By: Bette Vajda and Max Rudasill
(Editor's Note: The group is having internet connection problems, leading to a delay as the posts and pictures go from Haiti, to me, to the blog, sometimes with gaps in between. Sometimes, the posts will come without pictures and I will add those later. When I repost with pictures, I will specify as such in the title of the post.)
At the beginning of the day we were nervous to meet the kids for first time. The first moments at St. Paul’s were a bit awkward, as we arrived when the children were eating, and we didn’t know any Creole beyond the rudimentary, “What’s your name?” and, “How are you?”
When the English lessons started, there were more successes in mutual understanding. When I held up a piece of sidewalk chalk, intending to ask what color it was, a girl shouted “Pink!” before I could even ask. Communication was most effective between the French-speaking students and the French-speaking kids, but even those who didn’t speak French found some help in the Pocket Creole booklet.
Personally, I was lucky; I speak decent French, and I had actually had already co-hosted a summer camp for underprivileged kids who didn’t speak much English. That experience came in handy—and I knew it would—but I was surprised at how much it helped. I strove to keep the children as entertained as I possibly could, but it was difficult, because when someone doesn’t want to learn, they won’t.
Speaking of learning, I learned today that the average per-capita Haitian income is just over one US dollar per day. It’s easy to believe the limited view we have of Haiti represents the country as a whole, when in fact reality is much grimmer.
That said, Haiti is not hopeless. The children we met were vibrant, clever, and were legitimately happy to see us and play with us. The language barrier was the day’s biggest struggle—several times, students wanted to tell the children to stop, or to share, or just explain themselves, but were confronted with the fact that they couldn’t. While some groups were helped by bilingual adults, others were not.
Despite the barrier, as the day went on, nonverbal communication was established and relations continued to improve. Sports don’t need a language—that helped. As for arts and crafts, as long as you knew what letter they wanted for their bracelet, you were fine.
Though the barrier was significant, it wasn’t insurmountable. We loved the kids, and we hoped they liked us. We’ll find out tomorrow!