Summer Camp 2017 – Week 6 (Laurice)

This past week, I joined my daughter, Cassandra Clemente, at Tree of Hope Haiti to help out with the 2017 Summer Camp program.  As Cassandra’s mom, it’s been a lot of fun watching this program develop from the heart of a young woman who had fallen in love with Haiti, its people, its culture and the community of Grand-Goâve.  I’ve been privileged to see the many hours of Math and English lesson planning that went into the Summer Camp program’s development in 2016.  I watched from the sidelines during that fateful Skype meeting as Cassandra made her proposal to Gama and Angela.   I silently cheered with excitement when they gave their acceptance.  And then the real fun began as I watched Cassandra work tirelessly to spread the word of her program and raise funding needed for Summer Camp 2016, gathering school supplies and finding a way to transport it all to Haiti in just 2 hockey bags, all the while learning to speak Creole at an amazing pace. Somehow, being the determined young woman that she is, she did just that, and her dream came to fruition last year.  Summer Camp 2016 had a class of 38 students held under a little tent in the TOHH yard and it was a huge success.
I have to admit being a bit nervous about how Summer Camp 2017 could be organized to accommodate so many more kids.  In just one year, the program had grown from 38 students to over 100.  It’s been amazing to watch as Gama, Angela and Cassandra focused on ensuring this year would be just as successful for these children and more planning began to achieve this.  From beginning the Pavilion Project which would serve as a classroom and shelter for the kids from the heat as well as a venue to hold other community events, to utilizing the advanced older students as classroom “helpers,” breaking down the children into 3 specific classes based on age and level of learning, and introducing the Summer Camp Mission Trips, I saw firsthand that, together, they achieved their goal and created another amazing Summer Camp program for over 100 kids!
What an amazing week it has been for me to witness this! I am completely amazed at the curriculum Cassandra has put together for these children, stimulating and challenging them at each particular level of learning, and the way in which she instructs and conducts her classroom. She is an exceptional teacher to her students and her passion and love for Haiti and these kids shines through.  I quickly learned that the TOHH Summer Camp offers so much more than Math and English lessons.  It is love in action.
As Cassandra had shared with me last year, before these children can receive the help they need with academics, they first need those basic everyday things we all take for granted – a pair of shoes, a meal, shelter, basic nursing care, and a loving presence in their lives as many of these kids have suffered the loss of one or both parents.  TOHH gives them all this, supplementing their academics during these summer months, when they would otherwise have nothing to do; providing a snack and a drink, knowing the one good meal most normally ate each day was the one they had at school; and providing them with an amazing teacher who thinks of them as her own kids, knows each one’s unique story and does all she can to grow each child with love, discipline and an understanding of their culture and specific particular needs.
What fun I had learning to know these children this week, something which isn’t easy to do when you only know four basic sentences in Creole!  It’s funny how quickly you can become attached to these kids in spite of that.
There was Johnsley, the 16 year old boy with a hunger to learn English.  I first saw Johnsley working as an English translator in church on Sunday and was completely impressed with him. I’m horrible with names, but quickly recognized Johnsley by the composition notebook he always had in hand, and the way he would greet me each day with “Hello Laurice!  What new English words can you teach me today?” in his cute Haitian accent.  I quickly found out that it wasn’t easy to find a word that wasn’t already in Johnsley’s notebook!  By the end of the week, Cassandra and I were reading his little book to learn a few new words ourselves!
Wilzer, at 18 years old, is one of the oldest TOHH sponsored children, who is an advanced student with exceptional English as well. Wilzer impressed me with his quiet and mature nature, a polite and caring leader who worked with the younger students in Summer Camp each Monday through Thursday. But you could tell Friday, the advanced student’s class day, was absolutely his favorite day of the week!
Both Wiltzer and Johnsley are so advanced that Cassandra had begun giving these two their own, more challenging activities.  For this week, they were each tasked with translating their favorite books from English to Creole.  Never have I seen two young men smile so widely, happy and excited to receive a challenging school assignment as these two boys were! For the next two and a half hours, these two translated their books, cover to cover, copyrights and infringements included, proud as could be of their achievements!
Daicha is a sweet 12 year old girl who is a firm little leader and disciplinarian to the younger students. She seems to have developed an interest in becoming a nurse since attending the Wound Workshop that the Holiday Sponsorship team held last year.  If ever someone had a scrape or a cut, you could bet Daicha was nearby, eager to put on some gloves and help assist Cassandra in taking care of the wounded!
On Monday, I met sweet and shy little Jean Guerry and his older sister who brought him in to the office to meet with Cassandra after becoming sponsored last week.  How touching it was to witness the impact a new sponsorship has on a child and their family and to watch the joy as we welcomed him into Summer Camp for the first time on Tuesday.  This little boy is absolutely adorable! Quiet, shy and intent to stay focused on learning, it was so rewarding to see Jean Guerry look up at you and smile, feeling welcomed and reassured with a little kindness that didn’t require the two of us to speak the same language.
In preparing for my trip, Cassandra had asked me to pack as many protein bars as I could carry.  Over the course of the week, I watched and learned more of the children’s stories as Cass would discreetly pull a child aside and offer them a bar where none of the others could see.  Like any good teacher, Cassandra, I learned, was watching her students carefully, knowing when someone wasn’t quite right, was unable to focus, having a growth spurt or simply hadn’t had a real meal in a while.  She realized early on last year that if these children were to learn successfully, first their basic needs had to be met.
There are so many children and stories to tell from the course of this short one week trip.  I had so many wonderful moments, but I think my absolute favorite was the joy I saw in the students’ faced who had followed Gama, Cassandra and I on our Friday excursion to Taino beach.  I wondered why these kids would possibly walk almost an hour in this sweltering heat to join us for this special trip.  But after feeding them the leftovers from our delicious lobster feast, treating them to an ice cream and having fun swimming together and cooling off at the beach, I realized that, in this moment, they had all that we get to enjoy in America almost every day – a full stomach, relief from the oppressive heat and a brief moment when they could just be children, having fun in the water, laughing and playing and without a care in the world. It was beautiful.
It’s hard to make sense of the injustice and unfairness that comes with life in Haiti, and what many of its people must live without. Or to understand why some, like myself, are fortunate enough to be born into a life where our bare necessities are always met and actually taken for granted. It’s hard to leave behind these children who are hungry, dirty and in need of these basic comforts to which every person is entitled.  This is made easier though knowing that TOHH, Gama and Angela and their staff remain behind doing the hard work and that there is much we too can do here in the states to help them.



As Summer Camp comes to a close next week, the staff at TOHH will begin to focus on preparing their 112 sponsored children for school which begins in September. That mean 112 kids measurements will be taken, 112 uniforms will be sewn, 112 pairs of shoes will be donated or purchased and 112 backpacks will be filled with school supplies. This is a lot of work and requires much funding. Please consider helping TOHH in any way you can.  Donate a used backpack or clothing, buy a block and help fund the Pavilion, join one of the Mission Trips, ship a barrel of supplies or make a financial donation.  Nothing we do in the States to help is too small.


And please remember in your daily prayers the beautiful people of Haiti and the loving staff of TOHH, who worked tirelessly every day to bring a better future to this community.  Together, I know we all can make a difference in the lives of these beautiful people.

~ Laurice, Summer Camp 2017 Missionary

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