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Kreyol Acquisition:
On the Move

November 1, 2008


This item follows an initial letter introducing the intention to seek Kreyol literature and provide it to school programs in Haiti, beginning with SODA a developing network of neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince.

On the move, so far we are:

  • Continuing pressure on McGraw Hill Publishing to provide a storehouse collection of (400+) Kreyol school texts no longer for sale.
  • Attempting to determine best price to print Kreyol literature in Port-au-Prince to save cost and complexity of shipping from outside Haiti. (Bill now has $300 and is saving $50 a month  to contribute to this effort in some fashion: purchase of single copies to duplicate or shipping if worth it. Waiting to begin this effort with efficiency.)
  • Spreading the word to writers, publishers, book distributors, linguists, educators, librarians and friends who might care about education in Haiti. (Just beginning. A list supplied by Emmanuel Vedrine is available.)
  • Seeking new blood – especially of the above type  people. And, of course, seeking to organize this effort while beginning with a model program in Port-au-Prince: SODA (a grass roots, up and running program in nine PaP neighborhoods that began in 2006. See the website – www.sodahaiti.org)
  • Brainstorming to think of additional methods to accomplish our goal on an ongoing basis.

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The Need for Good Literature in Classrooms in Haiti

  • Importance (necessary, critical) of reading as one speaks (Cf. Haiti)
  • Need for Kreyol literature in Haiti (and the diaspora)
  • Possibilities of acquiring Kreyol literature in/for Haiti
  • Means of acquisition and delivery
  • Possible initiatives
  • SODA as one model

All learners can be motivated greatly by innate pride in their personal abilities as they begin to recognize them by reading, experiencing them in the form of their native language – stories, plays, poems, essays, books written in the language they speak. In a Job Corps program I saw this happen. Books by black writers were inspiring to my students who were black young women from the US south and the Caribbean. It was shocking for me to discover, as a former teacher for 40 years, that almost no literature for Haitian people to read exists in Haiti.  In the case of schools in Haiti, exemplary reading material by writers of Haitian Kreyol would be important.

There are very few libraries in neighborhoods or schools in Haiti. Libraries are fundamentally essential to early as well as lifelong learning. Establishing respectable libraries, even on a neighborhood basis, in a country as destitute as Haiti will take much time, effort and resources. Classroom libraries are great motivators for learning. The proximity affords ease of access and, if variety of literature is displayed on classroom shelves, students are attracted. And the initial cost is much less than for building libraries, which can come later in the drive for Haitian literacy.

It is crucial to provide to Haitian learners (whether children or adult) good Haitian Kreyol literature in classroom or neighborhood libraries. The classroom library is easiest to begin with because a space is already available to expose eager minds to. Of course, all of this is enhanced by schools and educators, but the libraries themselves are repositories of jewels for the learners to mine and perfect to an extent on their own, also.

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More on the importance of Kreyol in Haiti

I. On Creole and its role in Haitian society

By Max Blanchet, on Bob Corbett's Haiti list, 20 January 1999

a few incontrovertible facts:

  1. Creole is a language invented in the crucible that was Saint Domingue as a result of the unequal interactions between the mass of slaves drawn from some 40 different African ethnic groups and their French masters. Some of the early works written in Creole included the poem Lisette by Duvivier de La Mahotière and the Sonthonax Declaration of 1794 that freed the slaves. The de jure recognition of a de facto reality. The work of our great writers in this century -- among them Morisseau-Leroy and Franketienne -- as well as the essential contributions by linguists in Haiti and abroad to codify the language should be enough to convince the most skeptical but fair-minded observer that we are dealing with a rich language capable of conveying the most subtle nuances of human thought in whatever field it should elect to exercise itself.
  2. Creole is spoken and understood by all Haitians -- 7.5 million in all.
  3. French is spoken by 15% of the 7.5 million. To be more precise, let us say that no more than 15% -- a generous figure most would agree on -- is functionally literate in French.
  4. Of the balance -- assuming an adult literacy rate 45% per UNDP statistics, an equal literacy rate among those 15 years old and younger and 12% under 4 and under -- we are talking in round numbers about 3,100,000 (*) Haitians who are illiterate. The poignancy of this statistic is conveyed by a simple observation, namely the number of our fellow citizens -- otherwise bright, hard-working people -- who are incapable of filling out the immigration forms during the typical Port-au-Prince/Miami run.
  5. Last but not least, an impartial observer would readily agree that the most rapid and efficient -- not to mention the most just, least-stressing psychologically and most socially empowering -- way to achieve some degree of modernization -- political, economic, educational, health-wise, etc. -- of Haitian society is to use Creole to tackle the massive problem of illiteracy.

What is to be done?

  1. A literacy drive to teach adults to read and write Creole.
  2. The Bernard Law should be revisited to insure that Creole is made the language of instruction in the primary cycle. This would be achieved by the requirement that the state examination at the end of primary school be given in Creole only. [Blanchet goes on to argue for detailed procedures at the secondary and university levels.]
  3. [Furthermore] the Haitian state should take steps to insure that Creole is made  truly functional in the workings of all state institutions. This would require that all state documents (tax forms, invoices, birth and death certificates, marriage certificates, land titles, legal codes, publications, official announcements and speeches, etc.) be made available in Creole and that the state bureaucracy, especially in courts of law, be induced to treat Creole as the equal of French. The goal would be to have such a practice firmly established by the year 2004.

[It seems less than genuine that Blanchet finally argues that the full adoption of Kreyol will bring about “a true blossoming of the French language in Haiti” since his position in 1999 was to argue for equality of the two languages according to the constitution.]

