Twenty-one year-old Stephanie Meancourt held her head high as she walked toward me in her new hot pink dress. She grinned at the audience and then, with a shaky hand, reached for her diploma. Like almost every graduate sitting in front of me, this was the first diploma Stephanie has received, and I feel confident that it will not be her last. “I have changed my mind about life,” Stephanie struggled to explain in English. “I see my life in a new way.”
When We Advance gave me the opportunity to begin an English program, I was thrilled. I became a teacher because I always have believed that education is the key to social and financial progress for all, but especially for those who are the most needy. Having taught in the New York City public school system for five years, I have seen many examples of how education has changed lives, but never has the power of education been so clear to me as it was on Friday, October 7 in Waff Jeremie, a neighborhood in the worst slum in Port-au-Prince. That day, forty-five men and women who had passed the We Advance Level One English Course proudly accepted their diplomas.
“We feel more independent,” Jedelene Latendresse, age twenty-one, explained as she described the effects of We Advance’s English Education Program on the female students. “We feel more confident, that we can do more by ourselves and rely less on the men.”
And men in Waff Jeremie have benefited from the program as well. Two months ago, Anderson LaPierre often went hungry because he had no money for food. Still, however, he came to English class promptly every day, always did his homework and eagerly participated in class activities. A couple of months ago I had the good fortune of meeting an American who is president of a magnetic components factory in Port-au-Prince. He happened to be looking for a hardworking, intelligent and good-natured young man to work for him. When I learned this, Anderson immediately came to my mind. The next day I gave Anderson fifty Gourdes (just over one American dollar) for a haircut, and he went to the factory for an interview. Now Anderson has a job, and though it doesn’t pay much, he eats every day and saved enough money to buy me a beautiful engraved box. He also passed his We Advance Level One English Language Exam and has a certificate to prove it.
This program is special because it is not just an English course; we have incorporated into the curriculum social issues that are relevant to our students such as domestic and sexual abuse, birth control and HIV/AIDS. We encourage our students to share their opinions and experiences and to dialogue about these issues. Perhaps not every We Advance student will find a job or become fluent in English, but all have gained self-confidence and determination to improve their lives and give their country a better future.
Written by Clare Harwood
Clare Harwood is a teacher for We Advance. She has taught in the New York City public school system for 5 years and received a Master’s in English Education at Columbia University Teachers College.