This morning, I went to the Lt. J.P. Kennedy Memorial School in Hyde Park, MA to speak about Grassroots International’s program in Haiti. The Kennedy School is a Catholic School providing a K-6 education to youngsters in a predominantly working class neighborhood of Boston. The school has always seen service to immigrant youngsters as an important part of its misson. It was founded by Polish sisters to serve Polish immigrants to the area. Today, about one-third of the school’s students are Haitians.
As part of its effort to increase the entire school’s knowledge of Haiti and its appreciation of Haitian culture, the school held some community conversations last spring. I represented Grassroots at one of those discussions and spoke about our program in Haiti, especially the Creole Pig Repopulation Project.
After that, some of the teachers and students decided to begin a fundraising effort to raise funds to help bring pigs back to Haitian farmers. The students held a bake a sale, a raffle and collected their own pennies and nickels to contribute to the effort. It all culminated today when a sixth grader named Vanessa presented me with a check for $500 to support the pig project.
I joined all 200 students at the school for an assembly to view parts of “Haiti’s Piggy Bank,” Grassroots International’s video presentation of the pig repopulation project. Fully one-third of the students proudly raised their hands when I asked who among them would be able to understand the Kreyol spoken in the film, and they all answered me in unison when I asked them how they were in my own barely comprehensible Kreyol. To my amazement, they watched the film in silence, drawn to both the story of the piggies and to the views of life in the Haitian countryside. (Of course, the sister patrolling at the rear of the room had no small effect on this.)
When the film ended, the students deluged me with questions about who had killed all of those pigs and why. That led us into a conversation about the swine flu and the U.S. government’s role in ordering the killing of the pigs. The Haitian students seemed particularly interested in the story and one little girl came to me at the end of the program to say that she was happy to have Haiti as the subject of a program for the whole school.
The school principal closed the program telling the students that they should feel good about themselves for these efforts. “There is nothing wrong with giving away turkeys; We do that, too. But this is something different. By giving pigs to these villages you are helping people do something for themselves. You may even be helping people that some of you know.” She didn’t let the students leave without connecting this to the Franciscan principle of service. Before they left, the students returned my gratitude by saying together, “Merci anpil.” (thank you very much)
Having attended a Catholic grammar school myself, getting my photo taken receiving a check beneath a statue of Saint Francis cannot help but surface a welter of memories and emotions for me. But today my dominant emotion was definitely one of gratitude to a group of children and their teachers who had cared enough to try to make a difference. They assured me that we at Grassroots have not seen the end of the Kennedy School, and I hope they are right.