Sunday, September 21, 2008

Immediate Hurricane Help!

Hello and Bonjou,

Dear friends and family we have finally heard from the village of Matenwa on Lagonav, Haiti. The mountain top community has been devastated by the succession of violent hurricanes.

In the sixteen years we’ve known and been involved with Chris and the Matenwa Community School there, we have never received such bad news or such an outright appeal for immediate aid.

Abner, the principal and co-founder of the school fears children will soon die without food aid. While we were there this summer we witnessed many children eating every other day or if they went to school, the meal they were served there at lunch was the only food they had had that day. As you can imagine these kiddos have very little reserves.

Fortunately the infrastructure of the school is sound, they are still able to cook and serve food but the cost of procuring food (mostly rice and beans) is extremely high. Fifteen dollars will feed a child breakfast three times a week for a month.

Thirty-nine of the poorest families have had all or part of their homes wash away. Food crops, already scarce have washed away, as well as many of their precious goats and chickens. Five hundred dollars will rebuild a room on a home.

We still have some of the incredible embroidered artwork and gorgeous silk batik scarves of the Women’s Artist Collective of Matenwa. We would be happy to hook you up with tangible evidence of the creativity, resiliency, power and love that these people put out into the world.

Max is launching a bake sale and presentations at his school. Please log onto our travel blog website for more information about our trip to and about Matenwa. There are many photos of our strong, kind, generous friends there.

I realize you may be besieged with constant pleas for assistance from many deserving venues. Please disregard this message if you are at all uncomfortable with our direct asking for monetary help. We have built relationships with the children and families of Matenwa, Haiti just as we have in Portland, Oregon. We only hope to be bridges of education, respect and friendship. Thank you, sincerely, for your consideration.


Mariam Higgins

Please feel free to give generously directly to the Matenwa Community through Beyond Borders:

On-line at - scroll to the yellow "DONATE" box on the home page and make a credit card donation.
In order to direct your donation to Matènwa scroll to: Please let us know where to direct your gift and click on Matènwa Learning Ctr (school) or Matènwa Learning Ctr (Breakfast).
By mail to: Beyond Borders/MCLC , Box 2132, Norristown, PA 19404.
Your check should be made to: "Beyond Borders/MCLC"
15 dollars feeds a child breakfast 3 times a week for a month. 500 will rebuild one room of a house.

Thank you for your generosity at this time of exceptional need.

Christine W. Low
Abner Sauveur
Co-Directors, MCLC
617 543 8844
Please contact me if you would like to do a service learning project at your school.
Please consider sending this note on to your friends.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


The images in the embroidery are vibrant renderings that depict the animals, lore, and lives of the people that live on the island of laGonav.

If you'd like to purchase artwork or simply contribute to the Women's Art Centre, Courageous Women Theatre Group or the Matenwa Community School for Development please contact me or go the the school's website to connect with Chris Low directly.

Again, the youtube video really captures the spirit here as well. (search Matenwa)

Art Centre and Work

This building was skillfully built by the wise, calm, capable hands of Boloslo. There is a picture here of him holding one of his six daughters. He is also the area's bone setter, gently working to set the broken bones of people, as well as all animals. He is a master craftsman and gentle, kind soul.

He, as well as any men, are welcome to attend the meetings and productions of the Women's Art Centre. Abner Saveur, the head or principal, of the Matenwa School was also a regular here.

There are two rooms above the studios that house visiting artists, educators from around the world.

Art Centre and Work

A fifteen minute walk through cornfields and past the yummy kanape tree the winding path opens up to the colorful women's art centre. It was founded as a venue for local women to create artwork, thus generating self-sustaining income for themselves and their families. Traditionally, men work outside the home leaving little recourse or livelihood, for women and their children, who do not have a (reliable or employed) man in their lives.

The art centre got off the ground with collaborative assistance from Ellen LeBow, artist and educator. When we visited last, six years ago women were painting large silk scarves with designs indigenous to the region, animals, mermaids, plants, birds. The production back then took place on Chris' back porch. Whenever these women come together to make art, meet, practice or perform, they sing a powerful, moving, self-written song of strength, endurance, thankfulness and love.

This new, gorgeous, spacious centre houses a music room where guitar playing is taught and composed, songs are written and sung and theatre practiced. Another room functions as the basis of the spectacular scarf making. While we were there we watched, fascinated as huge silk banners commissioned by Vassar College were gracefully completed.

The next building has two airy rooms where the detailed and well-crafted embroidery work is done. Haitian sequined 'flags' are probably the most well-known of this islands' art. The intricate beading and minute stitching are sparkly masterpieces.

Our host mother, Josyen, heads the embroidery group, teaching and keeping accounts. We were thrilled to be able to bring back to the states the embroidery work that was finished to send on to a gallery in Boston. I'm finishing up some basting and ironing and will send them off next week.

I've been in touch with the gallery owner and she's allowed that we could purchase what we'd like and send her the rest. If you see something you'd like to own, directly supporting the women of Matenwa, in these photos or want to stop by and take a look at the whole collection please give me a call, soon!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Social Justice

Our arms and aim are a little better with regular throwing practice. Rock throwing is a very useful skill. One uses it to seek revenge at night, knock down yummy fruit, keep a creepy dog away, crush a tarantula (sorry, just can’t put up with them watching me from inches away while using the latrine) and regularly amuse youngsters with our (my) ineptness.

On another note, we heard an anecdote about how the culture of the community has changed since kids started school at Lekol Komunite Matenwa. A neighboring family would discipline their small children by throwing rocks at them, which unfortunately wasn’t uncommon. After her kids have been going to school for several years, she now brags how if her daughters don’t go to the market to buy the soap she needs, she leaves just their laundry unwashed. Natural consequences and non-physical punishment are the norm here now. Parents and students learn and teach about human rights here in Matenwa, and very specifically that children have the same rights as adults. Social justice is intrinsic in everything this school community does.

Swimming Superstition and Fact

On our way to Grand Sous, we would dutifully greet every passerby and household with the requisite, singsong, BONJOU! When folks stopped to talk to us and found out we were going to Grand Sous, they would issue dire warnings, tell us their heads hurt and hearts would stop if we went on, because they would be worried sick about us. “Only put your feet in, please!” urged the well-meaning grannies. “The water is deeper than the banyan trees high” “The current is strong like hurricane!” protested the old uncles. Several months ago, a boy died there, struck by another high jumping youth who cracked his head open, horribly, their heads hit under the murky water. The local superstition that it was somehow cursed and our extreme caution, absolutely no current, coupled with our ability to swim well, created a place where we had a little paradise, mostly to ourselves.

Valencia and friends

Valencia, Libne’s thirteen year old sister is Matenwa’s ‘foutbal’ star. Like many girls of Matenwa, she participates in the daily foutbal games and practices but she is the only girl to play with the teenage boys’ team. She is ferociously outstanding. As we went to market with her one day she explained all the trees we passed and plants, opening up a whole new scenery to us. We went swimming with her, which was a riot, as she didn’t know how to swim but was very, very eager to learn. There is a saying here that Haitians don’t swim if they can’t see the bottom. Most people have never swum before. Of course, Valencia gleefully plunged in (with a life jacket) and within the hour was trying to dive. When she swam at you or laughed, she did it powerfully and with abandon!