By Riya Shankar ’18
I have distinct memory of learning about the Haiti Partnership during my revisit day at St. Mark’s. Desmond Goodwin, who graduated 2 years ago spoke about her experience learning about Haitian culture and traveling to Haiti with the school. I remember thinking about how cool it sounded but I never thought that being a part of this partnership would impact me as profoundly as it did, and I certainly never thought I would be lucky enough to travel to our partner school twice and make friends at St. Marguerite’s that I still keep in touch with. The people we’ve met in Haiti have changed and inspired us and we hope that we’ve been able to share some of that with you. Our travels have showed us that our friends in Haiti are very grateful for this partnership and the opportunity to connect with us. I mean, how often do people you’ve never met change their wedding date to make sure you can come?! And that shows that, even though we were virtually strangers with everyone in Latournelle, after just a few short hours, we all felt like we are a part of something bigger, like we belonged. Our goal is to bring that feeling to everyone here at school because we are ALL part of this “something bigger.”
Whether someone has visited Haiti or not, all of us here at St. Mark’s have an amazing and unique partnership with people from another country, and our hope is to inspire one, some, even all of you to join the partnership. Join us in our learning, join us in our fundraising, join us in our work with St. Marguerite’s. It can be as simple as creating a positive atmosphere when we have a rice and beans lunch. I mean, how incredible is it that we are able to send them so much money by simply eating lunch?
If you want to go next level, come join our partnership meetings and be part of the events we hold, such as the Independence Day Fair or Broadway Nights. It can be a way for you to find your own sense of leadership and creativity. And those of you who feel especially inspired, I urge you to go on this trip. I know it allowed each of us to grow in our interest in this partnership and also in our own opinions as global citizens. For me personally, this trip helped me find my place at St. Mark’s and even after I graduate, I know I will always carry this partnership with me far beyond St. Mark’s. I hope this talk and our stories have inspired you to find your own place in our partnership because we can’t wait for what’s to come. Thank you.
By Grant Gattuso ’19
One of my most memorable moments from the Haiti trip took place in the principal’s office at St. Marguerite’s. We had all just finished lunch when Emmanuel, Père Reginald, and Maurice, the school’s principal, all walked in. As soon as they walked in, we could tell that something important was happening. Père Reginald leaned down, putting his hands on the table with an unsure but sad look on his face. He turned to Ms. McColloch and Ms. Morgan and said “We do not have enough money for this past year.” We were all shocked and confused. After just a few days in Haiti, we knew how important every last dollar was to our partners, and to hear that we did not bring enough was heartbreaking. Père Reginald told us that we were about $1,000 short of paying for the teachers salaries for 2017. Keep in mind we were there in 2018.
Having already realized how much more we have back here at St. Mark’s, it was hard not to feel guilty hearing this. We know as a school how hard our teachers work. They deserve every cent that they earn if not more, and these Haitian teachers are no different. Imagine if we were still trying to pay our teachers for 2017, without even thinking about 2018 yet. That would be unjust to their efforts.
Following this conversation, we, the students, spent the next few hours brainstorming different ways that we could make sure that this never happened again. We have some ideas, but some of them are easier to implement than others. When Père Reginald was speaking with us, Ms. McColloch tried to explain that we had given all we could, which was true from the school point of view. However, the same might not necessarily true for the student body. We can all contribute quite easily actually. It is something that the Haiti Partnership program seems to be infamous for… more rice and beans lunches. We know, for some, the rice and beans seem like a punishment, but I think it is all about the attitude towards them. Every time we have a rice and beans lunch we are able to give over $800 to St. Marguerite’s. That means that we could have almost completely avoided the situation with just one more rice and beans lunch. All you have to do to be a part of this is simply eat lunch. It is not difficult, and it does not take any extra effort. Have the attitude that it is a school wide community service moment, a way that you can get involved with St. Marguerite’s, and, I believe, everyone will find the whole experience much more enjoyable. After my experience in Haiti, it is clear that every single one of the students, faculty, and members of the community appreciate our work to help them. Your one rice and beans meal is directly helping St. Marguerite’s and every member of it. Our goal is to makes sure that never again will a group be sent to Haiti without the necessary resources. Please help us in participating in the rice and beans meals, and you might in fact find a new favorite meal. I did!
By Haley Dion ’19
I am very grateful that I was able to visit our friends in Haiti this year! It was truly an amazing experience, however there were a few challenges, such as the language barrier. As some of you may know, Haiti was originally a French colony, which is why the official languages are Creole and French. A few of us who went on the trip knew some French and Creole, however many did not. I was one of the lucky students who was able to take the Introduction to Haitian Creole class this fall, so I knew how to have a fairly basic conversation. This was helpful in learning a little about all the children because I was able to ask them how they were, what their name was, and how old they were. Although it was challenging to have conversations with the community, it did not stop us from communicating. Instead, we used different forms of communication to connect. We shared songs, danced, and played games.
One of the games we played with the children was one that involved hand slapping, where one player with their palms facing up tries to slap the top of the hands of the other player before they are pulled away. Although simple, this game could entertain all of us for a very long time.
Another way we connected with the community was through dancing. On our last night in Latournelle, we had a little dance party outside with them. While the music was playing, everyone was dancing and teaching us their “moves”. It was fun to be able to share our dance moves with the children and to be taught some of their favorites. These small yet impactful interactions are what I cherish the most from my trip to Haiti. I still remember some of the games, dances, and songs that the children taught me, and I know I will never forget them.
