Meet Bencille Jeune, from Port au Prince, Haiti. She lives with her mother, Besita, in a very poor tent camp away from the city over bad roads. Because it is on a fairly secluded hillside, it is not a well-known camp and has not received the kinds of services that more visible camps have received (such as water delivery, portable toilets, and so on). They have no running water and no electricity. It is a one-room building, made of wood, tarps, and sheet metal.
Every day, after work, she and Bencille walk up the steep mountain to their home in the camp – sometimes in the dark. The family has one mosquito net, which Besita has given to Bencille; Besita goes without one. Besita is currently trying to get enough money to start building a more permanent house; she has already rented the land, but does not yet have the funds to get the building materials.
Bencille was introduced to us by our friend Laura, a medical anthropologist who lived in Haiti while she was doing her doctoral dissertation. Laura says that Bencille is bright and funny and eager to learn. She was at the top of her class in school, but her school is so substandard that it means very little. Laura believes that Bencille would benefit immensely from a better school. According to Laura, “Bencille is currently in an ‘école pasteur’ – an elementary school run by a Protestant pastor. It is not a good school. Bencille has learned to memorize, but not to do any critical thinking. While she thinks in Haitian Creole, and speaks Haitian Creole at home, all instruction is done in French – and not particularly good French, either. It is a language she has learned to memorize, but she has never learned to think independently in it. These schools profit off people like Besita – well-meaning but poor and uneducated parents who do not realize that they are being exploited. Bencille is a friendly, cheerful, polite, and generous child.” In Bencille’s letter to us, she says she would like to be a nurse.
2020 – 2021
Bencille is studying back in school in person, and we hope she is doing well. We’ll find out more as the year moves on, but in the meantime, we did receive some photos of her that show she is so grown up.
Bencille begins her third year of high school, only one more to go! It’s been a pretty tough year; all the students only received about a half year of instruction, and that was all online due to the pandemic. We asked Bencille to describe some of the challenges of studying online, and she sent us a letter to tell us about it. We wish her all the best, and they she stays safe and healthy in school.
Hello dear Christa how are you and your family? I think you might be a little shaken up because of Covid in your country.
I’m very happy to hear from you. I have been praying every day to God to protect you.
Here are the answers to your questions.
What I love about online schools is we are working in groups to work on homework and exercises together. What I don’t like is that the teachers cannot explain the exercises well because we have electricity problems in the country.
The easiest part about online school is when the teachers send us videos of them teaching and we can watch them several times to understand.
The most difficult thing about online learning is that they want us to have a USB and a computer to download books that they send us by email so we can work at home. For me, I didn’t have access because of my computer.
2019 – 2020
It has been difficult with the school closures and the fuel protests in Haiti these past few months. Unfortunately, the schools are still closed, and Bencille has not yet been able to start her next year. When she does, she has two more years to go, and we hope she’ll thrive.
2018 – 2019
Despite all the troubles in Haiti and the long periods of school closures, Bencille did pretty well and passed her school year. The schools were closed for the last quarter, so she only has three quarters of grades on her report card. Despite that, she moved up into Class Two.
Bencille still struggles some with her grades, especially math, but she is trying hard. Her recent letter to us talked about the pride the Haitian people have in their former President, Dumarsais. We also asked Bencille to describe some goals and how she would accomplish them for the rest of the year.
Here are the answers to the questions.
5 goals I would like to achieve by the end of the year:
1. To pass to the next grade level and not flunk any classes.
2. Do my best to get good grades at least 7 out of 10
3. Get through the year with no discipline referrals or problems
4. Get good enough at computer skills by the end of the year to be a able to work independently
5. Be able to understand all subjects and get good grades
In order to achieve these goals, I am going to study and work a lot in order to be more conscientious about completing all my homework, paying attention in class, and behaving well so I don’t get any discipline referrals.
I’m going to tell you the story about my country that I love so much, it’s a story about our dear president “Dumarsais”.” I love what he has done for the country.
Among his biggest achievements are:
1. The construction of the village “Frontelier de Belladere” which is a city that reflects Haitian success. It’s on the border of the Dominican Republic.
