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Building International Understanding and Goodwill by
Creating Systemic Change for Children Living in Poverty
From 2002 to 2012, the Erie Rotary Club created an amazing partnership with the Rotary Club of Les Cayes, Haiti to address systemic illiteracy in that country.  Over the 10 years, our project took on many partners including every governor from District 7280 adopting the project during his or her term thus involving all 50 clubs in the district.
Illiteracy in Haiti is very high with 65% of the population having no formal education.  Primary school in Haiti ends in 6th grade.  In order to succeed in secondary school, children must be proficient in speaking, writing and understanding French as most of the textbooks are written in French, the official language of Haiti and the language of advantage. 
Children of low economic status in Haiti are creolophones, which means they primarily, and possibly only, speak Creole at home.  Without proficiency in French, they cannot pass the state exam to continue secondary education, drop out of school in 6th grade, and continue the cycle of poverty by qualifying for only the lowest paying jobs.
The Rotary District 7280 Haiti Literacy project was designed to train tutors to teach French, one hour extra, each day - Monday through Thursday to the primary school children beginning with third grade and continue with the children for four years, through sixth grade, so they could be accepted into secondary school.
Over the 10 year project, both the elementary students and their tutors benefitted.  The project:
  • Demonstrated that an extra hour in French each day using different techniques of teaching helps children from low-economic Creole-speaking homes succeed in reading, writing, speaking and understanding French, and by doing so, increased their chances of passing the state exam and continuing their education beyond 6th grade.
  • Demonstrated that second-year students in the Haitian teaching colleges could gain valuable hands-on experience using new skills and techniques to assist young students in need.
  • Created a spirit of volunteering (Service above Self) after school to help the less fortunate who do not have adults at home to help them with the French language.
  • Created a host of better-educated teachers who graduated and are working in the school system throughout Haiti and using the new teaching techniques.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY - The ultimate long term goal was to create systemic change in the school system and break the cycle of poverty in Haiti.
Les Cayes Rotary President Rosa Marie Guzman writes: “We believe that after 10 years, 10 different groups of Student Teachers got this experience and now as teachers know how important this experience was in their preparation as future teachers. The school principal and staff, as well, have seen the difference with those who benefit from this program. We believe that the results have been positive and now it is time for the teaching schools to include tutoring efforts as part of their program and not wait to receive funds to do so . . . We thank you all for having contributed to our community and making of this Pilot Project a successful one for the last 10 years.  In the future, we can always continue doing other projects together in another literacy project or in other areas of focus.”
Over the 10 year period, over 800 students received tutoring four days a week for one hour after school from third through 6th grade.  While it was not possible to track the students graduating from the three elementary schools in Les Cayes to see how far they continued with their education, Les Cayes Rotarians report that all of the students who have been tutored passed their state exam after 6th grade, according to past principals. Annually, at the end of every school year, the Les Cayes club would send grade reports to our Erie Rotary Club Committee along with financial reports.
In November 2011, Les Cayes Rotarians met with the Principal of Ecole Normale des Cayes to interview 23 former tutors of the French Literacy Project (from 2003 through 2009).  All 23 teachers now work in schools around Les Cayes and in their various hometowns. Several teach in the three schools where the tutoring program took place. Others teach in nearby towns and other schools in Les Cayes. One of the first tutors is now Supervisor of a State Program.
In two separate focus groups, Les Cayes Rotarians asked the teachers questions about the program, their overall impressions, and suggestions if any.
All the teachers reported that the Rotary French Literacy Tutoring program was a very positive experience, which gave them valuable teaching experience before doing their student teaching.  The project helped them build confidence by having the chance to present in front of a group and apply teaching techniques learned in school to the students tutored.  Surprisingly, tutoring language skills helped them improve their own French. Additionally, they learned responsibility and punctuality thru the program.
Most important, they experienced first-hand the issues confronted by children of poverty like those they would teach in the future. 