Although I would have loved to be able to have more conversations with the Latournelle community, in a way, I am thankful for the language barrier because it compelled us to connect with them in unique ways. This trip helped me realize the importance of communication. No matter what form, whether it be by singing or playing games, it is extremely valuable to be able to share ideas and information with others. I am thankful for my opportunity to have traveled to Haiti because it not only taught me so much, it allowed me to build relationships with people I never thought I would have the chance to meet.
By Sophie Haugen ’18
When we first arrived in Latournelle, everyone greeted us and welcomed us immediately to their homes. We first started playing with kids, trying to settle into the rhythm of a busy Saturday afternoon in the village, and we had to adjust to not having any sense of time or schedule. After a little while, we heard that there would be a wedding that afternoon. We just thought, “that’s nice” and some of us kids at least didn’t really pay much attention to everything going on at first. We assumed that we would not be attending the wedding because, well, we didn’t know the couple and we had just arrived in Latournelle. After Ms. McColloch spoke to some people about it, we soon learned that the wedding had been scheduled for a different day, but they actually rescheduled it for that afternoon so that WE could attend it!
Coming from here, where we don’t tend to rearrange extremely important days for strangers, I was excited and surprised to hear this. We went to the wedding that day and it was so fascinating to experience. The wedding party involved so many children, a prince and princess, a king and queen, and a full procession before the bride and groom even entered the church. Each person had a color-coordinated outfit for their role in the procession and every moment was filled with intricate dance. We felt an enormous amount of hospitality in Haiti in every place we went. We entered living spaces, classrooms, kitchens, and churches, and received nothing but welcoming and loving kindness from everyone. The wedding was just one example of this. We went to church the next morning at the same church in Latournelle with many of the same people who attended the wedding. Church is a big deal and an amazing time for everyone to come together. Kids wear fancy dresses and suits, style their hair, and celebrate the day. We went to church and felt like part of the village, and I feel incredibly lucky for that. Returning from Haiti and reflecting on my experiences caused me to think about how to connect more with people. Despite language barriers, despite not having scheduled gatherings or plans, I have never felt more connected with people, on a very fundamental level, than in Haiti. This applies to us as a whole community at St. Mark’s, us as a partnership with St. Marguerite’s, and as people in this world. Buying one chocolate bar for our fundraiser, making a card at the Independence Day Fair, or anything else means so much to the people at St. Marguerite’s. Whether you are officially part of our partnership or not, finding ways to connect with people here and around the world to be part of something bigger than yourself is the most important aspect. It is something that I learned in Haiti and will carry with me forever.
By Sada Nichols-Worley ’18
After reaching Latournelle atop the mountain, we were told that the toilets didn’t flush themselves. Rather, we had to manually flush them by pouring water from huge buckets into the toilet bowls. I really struggled the first time doing that, but once I figured it out I still had it in my head that I was roughing it just because I couldn’t flush a toilet on command. We soon found out that not only did most people living in Latournelle not have access to any toilets at all, but they actually carried those huge buckets of water that we used to flush the toilets up the mountain for us. One day, we hiked a short way down the mountain to see the water source that the flushing-water came from. People used this water source for bathing, cooking, and drinking, too. The dirt path leading to the water source was narrow and in many places extremely steep. We had to inch our way down the pathway while kids sprinted past us carrying full buckets of water, singing as they went along.
The water source itself was pretty simple; it looked like a little stream trickling out of a tap in the mountain. But this water source was a necessity for the people in Latournelle, and no matter the conditions, someone would always have to get water. It was hard enough for me to carry up a small bucket of water in daytime in completely dry conditions. I couldn’t imagine trying to carry a massive bucket on my head, or walking down the path at all when it’s raining. One memory that really resonated with me was seeing a young boy, younger than me and the same age as many boys at St. Marguerite’s, hauling a bucket of water up from the water source while other boys were at school. Having access to water and the ability to get an education are two things that I’ve definitely always taken for granted. After seeing how hard people have to work and the time they have to sacrifice to get water up the mountain, we all stopped complaining about flushing the toilets and worked to use as little water as possible. Seeing things like the water source in Haiti made me feel guilty at first — that I had amenities and comfort that others didn’t. But feeling badly, I realized, wasn’t going to help anyone, so instead I adopted the mindset that I should always be appreciative and aware of how fortunate my circumstances are.
By Payton Kober ’20
When we were in Haiti, we were able to film short video of from our partner school, St. Marguerite’s, singing Sun Of My Soul in French. Sun of my Soul is a song that the students at St. Marguerite’s sing at church as well as our school hymn here at St. Mark’s School. When we visited St. Marguerite’s in January, 2018 the St. Marguerite’s students sang to us and we returned the favor by singing Sun of My Soul back to them in English. This small act was a chance for us as schools to connect beyond the partnership, allowing us as two separate schools to come together as one and connect using something that both of our schools share.
One of the big problems I faced throughout the trip was the language barrier which made it challenging to connect to the students of St. Marguerite’s. They speak Creole, we speak English, but through singing a song we found a way to break the language barrier and make a connection beyond the Partnership. Not only did I feel the impact of such a simple act, but I know the students at St. Marguerite’s felt it as well as the entire group from St. Mark’s. From this experience I have discovered how music is a universal way of communication and can connect people no matter the reason for separation.
*In the weeks leading up to Broadway Nights (May 4 and 5) we look forward to sharing short reflections from our 2018 trip to Latournelle, Haiti.
We loved reading this essay from Bannon about women’s rights in Haiti written for our St. Mark’s Global Seminar course!