Living Passionately excerpts
Below excerpts from part of Carina Blon, Jean Widletson Gaspard and Shad St. Louis' chapters.
Living to the Beat of Her Own Drum
I have been in Haiti volunteering for a school for almost two years. I am mostly in the office, on the laptop, contacting supporters, updating our Facebook page and website, and researching cool project ideas for the teachers. I also take care of the supply closet and prize bin, setting up skype sessions between our school and classes in NY and also this year I tried to do some English lessons for our students in preschool to second grade.
I like being with the school—working for the teachers and students, and being the bridge between supporters in the US and our staff and community here. It is hard work but also rewarding, and I like to think I am making a difference. I strive to pay attention to what the parents of our students want, and last school year the parents had expressed an interest in their kids learning English. So I thought I should make time to do thirty minute English classes a few times a week for each of the four classes. I tried reading children’s picture books, teaching songs, counting, the alphabet, but . . . …..As it turns out, I don’t have the patience to be a teacher, especially for these young, sweet but full of energy—kids. I couldn’t get them to sit down, to stop talking or fighting with each other, singing other songs, or coming up to sit on my lap or play with my hair. One week, I made a PowerPoint presentation of what the state of New York is like. I had pictures of the city tall buildings, the Statue of Liberty, traffic, subways, the Empire State Building. I included poems that one of the classes in our partner schools in NYC had written about a subway and a food market. I had pictures of the suburbs with houses, neighborhoods, school buses and parks. I had slides of the urban areas- the Adirondacks, mountains, cabins, and big lakes. Then the four seasons, and I collected pictures from my childhood: my family in the snow, my friends sledding in the winter, and carving jack-o’-lanterns in the fall, and at the beach in the summer.
So, I decided to show the PowerPoint to our second graders—the oldest students of the school. Their teacher is really smart and is a great teacher, and most of the time they are very well behaved with her, so I thought it wouldn’t be a problem to show them this PowerPoint that I thought they would be totally interested in. For the first two minutes, their teacher was in the room and they paid attention when she showed them where New York is on the map. Then I started to show them pictures of New York City, and they were fine. When their teacher left, Bertha pinched Sherlanda, so Sherlanda yelled to me that Bertha pinched her. Luckenson asked me when he could go to visit New York and someone asked what the buildings are made of. [Good questions, but they didn’t raise their hands. Luckenson’s question also broke my heart, because the chance of most Haitians getting to live or visit another country is very slim.] Danielo switched his seat and Roodler didn’t want to sit next to him, and then Wisguens went to sit next to Danielo, too. But Wisguens stepped on Martide’s toe and she screamed at him. So I tried to continue to present the PowerPoint, showing the Statue of Liberty, a bird’s-eye view from the Empire State Building, city traffic intersections, and, finally, trying to translate the poems. I think some of the students heard some of the poem, but most of them weren’t really paying attention. So, in the middle of the poem, I just told them all [that] they could go back to class because I couldn’t talk over them. Protests, and then I said “No, we are finished today, and another day when Ms. Louna [their teacher] says the class will be well behaved, [you] can come back to see the rest of the presentation.”
So that day I was pretty discouraged. I realized I didn’t have the education or patience to be a teacher—and I don’t want to be a teacher. It wasn’t that great a day after that, because it was kind of the last straw for my teaching attempts, and I mostly wrote emails and worked on the website page for the organization. The next day was school again and I came back with a fresh mind, but I knew I didn’t want to do a classroom again. I sent some emails, helped the teachers get their supplies, organized shelves, gave out prizes to students the teachers sent to me, and spent some time in the cafeteria. Then, right after school ended at one o’clock, Luckenson, one of the second graders, came into the office with a beautiful drawing of the Statue of Liberty, which I had shown his class from the PowerPoint. I was pretty happy. I gave him a prize from the prize box and I had him sit in my chair and took a picture for the school Facebook page. I told him “Mesi Anpil,” which means “Thank you Very much,” and we both were all smiles. It just made my day that he had remembered and wanted to draw the Statue of Liberty. And it made me have hope that I could show the class the rest of the PowerPoint and there would be someone who will learn something or remember it. I think it was the next day that Ms. Louna gave the ok for her students to come and watch the rest of the “Life in New York” presentation. The students were better behaved and I was calmer, knowing that even if one of the students learned something, the work would have been worth it.
Carina called me in the fall of 2013, excited that teaching the children that year was going so much better. In December of 2013, Carina became very sick with typhoid fever and malaria. She had a wonderful doctor in Haiti, and Dr. Lynch (her pediatrician) kept in contact to make sure that the treatments were complete. Carina did recover, but the experience was really nerve-wracking for all of us. Although we were scheduled to visit in less than a month, many times I thought of flying down to Haiti before our scheduled flight or having Carina fly back here. But she had all she needed in Haiti: medicine and people who took care of her. Shad hired a woman named Alourde to cook and clean for them, which is something that they should have done long before.