Sr. Molines, director of the teachers’ academy and the literacy program, taught them small group teaching techniques, useful in helping students with learning disabilities, which were not part of their standard curriculum. Additionally, upon graduation, each student teacher had a book of customized lesson plans for teaching French literacy to use wherever they were hired in Haiti.
Keep in mind, the tutors walked several miles to the three schools after a long day of studying and often tutoring without eating lunch. They all agreed it was well worth the effort.  The experience helped them get their teaching jobs and had a significant impact in their careers.  All expressed gratitude to Rotarians of District 7280 for the financial support that allowed them to complete their program and become teachers.
When the project began in 2001, significant contributions were received from District 7280 funds made available during the terms of District Governors Gail Fine and Norman Stark. During the first year, other major contributions were received from the Erie, Port Allegany and Greenville Clubs as well as contributions from several anonymous Rotarians in the district.
Since then, District 7280 has adopted the Haiti Literacy Project as an International Project with annual support under District Governors Skip Sample, Linda Griffin, Ralph Detweiler, Hank Anna, Ron Errett, Chris Knoll, Chris Fiely, Mike Visconti and Lee Dyer.   
Additionally, the Rotary Club of Erie pledged $2,000 annually and the Port Allegany Club contributed $750 annually since the project began 10 years ago.
Thank you to the committee that monitored and promoted the project including Betsy Bort, Diane Chido, Mary Ellen Dahlkemper, Dick DeLuca, Gary Flick, Joyce Miller, Betsy Monsalve, Donna Stone and the presiding Erie Rotary Club President for each year of the project.
A total of $71,208 was donated from District 7280 over the 10 years for the French Literacy Project – or approximately $90 per student.
Our District 7280 Haiti Literacy Project is a great example of how the Four Way Test builds goodwill and better understanding and is beneficial for all concerned:
  • An incredible bond of mutual respect, understanding across cultures and admiration developed over the 10 years between the Rotary Club of Les Cayes and District 7280 beginning with three Erie Rotarians, including Erie club secretary Dick DeLuca, who visited Haiti in 2002 to listen and learn about the need for this project
  • In 2003, a Les Cayes Rotarian traveled to the USA to meet fellow Rotarians of District 7280 and give a keynote speech on the literacy project at the district conference.
  • In 2007, Cynthia Martone, an Erie Rotarian and educator traveled to Les Cayes to assess the project and update district 7280 on the progress.Her professional photography from that visit became the cornerstone for a photographic exhibit, underwritten by Rotarians Marco & Betsy Monsalve. The exhibit was both a fundraiser and an educational awareness piece for the Erie Community and District 7280.
  • Subsequently, our French literacy project was an international project feature story in Rotary International Magazine.
  • After our Les Cayes schools were damaged by the 2009 earthquake in Haiti, two anonymous Erie Club Rotarians put forth a challenge grant to match their $10,000 donation to rebuild the schools. DG Chris Fiely and Erie Club President Lisa Watkins worked tirelessly to promote the Haiti school rebuilding project at every club meeting and through district email and newsletter announcements.District 7280 donated nearly $25,000 towards rebuilding the schools.
  • In 2011, District 7280’s fundraising effort to rebuild the schools in Les Cayes Haiti was featured on the inside cover of the Rotary International Annual Report.
After extensive discussion with Governor Lee Dyer and other district leaders as well as the board of the Erie and Port Allegany Rotary Clubs, we agreed to use approximately $ 10,000 of the remaining funds to replace the roof, repair the ceiling, paint the exterior and minor refurbishing for Ecole St. Jean, another school in the region rebuilt by the Les Cayes Rotary Club in 1983 after being destroyed during a hurricane.  The Les Cayes Club donated $1,000 towards this renovation project.  A plaque honoring District 72890 hangs at the entrance of the school.
Submitted by Mary Ellen Dahlkemper, International Service Project Chair
This shows the final school that our club and District 7280 rehabilitated.   Note on the exterior wall of the school is a dedication to Rotary District 7280 for our support.