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One Pennsylvania Homeschooling Family's Special Connection to Haiti
Editor's Note from Susan Richman: I first met Carline Crevecoeur, MD, when she brought her children to participate in our annual PA Homeschoolers National Geographic Bee-- scheduled this year on January 10th, just two days before the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. We were all intrigued that Carline's family was originally from Haiti-- and I know that we all felt an especially sorrowful connection when we heard so soon about the devastation of the island. I'm so very grateful to Carline for sharing her extended family's story of their Haitian connections-- and to hear of the family's work in creating effective re-building projects, especially near their family's old hometown near to Port-au-Prince. Carline Crevecoeur MD is the treasurer of the C-CHANGE for Haiti Organization. She is also an obstetrician/gynecologist who volunteers at the Centre Volunteers In Medicine (CVIM). She lives in State College, PA, with her husband, where they homeschool their five children. Dr. Carline Crevecoeur will be travelling to Haiti in April. Visit www.c-changeforhaiti.org to make donations or to find out about C-CHANGE’s most recent efforts in the struggle to rebuild Haiti. And, just for the record, all of Carline's children were exceptionally bright and capable in the Geo Bee-- and her young 4th grade son Joey won our local Bee. We just found out last week that he has also qualified for the PA State Bee to be held at the Penn State Campus in State College on April 9th-- a remarkable accomplishment for such a young student. All of the children are clearly carrying on the family's strong legacy of learning and achievement-- and giving back to their larger community.
The 1960s were the years of the great “Brain Drain” from Haiti. The brutal dictatorship of Francois Duvalier, with its ‘tonton macoutes’, came to power on September 22nd, 1955, and indiscriminately terrorized the Haitian people by committing unspeakable atrocities. A few years later, anyone who could flee from Haiti did.
Like most Haitian intellectuals at that time, my father, a mathematician and a lawyer, was looking for a better and safer life for his family. Around the same time, my father received several scholarships to study abroad. In January of 1956, he attended Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN. Unaccustomed to the segregation policies in the southern United States at the time, he returned to Haiti after spending only a year in the states. Still searching for an escape from the Duvalier Regime, my father kept his options open for any opportunity. Eight years later, he got it. From 1965 to 1967, my father lived in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and taught math. Sometimes he also worked as a legal consultant. Unfortunately, during the time that he lived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, General Joseph Mobutu overthrew President Joseph Kasavubu in a 1965 coup. A brutal dictatorship arose, and human rights were severely violated. My dad decided to try the U.S. again. This time he went north and settled in Brooklyn, New York.
Like most immigrants, we immigrated in groups. My father went first. Once he felt settled and safe, he sent for my mother. I came next—I was the perfect age because while I wasn’t a baby, I had not yet started school in Haiti. It took twelve long months, but one year later, my four siblings, my parents, and I were all united in a two-bedroom apartment in New York. My maternal grandmother eventually came to live with us as well, which allowed both of my parents to work outside the home.
My siblings and I were raised with a love for our mother country. We spoke French and Haitian Creole around the house. We listened to stories about my parents’ childhoods at the dinner table. We heard what it was like to grow up in Haiti, and sometimes found ourselves fervently wishing that we had.
Sundays were my favorite days of the week because every week, after we got home from church, my parents and my maternal grandmother would tell us stories of Haiti. My mother talked of how she took tennis lessons until her mother deemed it “an unladylike activity.” My father talked of the days when he played soccer and practiced law with his father.
My parents encouraged us to study hard and do well in school, not only to make a living in this country, but also in order to one day be able to give back to our beloved country.
Unfortunately, the situations in Haiti turned from bad to worse. Politics, crime, and hurricanes were destroying the country on all fronts. My mother refused to believe that it was the same country she grew up in. My father spoke of Haiti less and less. In 1990, a week after my brother Rony graduated with an electrical engineering degree, he declared that he was going to live in Haiti. He shocked all of us. My parents were proud, but were afraid for him. I think they felt some shame as well, knowing that their son would see only how far Haiti had fallen, and not how nice it once was.
Rony, nevertheless, lived, worked, married, and raised his first born son in Haiti. I was studying at Downstate Medical School at the time and visited him often. I managed to work in the public hospital in Port-au-Prince during my visits and witnessed the deplorable conditions of the poor. As situations in Haiti deteriorated after then-Candidate Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s church was burnt down, my brother followed in the path of our father, and returned to the United States for the safety of his family.
Just as Rony was moving back, my sister Edwidge was moving out of the house. She moved to warmer climates in Florida to teach and study education after receiving her PhD in the field. She researched adult ESOL literacy and, to keep with her Haitian roots, the Haitian Creole language. She has co-authored five bilingual English-Haitian Creole dictionaries, and has tutored and worked with the Haitian children in the Jacksonville, Florida, area.
We celebrated my dad’s 80th birthday last October. After having numerous discussions for a proper gift, my siblings and I decided to honor our dad with something that would make him happy and at the same time help Haiti. We decided to start an educational scholarship or a foundation for Haiti in my father’s name. We had no idea how much work it would take. October came and went and we told him that that we should have it up and running by next summer.
But something happened to change our plans.
Just as anyone can tell where and what they were doing September 11, 2001, all Haitians can tell you what they we were doing on January 12, 2010. The tremors of the horrendous earthquake that hit our small island of Hispaniola were felt not only in Haiti, but also in our very souls. My siblings and I felt helpless. Separated by thousands of miles of earth and sea, we could do nothing but watch our parents cry as heart-wrenching picture after heart-wrenching picture flashed across our television screens.
We had to do something. My brother Evans was among the first group of Haitian doctors to go to Haiti. My little brother Roland and his wife Mireille gathered and sent medical supplies to Haiti. They sent them with Evans during the first crucial weeks after the earthquake.
Evans came back a changed man. He had seen and heard and felt and smelt terrible things. One of the worst things was when he saw the collapsed nursing school where all the students perished.
Upon his return, Evans told us that Leogane, the small town outside of Port-au-Prince where my parents grew up, had been totaled. Many of the Haitians including our family that still live there asked him to do whatever he can for them. He decided that the family could and should do something. We, of course, well remembered the helplessness we had felt, and desperately wanted to do something, but rebuilding Haiti was out of our league. Evans looked at us and said, “We cannot NOT do anything!” Hardening our resolve, my siblings and I worked hard, and came together to create C-CHANGE for Haiti.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve teamed up with Haiti Vision to combine our efforts and resources. We’ve written our by-laws, and submitted our Articles of Incorporation. We’ve created a website, designed business cards and attended a meeting about Haitian development at the UN Headquarters in New York City, all of which allowed us to network with various organizations for the purpose of rebuilding Haiti.
It seems like we’ve done so much, but there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done, and we know that there will be for quite some time. We ask for your support as we strive to recreate the beautiful nation that was once Haiti. Things will not change overnight—Haiti is not just a problem that can be fixed. It is a nation full of vibrant human beings who deserve a chance to live a decent life. Giving them that will take years, if not decades, of hard work and diligence.
But my siblings and I are determined to help the citizens of Haiti. Help us help them. Visit www.c-changeforhaiti.org to make donations or to find out about C-CHANGE’s most recent efforts in the struggle to rebuild Haiti.
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