My Barrier Becomes a Bridge

This is the second of a series of blog posts from my recent work in Haiti.  


The Language Barrier had become a Language Bridge. Because I couldn’t explain the program myself, Pepe explained it as he understood it and as he appreciated it, so it meant more to everyone–him, Ketchma, her family, and Sam. My only contribution was to push a button on my phone that brought the heartfelt words of students in the USA across the water and over the language barrier to touch the hearts of those hearing them in THEIR first language, not mine. What an amazing bridge that was.

Most Americans speak one language, English. Me included. As Michael Smolens, my close ally and founder of the Dotsub translation platform likes to remind people, only 6% of the world’s population speaks English as a first language. 94% do NOT speak English as a first language. True fact.

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This fact hit me pretty quickly when I woke this morning and didn’t know where or how to get breakfast or how to ask. My hostess, Mme. Maryse, arranged for me to stay in the guest room at the house of a friend of hers, so that’s where I am. The person who owns the house is away, so it’s just me and people who work for her. They speak French and Haitian Creole. I don’t.

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It is very comfortable.

Back in the USA I know, as a city dweller, that it’s not smart to just wander in a city if you don’t know where you are or where you are going. So I wasn’t going to just wander around on my first morning and was contemplating eating peanuts for breakfast when someone kindly appeared with coffee and breakfast for me on a tray. Just like that.

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I had that sudden realization that being unable to communicate really heightens my capacity to receive the kindness of strangers with gratitude. More than I could imagine it turned out.

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Before I came to Haiti, I had the good fortune to be connected to an organization called PAZAPA. It means “step-by-step” in Creole. They are an NGO that has worked in Haiti for the past 30 years to support students living with disabilities and their families in and around the coastal city of Jacmel. Jacmel is about a two and a half hour drive south of Port-au-Prince. As it says on their website, it has been a widespread practice to call persons with disabilities “cocobai” which means “worthless” in Creole. PAZAPA, whose staff is 80% Haitian, has been working to reverse that culture in specific communities for 30 years. From what I saw today, they are doing it powerfully.

When I was invited to go with Pierre Paul Exilus, known as Pepe, on a PAZAPA village visit on my first day in Haiti, I jumped at the chance. We hope our future Dreamline work will take us into the villages where not only students, but entire communities, will participate in our growing Dreamline and Value Flags program. (More on that in another post.) This was a great chance to form a connection.

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When I got a WhatsApp text from Pepe this morning, asking where I was in Jacmel, I had to tell him I was in Port-au-Prince. Since Pepe spoke to someone last night who knew where I was, I thought he knew where I was. Nope. Barrier.

But after WhatsApp calls to the US, then back to Port-Au-Prince, and with support from one of our sponsoring organizations, the PRODEV Foundation, I found myself in a van driven by Tiga, going through the seemingly endless sprawl of Port-au-Prince and then zig zagging back and forth and back and forth up the seemingly endless ascent of the mountains, flanked by farms, mangos for sale (there are something like 120 varieties of mangoes grown in Haiti I learned) and much more. At last we crested the range and could see the ocean in the distance. There was Jacmel. Tiga’s driving was amazing.

 

Back down at sea level, we entered the bustling streets of Jacmel and found the street we got as a destination. But where was the school? My dauntless driver Tiga called the school and then got a motorbike taxi to lead us there. That’s what they said to do. It worked.

School had been closed that day because of the recent heavy rains (they make some roads impassable). I got to see the setting, though, and learn about the programs they do year round which serve more than 200 families with children living with disabilities in the morning programming and village outreach, and an entirely different group who are all hearing impaired in the afternoon. Annie Lessage, who could speak my first (and only) language, was my guide. I got to speak with her and Jean Joseph Forgeas, the Site Administrator, about my program, share its written description in French, and then play some flags.

What do I mean by “play” some flags? Well, back in Philadelphia, the very kind parent of one of my former students created audio translations of ten Dreamline Flags before I left. I had five of those flags on a line with me, their five audio files on my phone, and a bluetooth speaker. So I could hang the flags, play them one at a time, and they cut through the language barrier like a hot knife through butter.

Haitian Creole


English

While all of this was happening, Pepe arrived after his day’s visits to the surrounding villages, so he took it in as well. And then he said we should get in the van and go. He wanted me to meet the PAZAPA village supervisor in Cayes-Jacmel and one specific family–the family of Ketchma, a girl with disabilities who, he said, was close to his heart.

Tiga was game and off we went, talking flags in my backpack, and headed out of Jacmel. The van slowed considerably when we drove off the main road onto a rugged dirt one, and then even more when we turned off onto another road. I’d say we were going maybe three miles an hour to manage the ruts.

But go we did, and we picked up Sam, in his fluorescent yellow PAZAPA shirt. Sam Jules is a person living with disabilities who is also the PAZAPA village supervisor. He lives in Cayes-Jacmel and is training as a runner with the dream of representing Haiti in the Paralympics one day. When we arrived at the home of Ketchma, there was some food cooking on a small outdoor fire, or so it seemed to me, and an older woman and some younger ones greeted us. Also a young man. Someone went to get Ketchma since she was’t there at the moment.

