Saturday, January 23, 2010


Thank you so much for all of your emails, facebook messages, wall posts, and calls to my parents over the past weeks. I very much appreciate your concern and it meant a lot to me once I was able to get online last week to feel your care.

The earthquake itself was very scary, but our school, the volunteers, staff, and all of our students fared relatively well. Several students were injured when walls around the perimeter our property fell, but they were immediately rushed to the hospital and are all recovering quickly. The worst part for us has been the staff and students' losses, both of loved ones who were in buildings that collapsed as well as many homes that were destroyed.

We spent the first week following the earthquake kind of like an IDP camp of sorts, cooking and serving two hot meals each day to the more than 400 people (students and their families as well as people in the surrounding neighborhood) who took up refuge on our soccer field. We pulled mattresses and blankets onto the field for people to sleep there, as there were originally questions about the structural integrity of our buildings after the earthquake.

Early this week, we had several engineers check out our buildings and they all declared them safe, so we began a slow transition back to school-mode. Since nine of the teachers at Louverture Cleary school are US American volunteers like myself, we were able to begin some abbreviated and low-key classes on Tuesday. I spent each of my science classes discussing earthquakes, building safety, evacuation safety, and fielding lots of questions. I also asked the students to write reflections on returning to class and we had discussions about their feelings, which are very mixed...some are glad to return to class, some are hesitant but understand its value, and some are opposed for varied legitimate reasons. For now, we are trying to do what seems natural and good for the kids, who have now returned to the buildings to sleep. Many students have returned home to be with their families in the city or the countryside for awhile, but there is a core group of about 100 who have no place to return and so are staying at the school even through the weekend (usually all of our students go home on weekends).

We are mixing class with tangible service at organizations in Port-au-Prince where we can be useful. On Wednesday, three students and I spent the day with the nuns of the Missionaries of Charity, where they had set up a makeshift clinic under tarp. We spent the day with Haitian and US American volunteer physicians, cleaning and bandaging wounds, translating, and helping people onto buses to get to a hospital in the Dominican Republic. Then on Friday, I took three other students to Food for the Poor, where they spent the day translating for volunteer Jamaican doctors who spoke English but not Creole. Especially for the older students, it has been very important to them to be helpful outside of school to those who are suffering.

Many of you have queried about how to help, both specifically at our school and in Haiti in general in the wake of the earthquake. The big need for now is definitely money, as the most needed items in my experience are diesel fuel, gas for stoves, and bread, which really cannot be sent. If you are interested in direct relief, I would suggest Catholic Relief Services or the Red Cross...I have seen and heard about both of these organizations doing good things in the city. However, I would definitely encourage you to consider making a donation to the Haitian Project to support Louverture Cleary School. Our school's mission has always been "We are ready to rebulid Haiti, are you?" and now we are embracing that in an even more tangible way. In order to move forward, Haiti needs talented, educated young people who are dedicated to working and improving this country...which is exactly the profile of our graduates. The cost of running our school has definitely increased in the wake of the earthquake, making donors even more essential to our continued existence. In addition, we are greatly increasing our community outreach programs, employing even more people from the neighborhood to help rebuild our walls and cook for our students, feeding more children and adults in the neighborhood than ever before, and we have plans to go out into the neighborhood with groups of students to help rebuild houses that collapsed in the earthquake. While direct relief is assuredly important, our school will continue to serve Haiti long after other organizations have left once the immediate need for food and lodging has been met, making your donation meaningful in a lasting way.

Thank you again for all of your warm wishes and for all of your generous donations thus far to the Haitian Project and other organizations in Haiti. If you would like to get weekly email updates from the Haitian Project or want to organize a larger fundraiser for our school, please email our Director of Community Development, Elizabeth O'Connell (, and she will help out. To make a donation, you can send a check for The Haitian Project to:
The Haitian Project
P.O. Box 6891
Providence, RI 02940

Or you can donate online via the Haitian Project website ( Either way, let them know of your affiliation with me so that they know how you heard about us!

Thank you again for your thoughts and prayers in this difficult time for Haiti. As always, I would love to hear from you! Eventually, I hope to put up photos is unfortunately not working now.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What happened in September?

Good question! Yes, clearly I have not posted in months and people are writing friendly reminders to do so on my facebook wall and my father is making not-so-nice threats about updating now that I am home for winter break. The thought of explaining the last three months in one enormous post is a bit too overwhelming for me, so I am going to break it up by month and share some (hopefully) entertaining and relevant stories, experiences, thoughts, and photos from each.

