The Story of Johnkerry Playing On An Island Off The Coast of Haiti
I met Johnkerry flying past me, racing his “sèk” up the broken road to the school. Made out of a plastic drum lid, a stick and a small metal hook, this toy is a favorite of boys everywhere in the developing world. He later told me “I usually win. Everyday I win. When I grow up I want to be a racer, maybe of cars. I also know how to make cars for racing, and I usually win at that game too. I’m good at winning.”
Johnkerry is 8 years old and lives on the Haitian island of La Gonave, a short 25 min flight from downtown Port-au-Prince but a huge gulf away from expected delivery of public services like water, electricity, and basic infrastructure. La Gonave is also remote from the connections to the global world that might inform little Johnkerry of the other John Kerry, the American; the school I visited, Lekòl Kominotè Matènwa (LKM) is working to address that gulf.
Johnkerry goes on to tell me that his favorite place to play is actually at LKM school, because they have toys there — legos, colored pencils for drawing and even computer games. He leads me up the hill to the series of school buildings perched high in these remote mountains, up the twisted road where a view of an aqua ocean separates us from the Haitian mainland. It’s quite beautiful, and peaceful; it seems like a nice place to grow up. One might totally miss that there is a revolution happening here in sleepy Matenwa.
LKM is radical in exposing the whole community to literacy and education in the native Creole language.
At school they are promoting leadership development, and discussion based decision-making; social justice and civic engagement. The libraries are filled w trilingual board books, and self-authored children’s narratives. They offer hot meals from local farm products, employing local woman to cook, and professional opportunities for musicians and soccer coaches. After 20 years in the community LKM is graduating students of philosophy and science, music and literature. What gets Johnkerry running up the hill though is music class where he’ll get to learn guitar, the classes on composting and healthy food in the garden, and of course, the computers.
The school is the hub of the community, drawing regional kids who walk almost an hour each way. Founders Abner and Chris have an informal policy of accepting every kid, no matter their ability to pay, and the school cuts across social hierarchies and academic abilities, drawing families with a rich offering of course work, academic resources and a joyful culture. Every parent, anywhere in the world, seeks such an environment for their children.
As a benefit to society at large, LKM offers Transformative Travel experiences, bringing outside experts and the simply curious to live in home stays and learn “across cultural and economic borders”, offering exposure to the livid realities of two-thirds of the majority world. My homestay was with the family of Loretta who cooked my meals, gave up a precious bedroom, and generally tolerated my adjustment to the new level of intimacy and awkwardness afforded by living a curtained wall and a mosquito net away from a very different world.
My translator was Adoni, a 24 year old who Americans would call a “Dreamer”- he moved w his parents to the US when he was 3 and was raised entirely as an American. The US in it’s wisdom saw fit to send him “home” to Haiti, so now he lives w an uncle in Matenwa trying to make sense of his new Haitian life, and he considers himself fortunate to be teaching kids computer fluency at the school. Growing up in the US, technology was his passion and he had abundant places to play and develop those skills. The Haitian kids have almost no access beyond school, but he can easily spot some raw talent in his classroom, which he finds exciting and hopeful. As the saying goes — talent is equally distributed, opportunities are not.
“When I was younger, in the US, I used to play w remote control cars. It’s the same thing as the kids do here, except they make their cars w cans and strings. It’s amazing. People are the same, everywhere”, says Adoni.
Meanwhile Johnkerry spends his after-school hours back at the school on the hill, sprawled belly down in the hallway, stepped over by the older kids as he races cars w his friends. He seems happy to be surrounded by toys, friends and opportunity. He tells me he still wins, everyday.