this brings me to the life lesson that was so prominent throughout the whole trip: the good things in life are always the result of the efforts of good people!! The only way we were able to get down to Haiti was through donations of individuals and corporations. Our gratitude goes out to each and every one of them! But as we travelled towards Haiti, with over 165 pounds of donated supplies and teaching resources, people of all walks were extremely kind to us when they learned of the nature of our trip. Luggage fees waived, customs officers were friendly and interested in what we were doing after we had already been cleared to proceed! Ticket officers helping us with the luggage, and airport employees telling us where a comfortable place to catch a couple hours of sleep was at 1:30 in the morning in Pearson Airport. Even when we were leaving Haiti, the customs officer searching our bags put on his best English and wished us a Happy New Year and a great trip! The struggle to get our luggage upon arrival was monumental, and the closest thing to being in a herd of cattle I have ever been in! Despite the four hour struggle, the Haitian people, who were annoyed at each other for the elbows and shoving, were very courteous to us and as helpful as you could possibly be! All of these kindnesses sure colour our thinking now, and temper our tempers!

The bottom line for us is that we have found our niche – we have been asked to come back and do more so we are planning to return in Feb of 2013, and annually thereafter! So if you get the opportunity, try a trip like this – you will be a changed person forever!! Hopefully the dozen photos that follow will give you a glimpse of both the physical need and of the cultural beauty of Haiti!!

 

August 20, 2012