By Lesley Machon
(AJNews) – The halls of the Calgary Jewish Academy (CJA) are not the only ones filled with excitement for the new school year — 5083 km away on an island in the Caribbean, Haitian students at God’s Littlest Angels (GLA) orphanage school are also sharpening pencils and preparing for the year of learning ahead. GLA is home, hospital and school for many Haitian children, located in the mountains above Petion-Ville, in the village of Fort Jacques.
“At least 85% of our kids were malnourished and suffered primary trauma at an early age. This has affected their cognitive development and many have challenges when it comes to structured learning,” explains Molly Little, Executive Director of GLA. These children’s stories are full of incredible early life challenges, but GLA is also a place of much beauty and healing. Molly continues, “We are very grateful that we have four teachers on staff who break the classes down into groups of 4-8 to help meet the kids at their level and offer just the right amount of challenge to encourage but not frustrate them.”
Along with their learning subjects in both Haitian Creole and French (the majority of their text books are written in French), the school is working to integrate a framework for English education. This includes an English classroom where students diligently expand their vocabulary and comprehension in what is a third language for many. This year, students will hone their linguistic skills by exchanging letters with the Junior High students here at the CJA.
Our Junior High English Language Arts curriculum this year has a global focus. We will begin our studies in Haiti, reading books by Haitian authors, written about Haiti, with protagonists the same age as the students. In addition, our podcasts, poetry, film, and art studies will be about Haiti. We will also be writing to pen pals at GLA. In addition to letters, we will also be raising and sending money for school supplies as well as NICU supplies for the children who live and learn at GLA. (*The orphanage will provide receipts for all purchases. If you’re interested in making a contribution email Lesley Machon at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Haiti rescued and received Jewish people during World War II. During the Holocaust, Haitian diplomats, many of them volunteers in European capitals, undertook a heroic effort to issue passports to as many Jews fleeing Nazism as they could. Having known oppression, the Haitian people were sensitive to the suffering of others. We acknowledge these cross-cultural acts of courage and solidarity with deep gratitude.
Our goal is to connect and relate to students in different cultures and circumstances in a way that is respectful and humble, preserving dignity and demonstrating curiosity. This is the Jewish way: to delve right in, learn from the people, and share our culture as well.
G-d is everywhere, as evidenced by smiling eyes of overseas pen pals, acts of mercy big and small, and efforts to establish connection in the name of our shared humanity. This is about students from both countries, seeking to learn about one another through exchanging stories. And if our grammar and sentence structure improves in the process…well, English teachers in both schools will have much to celebrate.
Lesley Machon is a Humanities Teacher at Calgary Jewish Academy.