II. Haiti’s First Language Still Running Second

By Jane Regan, IPS, 26 November 2003

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Nov 26 (IPS)—All Haitians are united by a common language: Creole.

So proclaimed the banner flapping in the breeze near Haiti’s National Palace on Oct. 28, 2003, the 21st International Creole Day. The line comes from Article 5 of the country’s constitution,

For most Haitians—90 to 95 percent, according to linguist and Creole authority Yves Déjean—Creole is their only language. . . . [but] if you go into a court house, a schoolroom or a fancy store, look at the government newspaper, listen to at least one-half of local TV shows or check out advertisements for cars or credit cards, you would think that the only official tongue in Haiti was French...
A language can be a route to knowledge or a barrier to knowledge, he said in an interview. In Haiti, where school is taught in French, a language only 1 in 10,000 kids speak at home, it is a barrier. . . . All schools are now supposed to teach two hours of Creole writing and reading per week (although many ignore the rule). When a young Haitian shows up for first grade, Déjean is horrified to report, he or she is bombarded with reading, writing and arithmetic in a foreign language—French.  Many of those who make it through four years of school will leave without really knowing how to read or write anything, Déjean said.  Literacy campaigns in Creole will only work if the language is adopted in schools, at least for the first few years of learning, he said.

[A significant argument for the necessityof Printed Kreyol availability in Haiti’s schools and libraries is the  neurological wiring established by speech in Kreyol that embodies the brains of maturing Haitians.  This familiarity, which might be called the speaking vocabulary  and sentence patterns  of Haitians,  would be complemented by the printed word in Kreyol (if much of it existed) as with the natural learning process for any child with any native language where literature in that language is available. But there is so little printed literature in Kreyol in Haiti]:

More on the availability of Kreyol literature in Haiti

From Elizabeth Pierre-Louis, Director of FOKAL libraries in Haiti:

In response to my inquiry Ms Pierre-Louis told me, “Concerning your inquiry about books in Kreyol literature, it is to be deplored that there is very little being done and that most of the publishing efforts exists in the dyaspora  in the US more than in Haiti itself. Books continue to be published in French and even classics of our literature such as Gouverneurs de la Rosee (Masters of the Dew translated by Langston Hughes) by Jacques Roumain, is translated in 10 languages and still not extensively in Haitian Kreyol. This is a problem of course if a collection is to be created in  this language. There are books in Kreyol, poetry (self published by the  author usually), class texts and technical books, such as primary care for children, types of trees, etc. It is a long process to get books translated. I keep asking for that in public debates, that books of universal literature, that are in the public domain now, be translated and published at low price to give access to universal and national literature in our country. but my voice still stays unheard. In this regard, funding for such a venture will be very difficult to find since there is very little to aliment the collection.”

And, of course, since there are few libraries with any resources and few schools with any materials in the country, the problem is much greater. As was said at the outset, establishing respectable libraries, even on a neighborhood basis, in a country as destitute as Haiti will take much time, effort and resources. But it must be accomplished one day and one place at a time in small and large settings for the sake of effective learning and the dignity of Haitian people.

Who Can Help Bring Kreyol Literature to Haitian Students?

  1. Book sellers/printers/distributors*
  2. Publishers*
  3. Writers*
  4. Libraries and library affiliates*
  5. Teachers/educators*
  6. Individual persons who own a Kreyol library*
  7. And, of course, donors of money*

*Both in Haiti and in foreign countries (especially members of the Haitian diaspora)

What is Needed

  • We’re looking for -
  • Original Kreyol books and other items
  • Translations of Haitian writers’ works
  • Kreyol dictionaries as well as language study texts
  • Education texts in Kreyol
  • Translations of foreign works (Twain, Shakespeare, etc.)
  • Affordable means of transporting any of these from outside Haiti
  • And, of course, money to pay for these

Edwidge Danticat is perhaps one of the leading spokespersons for the authentic Haitians in or out of the country. It's interesting what Danticat says in her personal commentary that concludes her novel "Behind the Mountains": "What might seem odd is that even though the primary language of Haiti is Creole, this diary is written in English. However I would like you to imagine that Celiane wrote these words in her native tongue and that I am merely her translator." (165-166) Not intending to be harsh, I am compelled to think that thousands of Haitians would appreciate another translator to bring the message of Danticat to her people.

Why I Am Concerned About Haiti

I am a retired teacher of English: 10 years in public secondary education, 1 year at a Job Corps Center for young women from the USA South and the Caribbean, and 28 years at a youth correctional center in Maine. I want to stay active and give back to the “community” as my means (time, talent and treasure) allow. I have always been concerned about racial injustice from the time as a seven-year-old that I lived in Yarmouth, Maine, as a neighbor and friend of an eight-year-old mulatto boy named Brud Jackson. My search for a retirement avocation led me to a choice between the Jewish/Arab problem or the Haiti democracy (especially JB Aristide’s version) problem. I first went to Haiti in February of 2005 after the last coup and was hooked. Since then I have joined an effort to support and promote a Haitian neighborhood development program that has flourished almost exponentially since early 2006. It is called SODA and has a website at sodahaiti.org. I am a board member of Friends of SODA based in the U.S. This is a brief synopsis of my interest in the following hopeful venture. The information below might be considered a very rough draft of a project description to accomplish two objectives:

  1. Make known the importance of a severe deficiency in Haiti’s education possibilities – the near total lack of Haitian Creole literature in the country.
  2. Begin to seek ways to initiate acquisition and delivery of Kreyol literature to schools and libraries in Haiti.

Bill Davis
Board Member Friends of SODA (www,friendsofsoda.org)
1 Great Pond Terrace
Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107
207 799 7398

Note: Of course, newspapers in Kreyol can be used to some extent in schools (and probably are).

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