When I was a child growing up in Bellanse, there was not an early childhood education program at close proximity. The nearest kindergarten was located in the town of Jacmel, a 24-hour journey by row boat. During the hurricane season, it was a 2 to 3-day trip, walking a trail through the mountains, until reaching the town of Marigot. From Marigot, the city of Jacmel is a 45-minute bus ride away. I was a 4-year old when I had my first adventure away from my family home in order to enter pre-school. Looking back, notwithstanding my emotional distress, that was a worthwhile experience. From an educational point of view, the development of my cognitive, linguistic, socio-emotional skills at such an early age, gave me a head-start in life, and has continued, well into my adult life, to influence my attitude.
When in the summer of 2015, the Bellanse community approached my wife and I with the request of helping to provide an early education program in the city, Cindy and I eagerly and positively responded. Childhood should be a time filled with fun memories, games and play. An early education program right here, in Bellanse, walking distance from home for so many of our children is the place to start. In Haiti, early education is a privilege reserved for the children of the rich, while the children of the common classes and the poor are left behind. As a result, students coming from poor rural communities like Bellanse, experience cognitive gaps and severe developmental delays that created maladjustment and puts them at risk of dropping out of the elementary school cycle. Our early education program is a small step forward in preventing unnecessary dropouts in a country where access to education is already limited and is capped at an enrollment capacity of 50% (World Bank, 2003).
At “Foyer des Petits,” (“Home for the little ones”), the Head Master, Akline Pierre, as a matter of practice, gives the first priority to the poorest of the poor. Our clients come from home environments where their basic needs for food, shelter and clean water are not being met. Additionally, cultural practices of child labor, home environments with no books, no toys and a lack of adequate health care and nutrition limit the children’s educational experiences. Hence, this program represents a window of opportunity to address the social problem of inequality in the area. It’s potential benefits range from healthy development to greater capacity to learn while in school and increased productivity in adulthood.
Unfortunately, however, we are forced to keep our enrollment low at 30 students, despite a long waiting list. In our view, targeting quantity, getting children into school, in overcrowded classrooms, at the expense of quality creates a poor learning environment. At “Foyer des Petits” our children receive a good head-start. Our students are provided with individual chalkboards, chalk, crayons, pencils, lesson books, and toys their daily lessons. We create readiness for the transition to elementary school with a sound emphasis on preparation for reading, writing and counting literacy. Our librarian visits weekly to provide storytelling and occasional puppetry.
With all these activities, we still have a long way to go in order to achieve all of our objectives. We need additional funds in order to:
1.) Expand our program by creating a second session of 30 students. Estimated cost: $1,000 additional funds per year.
2.) Provide more educational materials and supplies such as building blocks, hand puppets, puzzles, memory games, in addition to consumable classroom materials. Estimated costs $2,000
3.) Increase teacher resources, including computer-assisted training and training in Waldorf or Montessori educational methods. Estimated costs $1500
Many children in developing countries are not able to achieve their full potential because of serious deficits in health, nutrition and proper cognitive and non-cognitive stimulation. Please consider becoming a supporter of our early intervention program “Foyer des Petits” in Bellanse.