More than just a picnic… learning life lessons in Haiti, by Nadine Augustin Paul
By 9:00am my 35 children and I, armed with water and snacks, were ready to scramble up a mountain just outside Port au Prince. It was the last day of our summer program at EMINAF School and it was time to have our picnic and debrief about the things we learned during summer school. After a brief orientation about the day and praying together, we started our climb up the narrow path. The children were excited and had so much energy that they ran ahead of me (I couldn’t climb nearly as fast as they could). The town area of Fontamara faded in the distance as we climbed toward our destination and perfect picnic spot in Boutilier.
In less than an hour we stood overlooking Port-au-Prince, seeing the effects of the earthquake and the temporary houses that had been thrown together to provide shelter. The poor construction of the houses in the city disturbed the children and they wondered why it looked so bad.
As we continued to walk the children kept running ahead and calling back to me with encouraging words and telling me that I could make it and that it was easy. I told them to keep climbing and that I would reach the top just behind them. Their energy and happiness were so contagious that I became stronger with every step. The children were singing every song they could think of when we finally reached the top and found the most beautiful, greenest grass we had ever seen. I couldn’t explain the happiness I felt inside, it was like a paradise! The children and I could not keep our amazement inside; suddenly all the kids were running to get there. The children jumped and cried with excitement thinking that this beautiful place must be just like Heaven, their songs becoming even louder. We took about 15 minutes to eat, resting a little bit. Not all of the children had brought their lunch so they all shared. The beautiful mango trees provided a perfect place for us to rest and talk together.
We did some fun exercises, played a few games, and then began talking about the things they had learned in summer classes. I was proud to hear how they had grown, becoming more confident and open to sharing their thoughts with me as well as with each other. After this activity we played soccer, tic tac toe, and cards. The kids had so much energy! The physical activity gave way to cognitive activities which helped them to be quiet for a while. We had a wonderful opportunity to share the principles of health for the young people and we talked about ways to protect themselves and their bodies from harmful things and harmful people. To evaluate the summer lessons, I gave them a piece of paper to share their opinions, thoughts and suggestions. The kids shared how they enjoyed participating in the summer program and gave lots of great ideas as well. One girl remarked that she had not known that a 12 year old girl could get pregnant and she would warn all of her friends.
The last activity of the day was a great race competition between boys and girls. They all ran well but the girls were so motivated and eventually won the day! Girls don’t want to be left behind in the progress in Haiti, and I taught them that education is the key for to lead productive lives and they promised to do their very best in the new school year. Afterwards we took lots of pictures of each other. When it was time to go no one wanted to leave. These children loved spending time together and I know that our relationship grew tremendously through this picnic day.
I decided to save the last pieces of candy for the children who reached the bottom of the mountain first, motivating the kids to leave. The walk back gave us time to reflect on our day and it made me very happy. By the time we reached the school, we were exhausted and hungry again. We ate our final snacks and the children began playing again but I only had energy to watch them.
The children thought the day was about a picnic, but for me it was about spending time with them and giving them opportunity to be free and to talk about the things that were important to them. They said they will remember it their entire lives, and I believe they will. What we thought was just a picnic turned out to be a life changing experience for both the children and myself, and the building of precious relationships.