My last post was a week into the school year; I have learned a lot about teaching since then. My biggest shift in mentality has been really embracing the idea that it is much preferable to teach a smaller amount of information well, so that the students really get it, as opposed to trapsing through some predetermined amount of material and losing the majority of the kids as you go. In September, I did not understand this. And you might say my ambitions were a little too high. It is my Twazieme plant biology class that first taught me this. The combination of personalities in their class makes them more inclined to have loud conversations in Creole across the room with each other than to listen to my lectures. At first, I was kind of treating the learning and the discipline as separate issues, which worked okay. Then, once teaching began to get a little bit easier, I started really trying to get to all the kids in my presentation of material and incorporated more warm up activities, partner/groupwork, notebook work...and it really worked! The majority of the Twaziemes are now actually wanting to and believing that they can learn when they come into my class, the superfluous talking has stopped, and a lot of them are a lot more excited about biology. That class is probably my biggest improvement. Really thriving with them was more of an October accomplishment though.

My favorite class from the start was (and probably still is) my Senkyems. They are the youngest group I teach, and little kids (11 - 13 year olds) are much more cute and charming than teenagers, even when they are doing the exact same annoying things haha. They originally impressed me a lot with their inquisitiveness about science...a few weeks in I started suspecting that they realized I could not resist answering their great questions and some of them were playing the "distract the teacher from the topic at hand and we won't get through the lesson!" game, which I was also very guilty of in high school. (I later made an "on topic" rule about questions which works better.) This class is interesting because sometimes I have a translator, and sometimes not; they have only been at the school for a year (and a half, now) and so they are in the midst of actually learning English. Class is probably more interesting without a translator, as I resort to creative tactics like drawing pictures on the board and making ridiculous motions with my body when I forget to bring a French dictionary. is hard to remember times without weather indicators; it has been basically 82 - 90 degrees F since my arrival. I think in September Corey, Meg, and I started going to the downtown clinic run by the Sisters of Charity on Saturday mornings. I have now cleaned out more festering wounds than I ever imagined, mostly leg ulcers due to untreated diabetes, but some crazier things, too. The sisters are hilarious. Sometimes I would help out in the "pharmacy" (where they distribute free medicine to sick people) and they would test my Creole by sending me to talk to patients and telling me to get them things in Creole. After my first couple of times at the clinic I was pretty motivated to improve my Creole...unfortunately, that excitement has since abated.

One final point of interest is the work that we began on Rue National 3, the nearby national road near our school. When I first arrived in Haiti, one of the most disconcerting things was the huge amounts of trash piled on the sides of the roads. Rue National 3 was no exception, with things like plastic bags, bottles, old clothes, food wrappers, shoes...really anything you can imagine...all strewn on the sides of the road. In some places, it was literally deeper than your ankles. Since there are no major construction projects going on campus, cleaning up this road became our major project. Taking about 120 students out to the road each day, picking up, raking, burning, burying, and carrying trash back to campus, we have actually made a huge change in the stretch of road near our school. Not only are the 5 miles around our school unrecognizable from their current lack of garbage, we have also made an impact on the community. People often stop in their cars when they see us picking up the trash, asking what we are doing and/or thanking the students for their work. Some people from the neighborhood now meet us out on the road each afternoon to help clean up. We also painted large signs on the roadside asking that people do not dump their trash there, and the signs or the example of our students picking up the trash or most likely the combination actually seems to have worked, as the amount of trash now present to pick up each day is tiny and we have to keep going further and further to find it. Below are some photos of students doing Rue National 3 clean up!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Elev yo la!

School started on Tuesday! It has been great so far…the whole feel on campus is different; busy and colorful and always a dull roar outside. Walking around, I am accosted by continual greetings of “Good morning/afternoon, Ms. DeAgostino”. Learning names is overwhelming and the students expect that you should know their names after hearing them one time. My largest class is 30 senkyem students (8th grade), and I have no idea how I am going to learn all of their names, yikes! I made them some desk name tags so hopefully those will help me out. Their English is not stellar so we have been going very slowly/using a translator sporadically. Luckily the class is a very basic introductory science course with a smattering of many topics in not much detail, so we will be okay. Overall, I LOVE teaching. Standing up in class talking for 80 minutes during double-periods is quite tiring, however. It makes me hungry. One of my favorite parts about teaching is actually the planning and the organization between classes. Thus far I have really been pouring myself into it, using any and all free time to hash out details of specific lessons and plan overall units with objectives and methods laid out weeks in advance.

