• Mary McConnell

Helping Students in Haiti

Updated: Jan 27

Every week, students at the Children’s Academy in Baocia, Haiti eagerly anticipate talking with their volunteer partner, known as their “Hangout Partner”, using an online video chat application. As participants in the Language Hangouts program, students are given the opportunity to practice their English-speaking skills through weekly 30-minute virtual conversations on one of the school’s laptop computers with a volunteer who connects from their home in Canada or the U.S.

Haiti Partners, founded in 2009, as a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Haitians change Haiti through education, implemented this innovative program to complement the leading edge, high-quality education that they provide to some of Haiti’s most disadvantaged children. The Academy, located in Baocia, a rural mountainous community just south of Port au Prince, is no ordinary school. It was established in 2012 by co-founders John Engle, his wife Merline, who is native to Haiti, and her brother Alex Myril. In partnership with members of the local community, it was built from the ground up and designed as a working model for education-centred community development.

At the school, students learn locally relevant skills like permaculture gardening and how to compost. They are involved in entrepreneurship programs that cultivate the knowledge needed to create a small business such as running a guest house or producing and selling jewellery. While their children are in school, parents also participate in the Academy’s programs by attending adult education classes, visiting the on-site health clinic, contributing service hours to the school or learning trade skills like earthquake resistant construction. Both students and their parents also learn important core values including integrity, sustainability, passion and the importance of community, all of which play an integral role in empowering the Haitian people to develop their potential and engage in improving their communities.

Helping Haitians help themselves is what Haiti Partners continues to do every day. The organization is dedicated to walking alongside the students and their families to work together toward a brighter, more loving and sustainable future. They aim to serve as a reference for Haiti’s Ministry of Education, NGO’s and other schools with an eye towards reshaping the educational landscape in Haiti, one that equips Haitians to develop their potential, think outside the box, engage in improving their communities and become self-sufficient.

The Language Hangouts program, which is entering it’s third year, is part of this mission, providing students with a platform for becoming fluent in English. Knowing the English language can lead to life-changing opportunities for people in Haiti. A year ago, Ronaldo Telusca, an 18 yr. old student of the Academy, applied to attend the International Language Institute of Massachusetts. In an essay that was included in his application, he credited Language Hangouts for having a major impact on his life and on improving his English. Ronaldo’s application was accepted and in August of this year he spent a month in the United States attending this institute and enriching his life immensely, quite a feat for someone living in Haiti, a country where obtaining a visa and travelling anywhere beyond it’s border is not easily achieved and typically a non-existent experience. The significant influence that participating in the Language Hangouts program has on the Children’s Academy students and their families can be summed up by the words that John Engle used recently to describe Ronaldo’s accomplishment, “You’ve witnessed first hand the impact this program is having in the lives of Haitians.”


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Mary McConnell

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Helping Students
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by Mary McConnell