From: Jennifer Goodwin, Assistant Principal
As you hopefully know, we will be having our 4th Annual Haiti Fundraiser on Friday from 6-9 (April 26th). It is a wonderful family event organized by Ling, Patti and an amazing group of parents, including at least one alumni parent. There will be music by student and alumni bands. Shaun has been rehearsing with a group of 8th graders during lunch and they sound incredible. The Prodigals, Greg Grene’s Irish Rock band, will also be performing. They are always a huge hit making it hard to end the event at the end of the night.
I know that Ling has written to you about the Andrew Grene foundation and the origins of Salk’s involvement. As Ling indicated in her letter, I had the pleasure of going with Greg Grene (Andrew’s brother and founder of the foundation) to Haiti over the spring break to work at the Andrew Grene High School in Cite Soleil, a neighborhood of Port Au Prince. I wasn’t sure what to expect of Port Au Prince since recent reports from there have focused on the challenges that still face the area in terms of recovery from the earthquake. Port Au Prince is definitely open for business. However, evidence of the devastation is still very prevalent from the tent cities and buildings that were clearly taller at one point to occasional empty lots where buildings once stood. Further, the majority of the roads we traveled are unpaved roads and some of the worst I have ever experienced. Some of the conditions in Haiti, make day to day life something that would feel unfamiliar to most of us.
I have had the opportunity to talk with Ling’s classes and the Imagine Campaign about my experience and one of the statistics that I shared with them is that the minimum wage in Haiti is $5 a day. The murmur amongst the students that $5 “is lunch” was immediate and quite audible. It is a stunning number for us to consider and to realize that this translates into about $100 a month and $1200 a year for people to live on. Eighty percent of the people in Haiti live below the poverty line.
The Andrew Grene High School is an oasis of hope in a city that is working hard to recover. While there is primary education in Haiti, only two thirds of primary age children attend, less than 30% reach 6th grade and only 20% of eligible students attend secondary school. While there are many reasons for this, one of the most significant is the availability of schools. Thus, the Andrew Grene High School is filling a great need in an area that has never had a school before. One of the reasons that Greg and his partner in the foundation have focused on education and micro-finance is that they want to make sure that they are helping people develop their skills to participate in the economy and facilitate a culture of resilience and self-reliance.
The school itself is well designed to provide decently sized classrooms that are sheltered from the heat of the sun. When we were there the temperature was above 90 degrees every day, but it felt significantly cooler in the classrooms. The classrooms have ceiling fans but electricity in the area is unreliable. The school also has bathrooms for the students with a sewage system. However, while there is a water tank for flushing the toilets, often they needed to be flushed using a bucket of water collected from a pump on the corner near the school (a strategy that may sound familiar to those of you who lost power during Hurricane Sandy).
Currently there are 6 grades (7-12) at the school with one class per grade level. The classes have 25 to 48 students in each. Students were on their Easter Break, but came into school to work with us for a five day English Clinic. In Haiti, students’ first language is Haitian Creole and school is taught in French. English and Spanish are taught as world languages in the same way that we have Spanish at Salk. Greg is particularly interested in helping students develop their English language skills because it will enhance students’ job opportunities.
I traveled to Haiti with Greg and a group of 9 other people. We split up into 6 teams to work with students on reading, writing and speaking English. Lucas, my husband who is a teacher, and I mostly used songs to enhance students’ comfort level with English, fluency, vocabulary and pronunciation. We started with the songs “Sing When the Spirit Says Sing,” “This Little Light of Mine” and “Here Comes the Sun.” Students quickly learned these songs so we were able to work on pronunciation, phrasing and new songs starting on the second day. Each class learned at least one other song with the 12th graders learning a total of six. Every time we walked into a classroom some students would burst into one of these songs to greet us. If you are familiar with any of these songs, you can imagine how beautiful it was to hear them reverberate through the courtyard of the school. It was particularly gratifying that the principal of the school, Ricot, said to Lucas at the end of the week, “Thank you for bringing joy to my students.”
To further the connection between Salk and the Andrew Grene High School, some students in the Imagine Campaign wrote stories that I brought with me which the students in Haiti really enjoyed reading. I also brought pen-pal letters from some Salk students, which Greg used in his class and had students in all the classes in Haiti respond to. One of the letters that a Haitian student wrote in response, while not in standard English, struck a very emotional cord for all of us, especially Greg. Adam Jameson ended his letter with, “Thank you Andrew Grene because you make me don’t hopeless.”
Everyone at Salk who has participated in our Haiti fundraisers has contributed to this sense of hope that the students at the Andrew Grene High School feel. Specifically, the funds we raised last year paid for textbooks for the school. You can see a picture of students getting their textbooks on the Andrew Grene Foundation Facebook page as well as other pictures from the school, including Adam Jameson’s letter. Attached you will find a picture of the school’s courtyard with students heading to class. More pictures will be on view at the fundraisers and some of the teachers I traveled with will be there as well to share their stories with you.
I hope you will be able to join us on Friday for an event that truly encapsulates our Salk values.