I didn’t know what it was when we first approached it: some sort of circular autodrome-like structure made of cement walls and a tin, silo-like roof. The walls reach about four feet high and the rest of it is iron grating in the shape of hearts and rectangles.
To get here, we have taken a 45-minute plane ride on a private four-seater from Port-au-Prince to the island of La Gonav. After that, we drove for nearly three hours into the middle of nowhere- a place that is situated on an island that is perhaps only ten miles long, yet it takes forever to get from one place to another as the roads are so rough that cars need to travel at walking pace.
The town we reach is an oasis in the middle of seemingly endless woodland; an educational paradise where an entire community is based on its school system. We have finally reached the Matènwa Community Learning Center.
Matènwa is different from other schools in Haiti. It is run by both an American woman (who has been living here for years) and a Haitian man. The private school functions on a different frequency than other schools. There is a no beating policy at the school. Students are not reprimanded physically for their mistakes. There is also no uniform policy (although students are loosely asked to wear blue pants and a white top, if possible), as many students are too poor to be able to afford uniforms. Teachers are encouraged to guide students rather than to expect a regular memorize-and-repeat scheme. Many students have open reading time in the morning. Students are served breakfast (as school finishes around lunchtime) and are expected to wash their own plates. Perhaps the thing that stands out the most, however, is that students are taught in their native Haitian Creole, and not French.
This is a political move on Matènwa’s behalf. All government-run schools in Haiti are taught in French. Students are expected to memorize and repeat facts in a language that they simply do not speak (French is offered as a type of foreign language to older students, like English). Matènwa fosters a healthy learning environment in a town that truly values education for what it is.
We have come to introduce the OLPC computers to the kids here. It is our third day of classes and things couldn’t be moving more smoothly. We are running a pilot and training various teachers from around the country so that they can go back to their own towns and develop their own programs with their XOs. In the afternoons, teachers have their own classes and also sit-in on students’ classes so that they can help them learn. Teachers sit next to the students and experience their learning alongside them. Never have I seen something so collaborative in my life.
The next morning, students are outside at recess. Like the students at São João in São Tomé e Príncipe, the students here are playing on their computers in broad daylight, walking around with them and showing their friends. We have high hopes for Matènwa.
On Thursday, students and teachers meet for a school-wide meeting. They sit in an enormous, three-row circle along the interior of the learning center’s round walls. During open discussion time, teachers stand up and actively congratulate their students on a great job learning and paying attention these past few days. A few minutes later, each grade (there is one class per grade level here) presents a skit, song or other presentation for the rest of the group. The school-wide assembly ends up in laughter, some students on the floor, kicking in excitement.
Yet the organization of this place is impeccable. It is an OLPC paradise. I see the faces of teachers and students alike as they engage with the computers in front of them. They are just as excited as I am for the possibility of what is to come.
Beth is the founder and CEO of Wanderful, which she developed while riding through the streets of São Tomé and Príncipe on her blue Yamaha motorcycle. She is the creator of the WITS Travel Creator + Brand Summit and has been recognized in Business Insider as one of 17 travel industry changemakers, as one of BostInno's 50 on Fire, and as one of TimeOut's 10 people changing a better Boston.
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