Life in Haiti is hard. Food is cooked on a fire or over charcoal, and clothes are washed by hand. There is dust everywhere, so things get dirty fast. When Tom and I arrived in Haiti on New Year’s Eve, Carina was relieved to have us there. She was ready to return to the States, but needed our support. Deciding to leave was heart-wrenching, but the right decision for her at the time. The teachers at the school were encouraging to Carina, pointing out the importance of taking time to get her education. The amount of love and respect the teachers have for Carina is beautiful. They compared Carina to Jesus, because she came to live as they did, not as an outsider.
This is just a sneak peek of the thoughts and experiences of Carina over her two and a half years of volunteering and living in Haiti. I look forward to someday reading her memoirs as they will be rich and deep with her love for the people in Haiti.
Carina’s Lesson: Giving by Observing and Listening
Carina helped a community of people by observing how they interact and live their lives on a day-to-day basis. She listened to what was important to them before making suggestions. How beautiful that she honored the Haitian people and their culture by getting to know them well, and, in turn, Carina was embraced by her Haitian community.
I feel so much pride for all that she has done and, quite frankly, relieved that she is now back in the States, healthy. Beginning her career by volunteering gave her a strong foundation of real practical learning, which she can draw upon to enhance her college education, career, and life. Unlike when she was in high school, Carina loves her college classes in community and human services administration, because she knows how valuable education is from experience.
This quote by Mother Theresa exemplifies the spirit with which Carina has helped the people in Haiti:
Love is not patronizing and charity isn’t about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same—with charity you give love, so don’t just give money but reach out your hand instead. ~ Mother Teresa
Parents, I urge you to listen to your children and honor their interests. Too often, children and teens are encouraged to go to school and head to college even if they have no idea what they want to study. Time and money are wasted as teens follow someone else’s idea of how to live life. How interesting life would be if we all followed the beat of our own drum, just as Carina has. Imagine if we took more time to observe each other, to listen more and talk less. What hidden talents and interests would grow and bloom?
Is there something that you have always wanted to try? Start planning and follow your dreams. You never know where your ideas will take you until you explore. What people or causes in this world tug at your heart strings so much that you would love to find a way to help? Know that any act of kindness makes a difference, beyond what you could even imagine.
Little Man with a Big Heart
Jean Widletson Gaspard
Gaspard walks more than a mile to school, where he attends second grade—which he is repeating due to difficulty with reading. My husband Tom, my friend Anthony, Gaspard’s classmate Danielo and I walked with Gaspard to school on Monday, January 6, 2014. He was eagerly waiting for us at 6:30 am. Anthony took pictures, then Gaspard took Anthony’s very heavy camera bag and carried it to school, in addition to his already-heavy book bag. Gaspard had a bounce in his step the whole thirty-six-minute, more than a mile, walk to school.
Gaspard’s favorite subjects are math, writing, English, and drawing. He is very talkative and loves to play soccer and other games with his friends at recess. He says he would always like to go to school and will work hard. Gaspard is very kind. He enjoys walking the preschoolers to lunch, holding their hands and gently leading them to the cafeteria.
Gaspard’s biggest challenge in school is reading. His mother is not involved in his learning. Gaspard studies by himself, but needs someone to give him more attention and help. School Director Dieumaitre discussed getting a reading circle organized to help Gaspard and other students at the school who need tutoring. Shad and third grade teacher Magdala Jean Baptiste have organized the third-grade students to tutor the younger children after school. This additional learning time for motivated children without home support will be invaluable.
When we asked him about his life, Gaspard told us his favorite food is rice with bean sauce or vegetable sauce. Through our interpreters, we asked him a few more questions, which are asked and answered, below:
What is the best part of your life, Gaspard?
I love my mom.
I love life.
I love school, because they make an effort for me.
I like when I have work to do, like carrying water for my mom to use. When I have constructive things to do, I feel lighter.
I like to help other kids with their homework.
What is the worst part of your life?
I don’t like when kids fight.
I don’t like when my mother or brothers are suffering. I feel scared for them.
After we asked our questions, Carina asked if Gaspard had any questions for us. Gaspard asked if we live well in the States, then asked what our parent’s names are and where they live. Then he started talking more, saying, “Here, people don’t put their heads together and work as a team. When I get older, I want to put my head together with people and work as a team to make this country better. If people put their heads together, this country would be rich.”
We thought we were finished, but Gaspard said, “You didn’t ask me what kinds of trees I like.” And then he began to tell us that he likes trees with fruit that make people better. He asked me what kinds of trees I like, and I said that I like mango trees. Gaspard asked what kind, because there are many different kinds of mangoes.
Education Gives Hope in Haiti
Shad St. Louis
I feel happy that I can relate to people who are having trouble by disclosing what I have gone through. Helping people to make changes and show them how much they have which they take for granted is empowering. I like to share my life experiences with people to help them see new options for their lives—to give people hope. Without hope, there can be no progress, because nobody will try. When things are really bad, people can’t move forward until they can see the possibility of improvement, and that’s what hope really is. The wondrous thing that I’ve found is that hope is something you can actually give to someone else. When life is full of horror and suffering, every single person who is willing to keep trying can inspire hope in the people around them. My mother was right about education—in many ways, it will free you. And nothing can be accomplished without hard work. But hope is the key to everything.