The students leave every Friday afternoon, so campus is quiet again now. I think the weekends will be a much needed respite, especially as the year goes on. I am living in one of the girl’s dorms with another volunteer (since there is not enough room in the volunteer house for all nine of us), and this makes things a little bit awkward with the students who live there. Not having a place to retreat away from the eyes of my students is not ideal, and the girls also use up the running water very quickly so I have been taking bucket showers all of this week. It is funny when I show up back at the dorm at 5:30 am after running and the girls see me all sweaty and dirty and think that I am crazy, haha.

And now, an appeal…this year the school is having a lot of financial trouble mostly because of the US economic problems. Many less people are donating and are donating less money. Louverture Cleary School is dedicated to keeping its students through all 7 years of their secondary education and properly feeding them, giving them a strong education and spiritual formation, and instilling in them the importance of hard work. Obviously to do all of these things, donations are imperative; it costs U$950 to house and educate one student for a year. Part of my job as a volunteer is to raise money for the school, and so far as a group we have not raised many funds. I am sure this is because people in the states are struggling themselves somewhat, but I would urge you to think about making even a small donation to help the school and support the work I am doing. Without generous donors, the school could not function…and right now LCS is one of the few bright spots in Haiti, a place of hope where the children of Haiti learn that they can change their country. Please check out their website ( and make a donation, even if it is small. I would very much appreciate it, and the students here would even more so. Donations can be made online or be mailed to: The Haitian Project, P.O. Box 6891, Providence, RI 02940. If you have an idea for a fundraiser or would like someone from the Haitian Project to come talk to a group, feel free to call Elizabeth O’Connell, Director of Community Development, at (815) 484-8623 or email You can also let them know your connection to me so that your thank you note will be personalized!

Mesi anpil!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Moun bel yo

Bon swa (good evening)! Exactly 3 weeks in Haiti now…they have not exactly flown by, but we have been super busy so there really is not time to be homesick. Today some of us took a car ride up to a quite nice suburb of Port au Prince to pick up a couple of the director’s kids from some family friends’ house and were fed chocolate truffles and cupcakes; it made me pause and realize that I had not had any chocolate in three weeks. And it was gooood. This morning was pretty amazing food-wise actually, as we went to Mass at a nearby seminary celebrated by an Italian priest who then shared some homemade gelato with us afterward, yum!

Because we have been working so hard during the week (this week featured me wielding a pickaxe and a machete), the weekends are a much looked forward to event. The only jobs are cooking and kitchen clean up on a rotating basis, and otherwise we are free to do pretty much anything we want. This weekend was the best yet for sure. Friday afternoon most of the volunteer yo and some of the Haitian staff played sport together for a long time. It was hilarious trying to convince some of the young Haitian women that they would not die if they ran more than two laps around the basketball court. I was surprisingly decent in the following pickup futbol game (and I have not played any sort of soccer since 6th grade), and then Jon and I won in a game of half court 2-on-2 basketball that was relatively intense under the beating sun. Yesterday I successfully did all of my own laundry for the second time – finished before 9 a.m. – got some more lesson planning done, busted out Betsy’s water weights for an afternoon workout, and officially received my first Haitian sunburn after sitting outside reading for about an hour. My arms are already browning up nicely, but my legs are still tomato colored, unfortunately.

I have been getting a lot of reading done here. So far the pace of life reminds me of high school (which maybe makes sense since I am working at a high school?) when I put in a reasonable amount of effort and did my work well but always had plenty of time for things like eating and exercising and reading for pleasure without ever feeling guilty about not studying. Lavi se bel (life is beautiful). So far I have read The Uses of Haiti (Farmer), The Botany of Desire (Pollan), Sense and Sensibility (Austen), Night (Wiesel), Blink (Gladwell), and am almost finished with The Sparrow (Russell). I think I am going to tackle Atlas Shrugged (Rand), which should slow me down a bit. The jokes about my ridiculous reading speed are already rampant…I had forgotten in college how fast of a reader I am because I never had time for non-school books.

Last night I was invited over to Patrick’s family’s home (the director and his family who live right across the road from the school campus) to meet some alumni of the school. There were four grads total, two of them were physicians, and they were all good natured and fun to be around and successful and completely fluent in English. It was quite inspiring to see the long term results of being educated at this school. One special thing about LCS is the scholarship program that they offer to graduating students, paying their tuition for college or professional school – all four of these young men had received a scholarship after graduating 10 years ago. The scholarship program is in a period of expansion right now, with the goal of sponsoring 150 graduates every year by 2011. I spent time talking with the doctors, who were great. One is simultaneously the director of a hospital in a rural part of Haiti and is working on his MPH (Master’s of Public Health) and the other is working for a French non-profit group that sends physicians to especially violent and war-torn areas; apparently they are leaving soon since Haiti has become relatively stable (good news).