2. He’s the man who has restored the Haitian image internationally.
3. Construction of the bicentennial of Port au Prince.
4. At the same time he worked on restoring the country’s image, he helped the middle class and the lower class since his administration. He increased minimum wage from 2.50 to 3.50 gourdes a day. A reminder that our esteemed president was not only a professor but also in charge of national education. It’s unusual to have a Dumarsais as the head of state and that’s why we have only had one.
Bencille is growing up so fast! She is a lovely young woman now, 17 years old, with two more years to go in high school. She is in her 10th grade now, and will finish after what we consider 11th grade. After that, we will see what she wants to do. Our contact Laura visited Haiti in mid November, and sent us a wonderful picture of Bencille in her school uniform, along with our contact in Haiti, Claudine. Claudine is like a big sister to Bencille, and tries her best to motivate her to work hard.
2017 – 2018
Bencille has finished her year in school and is ready to start in her next grade. She passed her state exam, which is wonderful news. Her grades at the end of the year were a little lower than in past semesters, and we will continue to help her with some tutoring for some of the classes that she struggles with, but we hope that this school year will be a little more successful for her.
2016 – 2017
The hurricane in Haiti put a lot of things on hold in the country, and even if people didn’t live in the worst affected areas, everything slowed or stopped for weeks. Bencille’s grandmother, who had been ailing and did live in the part of Haiti most affected by the storm, died in December. Bencille’s grades clearly show the affect of the hurricane in her first quarter in school, but by the middle of the year, she was back up in the top ten in her class. We’re glad to see that.
Our friend Laura visited Bencille in January, and send back some wonderful photos of our 15 1/2 year old girl. She’s so lovely, and we are really proud of her for continuing to move forward.
For her letter to us, we asked Bencille to talk about her best friends. Here is a translation.
My school Sainte Genevieve
When I arrived at the school in fourth year, there were only 12 students in the class, 8 boys and 4 girls, and now when I am in 8th year there are 22 students in my class, 12 boys and 10 girls. My best friends are Gaille, Betoina, Darius and Mai. A group of four girls who have been together since fourth year, when there were only us girls in the classroom.
We have become the best friends at the school. We always walk together, one of us incapable of walking without the other. We make a work group together to provide support with new work.
We always share together when one of us does not have something.
2015 – 2016
Despite being out of school for three weeks with the chicken pox, Bencille still finished the year sixth in her class. She apologized to us for the drop in her grades, but chicken pox gets everyone at some point and we definitely understand! We’re just proud that she tried so hard to make it up, and did pretty darned well. Her letter to us at the end of the year answered the question: what problem in the world would you try and solve and how would you do it?
Hello dear Christa. How are things? How are your family and your activities? I am doing well. I thank you for everything that you have done for me and my mother. I thank you so much. Thanks to your help I can have a better future. Know that you are very important for me. You are the foundation of my future.
I love you very much,
The problem I would like to resolve is hunger. How I would help people who are hungry.
There are students in my class who don’t have anything to eat. I share with them.
I share my food with my neighbors in my neighborhood.
I give money to people on the street who ask for something to buy some food.
And also, when I go to church, there are many poor people who are hungry and my mother always gives me a few pieces of money to put in the offering box. I give these coins to buy water, and also cakes and sweets for their children. Truthfully, these problems touch my heart. It’s hard to see people who are dying of hunger, especially in my country.
If I could, one day I would eliminate this problem in the whole world.
Thank you, Bencille
We hope you can help eliminate hunger in the whole world, too, Bencille!
Bencille received very good grades at the midterm, she was fifth in her class! She seems to be doing very well in school, despite not having a place to live for part of the year. Our contact Laura has helped with some rent money, so they are back in a home, which is really important. It’s hard to study and get decent sleep when you don’t have a place to live. We are very grateful to Laura for helping them, and we hope that she stays healthy and safe and continues to do well in school. Here is her most recent letter to us, from February:
Hello, my dear Christa. How are you? Your activities? Your life? For my part, I am very good. I thank you again for everything you do for me. I’m very grateful for everything. It’s because of this I will do everything I can to learn everything at school even if my mom and I are having a hard time right now. We don’t have a place to live. I promise you I will study to get a higher grade average. I thank you with all of my heart and I thank you so much.
