December 8, 2019 – The following article was provided by Mr. Jean St.Lot-Gervais who serves as President of Le Flambeau Foundation. This is part of a series featuring an inside look at each of the Board Members.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
– Nelson Mandela
I came to realize at an early stage in my life that our education system is not perfect yet with a helping hand and the right guidance, we can overcome the obstacles and burn through. I personally experienced this in my early years in Haiti, prior to coming to the United States. It is this experience that fuels my passion for giving back, with emphasis on early childhood education that can provide a head start for Haiti.
My earliest and clearest memory of my education experience began in a Catholic school in Haiti where there was a strict system of discipline and structure. It was in this environment where I was first exposed to the benefits, and the flaws, with the education system in place.
My first experience has to do with a game we played every Friday at my school – I must have been around eight years old and the darkest member of the class. The game was called Devils & Angels; and routinely I was instructed to play the devil. On one particular Friday I decided I would not be playing the devil. As I declared this, I was pulled aside by the priest at which point he asked me if I had ever seen a black angel. I was hurt and cried to my mother, who fortunately was able to transfer me to a new school. This experience opened my eyes to the prejudice and miseducation of our youth that was prevalent within the education system at the time. Consider that I was fortunate in 1) being able to go to school since most did not have the choice to go to school and 2) I had parents who could afford to transfer me. What happened to those who did not have this luxury?
And what happened to those brilliant youthful minds who never had the opportunity to learn French, speaking only Kreyol, who faced all the shut and locked doors of opportunity. What happened to them? This period in a child’s life is crucial. It has tremendous impact on the futures of our youth and of our country. We can influence which way the pendulum swings.
In Haiti, there is a disconnect between the education system and the population. Approximately 11 million people speak Kreyol with only 10% of the population fluent in French, yet the entire education system is in French. Early education is where the miseducation of Haitian youth begins and that is the reason I care so much about changing the current experience. To foster this change I made a personal commitment four years ago and helped create a primary school in rural Haiti, where access to education is inclusive while imposing the principles of Respect, Discipline, and Principle.
The school has 50 children of which approximately 60% attending the school are girls. We aim to provide equal opportunities for both male and female students. Language learning in Kreyol, English, and French, and soon to add Spanish; are offered. The goal is to give our youth a head start to becoming successful contributors to their families, to their communities, and to our country.
The school is designed to serve as an example of the possibilities students can achieve when they are given the proper tools to succeed and walk through opened doors. This is only the first step, but I strive to continue reforming our education system so that all students can be the angel to their own story.
Jean St.Lot-Gervais -12/8/19