Ketchma arrived, smiled at Pepe, and learned from him why we were there. I saw a child just the age of the students I had been teaching in the USA only a few weeks before. I was teaching in an all girls school, and I had the teacher’s sense that she was a girl with an active, inquiring mind. And I think I was right.

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Pepe, Sam, and Ketchma

Ketchma was offered a chair, along with me, and after I had tied my flag line to two posts, Pepe asked me to play the first one. He explained to Ketchma and her family what our program was, and I could see that when I played the words, many of which were about inclusivity, about respecting and accepting people universally, they hit home. And Pepe became the teacher. He asked Ketchma questions about what the poems meant. When she didn’t know or didn’t quite know, he didn’t tell her the answer. He asked me to play the recording again and then repeated the question. Lessons learned.

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One of the Talking Flags

Haitian Creole


English

When we left, it was with a great feeling. On the way back to the office, Pepe told me he’d like to share our program with families in other villages and to share it with adult students to whom he teaches Sign Language. Our program had become his program. And now I know why.

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The Language Barrier had become a Language Bridge. Because I couldn’t explain the program myself, Pepe explained it as he understood it and as he appreciated it, so it meant more to everyone–him, Ketchma, her family, and Sam. My only contribution was to push a button on my phone that brought the heartfelt words of students in the USA across the water and over the language barrier to touch the hearts of those hearing them in THEIR first language, not mine. What an amazing bridge that was.

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As we drove back across the mountains at sunset, I could see the physical beauty of this extraordinary place, and it only highlighted the inward beauty I had been privileged to witness.

It was 9:00 when we got back. I was starved.

Not Staying in Place

This is the first of a series of blog posts from my recent work in Haiti. The real date of this posting is April 21, but I am backdating it to April 4 when it was written and experienced. –Jeffrey Harlan


The opportunity we have before us–in Haiti and around the world– is how to support the translation of that thinking into actions that help all of us get “out of place” in relentless pursuit of our collective dreams.

April 4, 2018

Today marks the day when, 50 years ago, a bullet stopped the life of an individual who would not stay in place. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. moved people, both literally and figuratively. His movement has moved our world and still does. His legacy does not stop moving.
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And today I am on a flight to Haiti where I will work with 5th and 9th grade teachers and students at Ecole Nouvelle Zorange to bring them our Dreamline program. By next Thursday I expect the students will have created moving expressions of their dreams and aspirations in words and art through Dreamline Flags , and they will have connected and shared those dreams with each other by displaying and celebrating the work in their school community, and far beyond by sharing and celebrating them through the Dreamline app and website.

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I am already very moved by the generosity and vision that has brought me to this place from so many individuals–by Maryse Pennette-Kedar who not only extended the invitation to work at the school she founded but also is hosting me and providing translation for me over these next nine days–by Gregory Mevs, Co chair of the West Indies Group, who is also supporting this trip–by the two friends who, over the past weeks, designed and built from scratch a “talking Dreamline” so when you touch a button next to the flag you hear it from a speaker in Hatian Creole–and by the parent volunteer who readily, and on short notice, made audio translations of flags into Hatian Creole, so the voices of students from Alaska, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Shanghai, Zambia, and Macedonia will talk directly to their counterparts in Haiti. We are moving together. We are not staying in place.

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“Talking Dreamline” wiring, circuitry, fabric, and all,–battery powered and portable–packed in my bag along with everything else we will need.

I think that for so many students, the harshest reality of their world are the voices that say:
“Sit down.”
“Stay in place.”
“Not you.”
“You can’t do that.”
“No one can do that.”

They are the voices that cause students and their dreams to shut down, to stay quiet, to stay in place.

Dreamline disrupts that, creates a safe place to disrupt that.

And why does that matter? Why does it matter now?

While on the one hand, our schools may tell students, “Study hard and you can achieve what you want.” or “You can do anything, just try hard.” — there are so many other messages that say, “Stay put, stay in your place, do your job, follow the directions.” When we look at the daily experience of students’ lives in school, how many messages say “Go for it,” and how many messages say “Stay in place?”

It is my experience that we lean very heavily on the “stay in place” side. I think it’s one of the key things young children have to learn–literally first–to actually sit in one place as part of being in school, and then they learn it in other ways as they get older.

In the common culture that most of us live in, in the complex structures that make cities work, and so much that stems out from them, it’s actually really important that things, to a certain extent, stay in place.

For better or worse, equitably or inequitibly, our common culture provides food for billions, housing for billions, and some kind of communal life. It functions because, in an overall scheme of things, people stay in place, fulfill roles that make it work.  Like any machine, the pieces need to stay in place or they don’t interact with each other–they don’t work. Parts out of place is one of the ways we define “broken” on a mechanical level.

I imagine you can see where I’m going with this by now. The “machine” that’s our common culture has a few serious problems that we’re starting to notice when we see things like the rising numbers of very poor, of food insecure individuals, of what we hear weekly on the news about climate disasters we seem to be causing.  Or we see it’s not working when people get “out of place,” taking guns to their workplace–or schools–and using them.