Answer #1: At school I learn a lot of things: math, biology, science experiments, social science, physics, English, Spanish, French, Creole. I like biology because it teaches us about ourselves and life and how it works.
Answer #2: What interests me most in life in my future. I would like to have a better life and become the best doctor to help people who are suffering.
Answer #3: The goals that I’m concentrating on: 1) Finish my English class that I’m taking now; 2) Succeed in all my classes; 3) Have a very good grade average; 4) Be a model for my fellow classmates and participate in all the activities in my classes and have good notes in my notebook every day. 5) Even if I can’t find a house myself I would like to have a place where I can study without difficulty.
2014 – 2015
Bencille is now in sixth grade and doing really well. After a bit of a rocky ending to last year, her grades have shot up. She was third in her class at the middle of the year and she wrote us a great letter. We are very proud of all her hard work to improve her grades. Laura tells us that her mother decided to move them to a house further away from the school, so we hope that won’t affect her too much.
“Dear Christa, Here are the responses for the semester’s letter.
1. Tell us what you are learning in school. Choose one class and explain why it interests you. Response: In class I am learning many things: French, civics, social science, natural science, etc. My favorite course is social science. I like it a lot because it teaches us about our history, it helps us know our heroes and the important dates of our country.
2. What interests you the most in life and why? This could be something in school or in life in general. What interests me the most in my life is my future because I am afraid that my life today will not be the same as tomorrow.
3. Give five goals that you would like to accomplish for the rest of this school year. How will you accomplish them? Response: before the end of this year
a. I would like to be first in my class
b. Pass the state exams
c. Have good grades
d. Be a model for my friends
e. Always be on time to classes
For all of this I will make every effort to study all my lessons , do all my homework, respect my teachers, my friends and also get up early enough to be able to arrive on time to class.”
Bencille was at the top of her class for the end of the year! Here is the translation of her letter to us:
Answer 1: What I really enjoyed during the year was a scholarly competition that the school had organized.
Answer 2 (what was challenging for you?): It was the journey because the distance from my house to school was very long.
Answer 3: My most difficult challenge was the means to pay for transportation to school.
Answer 4: I succeeded in completing four objectives:
1) I passed the state exam
2) I always received good grades
3) I am always a good example for my classmates
4) Despite the distance from my house I am always on time to class
Answer 5 (how did you accomplish your goals?): I get up very early, I study a lot and always do my homework, I am always well behaved in class.
Answer 6 (how does this make you feel?): Because of my successes, I am very happy and content.
Answer 7: Five goals outside of school
1) I will teach my mother to read and write
2) I will work harder to have a higher average
3) Participate in an honors contest
4) Speak English and ask for help
Answer 8: To make use of my studies I will make every effort to use my knowledge and my capabilities to help people who need it.
Answer 9: I’ll put my studies into practice by helping my mother to read and write.
Answer 10 (how will you do this?): By working with her every day.
Answer 11: I would like to be a pediatric nurse.
It sounds like Bencille is coming into her own and we are very proud of her; congratulations, Bencille!
2013 – 2014
Bencille is enrolled in the 2013-2014 year of school and she looks just about all grown up now! Our contact tells us that her first grade report for the year was a 71% average, which is quite good. Congratulations, Bencille!
Bencille’s letter to us in January was very sweet. We’re so happy she’s doing so well and enjoys her school! Check out the handwriting on her letter!
“Today I am happy to take my pen to write you these words. Before I go on, how are you, your projects and your family? On my end, everything is going very well at my school thank God, so I write you this little letter to tell you about the great activities at my school. Everything is going well this year and I understand much more quickly and much better since I like all the subjects. I also like the way our teacher teaches us. When I am in school I feel very comfortable with my friends and the directors of the school. I really love my school. I can’t forget to thank you for all that you do for me. Thank you, thank you. I love you. Bencille”
Our contact Laura went back to Haiti for a few weeks to visit and sent some wonderful photos of Bencille, who is growing up very fast. According to Laura, Bencille is now taller than her mother! About a year ago, Laura used some of her own money to help Besita and Bencille find a safer, cleaner, more comfortable place in town, so they now live in a nicer spot, and it’s been an important thing for both Bencille and her mother.