I was pretty successful in lesson planning this past week, but I still have a way to go. Other highlights of the past week include killing a tarantula that I found in our room (actually less gross than the cockroaches, in my opinion), micromanaging students who are sent to the school to help clean up the grounds (seriously, if you turn around for one second they stop working…teenagers), and a sobering visit to a local orphanage run by the Missionaries of Charity (it was wonderful to hold babies and play with young children, even though the situation was sad). Also, the phone is apparently fully functional so if anyone wants to call next weekend email me and I will send the Rhode Island number!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ayiti, cheri

A little over a week has gone by since I arrived in Haiti! The flight down was uneventful and blessedly short compared to trips to Tanzania. I was surprisingly far underweight for my two checked bags (my Dad would be proud), which at first worried me a bit but after living here for a week I think I probably did manage to bring most of the things I might want. When we arrived Sunday afternoon and drove through the edge of Port-au-Prince in order to get to the school, the roads and the driving were reminiscent of Tanzanian streets with the exception that buildings are much closer to the road and things seem a bit less dusty here in Ayiti. Also, no one is wearing any “traditional” clothes and the U.S. influence in music and dress seems to be greater, which makes sense proximity-wise. After a tour of the school Sunday evening and a late dinner, I moved into my room to find that some others will already inhabiting it. Unfortunately, I was not okay with sharing living space with cockroaches, so I had my first roach killing experience within hours of my arrival (after the first week, my count is up to 14…most of those occurred in the first 4 days though). I live with one of the other volunteers in one of the two girls’ dorms on campus instead of in the main building where all of the other volunteers live. Being over here has challenges and perks…but now that we have running water (!!!) I really have nothing to complain about.

We woke up early Monday morning to begin working, which is how we have spent every weekday morning since. At 6 am we gather for morning prayer, then eat breakfast, then begin whatever physical labor needs to get done (so far lots of cleaning, painting, moving rocks, etc.). The group includes 9 volunteers and around 15 Haitian staff…all of the Haitians who live here are great and much more desensitized to U.S. Americans than the Tanzanians I spent time with, so interactions thus far have tended to be more genuine I think, which is refreshing. After work, we eat, then have a couple of hours of Creole class – grammatically very similar to Swahili – then hopefully a bit of free time, dinner, group activities, bed…and then start all over again. Before I got sick, I had been getting up every morning at 4:45 to run around the soccer field and basketball court which is monotonous but makes me feel much better.

The heat has been nice! It has been between 85 – 95 degrees the whole time (maybs a bit cooler at night) but the humidity seems really low and I LIKE the warmth. And I especially like that it is all year round. Around 6 pm it usually starts raining, anything from a light drizzle to an all out thunderstorm – very pretty.

I wasted no time in getting sick, erlack. From Saturday until yesterday (Wednesday) I was vomming on and off…it did not get too bad until Tuesday, when I starting voming uncontrollably; that is when the director over here decided to restrict me to a white bread and Coca Cola diet, which has worked wonders. Today I managed to eat some corn grits for breakfast and some peanut butter for lunch and kept it down, so I am hopeful that will continue and I can be done with being sick in Haiti forever.

School starts in about 2 weeks!! The first year students came for orientation this week, and they were very cute. I found out that I am teaching computers [all grades], Sanciem Natural Science [7th grade], and Twaziem Biology [10th grade]…so so excited to teach science! Before I came they were not sure if it would be feasible, but it all worked out. Today we are visiting the book depot so I hope to start lesson planning soon!

Internet access thus far has been less regular than expected...desole (sorry). I think once the school year starts and things are one more of a schedule I will be able to use the nets more often. In the meantime, hopefully I will continue to post a bit, and I would love to hear from you thru comments, email, or snail mail! Hand drawn pictures by children are especially appreciated and will be added to the collection already on my wall (mesi, Nicole!) which has plenty of space for more. That reminds me, children from the neighborhood are often invited into the school to use the playground, and last week I had the opportunity to play with them; very, very cute. The community around the school is very poor (as most of Haiti), but the director and especially his wife do a great job of local outreach so relations seem quite good from what I have experienced thus far.