Nou se mond la!
Nou se mond la! Giving is receiving at The Greenhouse School
Nou se mond la! A gaggle of smiling kids pump their fists in the air as they repeat, in Creole, the mantra "We are the world!" Nou se timoun! We are the children! Students at The Greenhouse School have been saving their coins and collecting money to contribute to rebuilding efforts in Haiti. "It was really neat because it started with money they had set aside for buying new "K'nex" sets," says Director Dan Welch. "Then it has kind of just snowballed."
"It's not about the amount of money--it's the willingness to give up something they wanted because someone else's needs are greater at the moment," Welch continues. "It's a very natural instinct, but teachers and adults and institutions need to root it out and encourage it." And it should start young: One of their schoolmates, Sammy, has family back in Haiti. He just turned four years old.
"Of course it's great to have a direct personal connection," says Director Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. "It helps kids establish it in their minds. It's one of the reasons we're so proud of having a global outlook with connections to so many different countries."
Kids may need an intimate, personal connection to make it real to them, but teachers have high ambitions for the seeds planted here. "It's crucial," says Welch, "to keep the kids' eye on the ball when the media focus drifts to the next sensational thing. It starts with a spark, but we want it to fan the fire of knowledge, of compassion--a kind of intrinsic need for justice in their minds."
Kids counting change
First come the little things. Welch was overruled when he suggested giving the money to a network or organization that had far-reaching goals. "The kids were adamant that they wanted their money to go to a school, an orphanage or a hospital. It only makes sense--that's how they think: 'We are kids in a school. We can connect with other kids in their school.' It was actually very refreshing." So Welch got to work and, through the school's connections, found SOPUDEP, a school serving the poorest children of the community of Petion-Ville, on the outskirts of the capital.
"The more I read," Welch explains, "the more it seemed a perfect fit. The school was built in a dilapidated mansion that belonged to one of the victims of the Duvalier regimes." Another teacher, Rachel Harrington, read the blurb that the school was "a community founded more on courage and love than on money," and said instinctively "That sounds a lot like our philosophy."
Even the kids are aware that their admittedly modest fund-raising won't go a long way. "But the focus is on the long term anyway," says Welch. "The larger questions, which people usually ignore, are the ones that lead to sustainable solutions. Why is Haiti so poor?" His wife, Nambalirwa-Lugudde, chimes in: "Exactly. And that's where the trouble starts." Asked to elaborate, Welch laughs. "There is a famous quote by a very courageous Brazilian priest He'lder Ca'mara: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist."
They learn that Haiti was the site of the first successful revolution of slaves overthrowing their masters; but national recognition for years was contingent on paying a crippling tribute to their former owners for expropriated property -- the "property," of course, being the people themselves. It's a shocking but easily grasped revelation to these kids, who are largely brown and poor themselves.
"They're pretty savvy kids," muses Welch. "Maybe someday they'll make a difference we can't even imagine today." He continues reading the school's history to the kids gathered on the rug, but he chokes up a bit and says, almost to himself, "Ms. Welch [Patricia Jennings-Welch, GHS founder and Welch's mother, who passed away last year] would have loved this" as he reads SOPUDEP's motto: Knowledge is not the privilege of power, but a right for everyone.
Those interested in helping in The Greenhouse School's efforts can send donations to the school at 145 Loring Ave, Salem, MA 01970 or give online at the school's website http://www.greenhouseschool.org. Checks should have SOPUDEP in the memo. Donations are tax deductible in the US.
2010 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted with credit and link to http://danielpwelch.com. Writer, singer, linguist and activist Daniel Patrick Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School and run workshops and seminars on music and history. Translations of articles are available in up to 30 languages. Links to the website are appreciated at http://danielpwelch.com.