This is a large target to hit, so I don’t need to go on much about it–but it is why I think Dreamline matters.

Dreamline provides a place for students to get “out of place” and safely experiment with their thinking. The opportunity we have before us–in Haiti and around the world– is how to support the translation of that thinking into actions that help all of us get “out of place” in relentless pursuit of our collective dreams.

Dr. King did not stay in place for one second. His life was ended by a bullet, but the dreams are moving –now.
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Cloud Cloth Annual Campaign

20180131_20344277830300.jpgWhen our son Nathaniel was two years old, he would come into the living room shouting, “Mommy, Daddy, come see! It’s fun raising on TV!” And he was hard to resist.

Walking into our bedroom with the TV on, we’d see the announcer who had just told kids, at a break in the programming,  to go get their parents–for the fundraising.

I wish I could come to you with the glee of a two-year-old about Fun Raising! But what I can offer is something perhaps as persuasive– though that may be hard to imagine:

Connecting the world through shared dreams.

We’re not “interrupting our programming” to do this, but I want to tell you what Cloud Cloth Programming included this past year.

In 2017:

  • We supported and connected more than 80 teachers from 69 different sites who did something that otherwise wouldn’t happen in schools: declaring and sharing dreams to facilitate trust and community.
  • We gave every one of our 10,046 students from age 3-18 an audience for their flags, and a metaphor to remember that we’re all connected– the line of  flags in their hallway and the other lines around the world.
  • We created a global celebration of dreams, centered at The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, but reaching as far as a remote mountaintop orphanage in Tanzania.
  • We released the beta Dreamline mobile app  and made a space for each student’s voice–literally–in the crowded world of online information.
  • We wrote new lesson plans, answered calls and questions, gave instructional workshops, did Skype inservice programs, and whatever it took to bring a common experience to 10,046 students from the USA, China, Belize, France, Macedonia, Morocco, Romania, and Tanzania.

Of course we’re not stopping all that while we ask you for the money to keep it going.  One look at headlines and you’ll know why.

In the coming year the programming of Cloud Cloth Education AND the responsibilities of Cloud Cloth Education will expand rapidly with your help, providing:

  • Dream Path: A pilot program to explore the analysis of Dream Flags in a school community, determine common dreams, and work with area resources to provide educational programming directed at students’ dreams.
  • Dreamline App: Full inclusion of social media friendly and searchable Dream Flags through Dreamline, reaching participants and supporters around the world.
  • The Dreamline Program: Continued support of  Dreamline programming and operation.
  • Material & Markers: Sending cloth and other flag supplies to schools who lack them.
  • What it Takes: Workshops, inservice programs, and full-on support for the teachers who bring dream sharing into their classrooms.
  • A Free Program: Lesson plans and online platforms to connect students to their dreams and each other.
  • Inclusive Community: Programs such as the annual National Constitution Center celebration, the Martin Luther King Day Festival, and the Dreams In Transit exhibition. Also one to one school connection programs, such as the Dreams and Friendship Exchange and the iEarn Youth Forum.

To reach these goals, we need to raise $25,000 through our Annual Campaign.

And if we can exceed that amount? That means more reach, more community, more resources delivered to those communities to support students becoming true to their dreams and the world.

So pick a cloud and join us. 

Make Your Own Cloud
provides what you wish

$20 Cumulous
provides materials and program for one classroom

$200 Stratus
provides materials and program for a grade level

$2,000 Altocumulus
provides materials and program for an average school

$20,000 Altostratus 
provides materials and program for a district
Contact jharlan@CloudClothEducation for donation details.

$200,000 Cirrocumulus
provides materials and program for a state-wide program
Contact jharlan@CloudClothEducation for donation details.

$2,000,000 Cumulonimbus
provides materials and programs for the USA or equivalent
Contact jharlan@CloudClothEducation for donation details.

$20,000,000 Atmosphere
provides materials and programs for the world.
Contact jharlan@CloudClothEducation for donation details.

 

Why Now?

We can not deny the potential to create empowered and aligned dreams that is unique to our time and exceptional for humanity.

In an email I’m about to write to the Dreamline teachers around the world, I’m going to ask them to SIGN UP NOW for joining our program with their students this year.

So why now?

This year, as in most years, I feel that helping our students focus on their dreams, on helping them see the power in aligning them to each other, teaching them this habit of heart and mind, is more important than ever. But especially now. This now.

When I opened my phone this morning, the first story from Google was that the Secretary General of the UN was issuing a “red alert” to world leaders, urging them to resolve to “Narrow the gaps. Bridge the divides. Rebuild trust by bringing people together around common goals.”

And who are those “world leaders?”

I believe they are us, teachers, educators. For who else is more concretely standing in front of or next to, leading and coaching, children in schools around the globe today? Who else is more directly leading the world that will become? Who?

There are about 50 million teachers around the world. And I believe that we are the ones with the power and the responsibility to do this.

But how?

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Continue reading “Why Now?”

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