Peace Literacy: Advocacy and Action in Haiti

Nov 24th, 2016 | By | Category: BLTN Global, BLTN International, Fall 2016, Featured

Andover Bread Loaf: Advocacy and Action

by Chantal Kenol-Desmornes
Bridge Academy and College Classique Feminin
Port au Prince, Haiti
BLSE 2015

Editor’s note: This talk was presented to the Bread Loaf Vermont community on July 14, 2016. 

img_6871Good evening everyone. It’s good to be back on this beautiful mountain. And it feels especially good to be here with you, among colleagues, partners, and enduring friends.

It has been a tough year in Haiti in general and a tough academic year also. There are things happening in our space, and I believe all over the world, that are not pretty. Gaps are widening; groups are radicalizing and forcefully claiming their private spot in the public space. As this is happening, it is particularly suited to talk about peace literacy and networking, concepts we should not only define but also own and express through our choices and actions.

I think my year has been significantly influenced by last summer’s discussion of the public space. In a world where resources are becoming increasingly scarce, it has become urgent, even essential to share the little that each has. The word “network” has become a buzz word, but in the case of literacy and education, there is no true way without it.

I come from a country where we have learned to fend for ourselves as best as we can because the notion of “State” is practically nonexistent as far as providing for the basic necessities of our people. As a people, we have learned endurance, but also, on the flip side, individuality. Now we are left at a loss and destitute because what we have been doing to get by on our own no longer works. I believe the time has come to change our ways and pull our resources together. A not-so-great leader of our people would use as his slogan: “Yon sèl nou fèb, ansanm nou fò, ansanm ansanm nou se lavalas.” “By oneself we are weak, together we are strong, all of us together, we are a riptide.” He eventually used the riptide he had created for his own benefit and we are worse off because of that, for he made the country lose a rare, maybe unique opportunity to make history once again and build a better future for our people.

The way I have appropriated the notion of public space is in effect that pulling together of individual resources, experiences, and knowledge to create the critical mass that will bring about significant, relevant, and long-lasting changes. I believe our insignificant single drop makes a significant difference when it is added to other drops. It can make an ocean that people cross to learn about and from one another. That certainly happens all the time with Bread Loaf and the Bread Loaf Teacher Network.

Thus, after leaving Bread Loaf last summer, I assessed my resources and tried during the year to pull them together. This year alone, we have had three writing workshops in my school, only one of which I personally facilitated. The other two were conducted respectively by members of Atelier Jeudi Soir, my writing group, and the editorial team of a new magazine called 360o with which Atelier Jeudi Soir collaborates and shares a few members. The focus of the second workshop was teaching 9th to 12th graders how to start a magazine in their school or other spaces in which they live, such as their neighborhood or church. The workshop I facilitated was part of an activity organized with the College Classique Feminin (CCF) Alumni Association where former students of our school were invited to share with current students their experience and knowledge in the field that they embraced after graduation. I participated in this two-day event as a former student of the school and contributed with my expertise in writing. Thus another network is at play here: former students sharing with present ones the knowledge and experience they have acquired. They are answering, in a safe space, their questions and concerns about the future. We also had at the school where I teach part time, Bridge Academy, a family literacy night organized by Jenny Elie and Tatiana Berhmann, respectively ABL 2013 and 2014, in which parents and children shared words, snacks, laughs, tears, and mostly had meaningful communication with each other. It was also an opportunity for parents, school faculty and staff to meet and get to know one another on a more personal level. This literacy night created new and lasting bonds as well as fostered understanding between parents, children, and school staff.

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Images from a recent Family Literacy Night at Bridge Academy in Port au Prince, Haiti.

Last but not least, although unexpected, I want to mention the collaboration on the Westwood Literary Magazine with Laura (Benton), Matthew (Haughton), and our respective students. I have to say in confidence that this year I had difficulties teaching literature and writing effectively to my 12th grade class. My customary communicative passion for literature was not rubbing off on them. I was not having much success in fostering their interest and creativity—that is until I was asked by Laura to start a collaboration on the magazine. She may not know that, but she actually came to MY rescue. I saw my students awake as we were brainstorming ideas for their contributions. Of course we lost a few enthusiasts along the way, but the majority stayed the course and we have a quite decent spotlight issue in the Westwood Magazine to show for it. Along the way, my students learned skills, expressed personal feelings, concerns, and emotions, advocated for equity. They engaged other classes and students with the making of a film, made arrangements with the school administration to provide a space and after school time to film a sequence. So, yes, thank you Matt and Laura. I felt weak and ready to give up but the Network provided my students and me the necessary boost to keep moving forward. The spotlight issue also features students’ poems in French and Creole written during one of the workshops in C.C.F., along with their English translations. Finally, Magalie Boyer, ABL 2012, and her church-based writing group contributed to the spotlight issue with strong and inspirational texts from the young women in her group.

Also relevant to networking and the concept of Peace Literacy are the publications that came out during the year as part of the extended network that Bread Loaf gradually becomes as people who have been touched by its philosophy and teachings are resolutely “acting for change”.  Tatiana Berhmann set up a student committee to produce the Bridge Herald, a student-run newsletter which published three issues during the school year. dEmanbrE magazine, a collaboration between Atelier Jeudi Soir and Pen Haiti, has published and translated the third poem by a Bread Loaf faculty member, Rae Paris. Previous issues of the magazine had featured poems by Tracy Smith and Ruth Foreman with their French translation. Atelier Jeudi Soir also published, in collaboration with the renowned French publishing company Actes Sud, a bilingual anthology of Creole poetry from 2016 to the present, thus giving the Creole language and the poets who write in that language both the exposure and the chance to have their voice and message heard in the global literary universe.

All these are examples of how collaboration and networking can and should be used to promote peace literacy and bring about cultural understanding and sustainable change in our societies and the world.

Thank you very much.


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