Arriving at Brit’s Home on Mother’s Day marked my 24th trip into Haiti. I was here for a week of staff development training and for the Be Like Brit/Becker College graduation. I knew the week would be jam packed with activities and I wasn’t wrong. I hit the ground running and didn’t stop until late Friday night after the week-end staff training session. However, there are always special moments to pause and reflect back to my first time here with Becker students laying the foundation for what would become a special place in my heart - talks with Len, having my hair braided, dancing, teaching, and watching our children grow into young ladies and gentlemen – yes, we can call many of our children that now! The caregivers and teachers have become near and dear to me as well over the years as we studied together and learned together.
I have written before on how special the children and staff are to me and how I am so honored and privileged to be part of what goes on here in new and unique ways. The day, evening, and week-end staff members have now had several years of training in child development psychology and positive behavior management. Their remarkable commitment, patience, and determination to be the best care givers and teachers possible makes my job as the staff development facilitator a joy. This week’s training focused on P.B.I.S. (positive behavior intervention strategies) and the introduction of a rural entrepreneurship curriculum. As usual, the staff was engaged and participated in hands-on activities, shared their joys and challenges in working with 66 children, and (of course) we ate lots of candy during break.
On Tuesday evening after dinner I conducted a worship service for the staff, children, and Britsionarys. They learned two new songs in English: Jesus Loves Me, for the Bible Told Me So and This is the Day that the Lord Has Made. Communion was served by four children after the consecration – grape juice and bread lovingly made by the kitchen staff.
And then came Wednesday, a day of decorating and excitement in getting ready for the graduation festivities. Flowers were picked, rehearsals took place, the program checked again and again, the guest list delivered to security. In the afternoon, children took their showers and dressed in their Sunday best. Mr. Woncico set up the music, Britney's photo was placed on podium so she could be with us, Danielle had her camera and video ready to go, and Tooveno and Daphney were at the door greeting visitors and handing out programs in their Becker sunglasses.
Graduates were secreted away getting ready for their procession in graduation robes with Becker College t-shirts and black pants underneath. Mr. Cadelis wanted to be sure I knew they all had matching black shoes as well! Children and staff took their seats along with the guests – all dressed up as if going to a wedding. Ms. Naderge sang “You Raise Me Up” and the graduation song the group chose was “We are the World” – with every one of the 22 graduates singing a solo. Mr. Regis Sanon was chosen as the valedictorian and gave a heartfelt speech in English as did Mr. Jean Roosevelt in his closing remarks. We had the added pleasure of a speech given by Len and a congratulatory message to the graduates on Face Time from Becker College president, Dr. Nancy Crimmin.
A reception followed upstairs for the graduates and their guests with Becker blue balloons, food, and cake (only the kitchen staff at Brit’s Home could pull off such a feat on top of feeding 66 children, staff, laborers, and Britsionarys all day!!). Photos took place one after the other and Danielle created a beautiful “photo op” corner downstairs. Of course, everyone wanted their picture taken there!
Our second cohort of 22 staff members graduated on May 16 with a certificate in Child Development Psychology. Last May, 11 staff graduated and took the modules in English. This year, Mr. Wilmann Laguerre taught the same curriculum in Haitian Creole and was the perfect instructor providing guidance in writing papers and in understanding the text. The next day, other staff were already asking when the third cohort would begin. The ripple effect of the staff training and education is not hard to notice now. Staff hold each other accountable in implementing positive behavior techniques and effective communication. Staff members take what they learn and apply it to their own families and parenting skills.
I will share more news later on the entrepreneurial curriculum and the development of our first social business at Brit’s Home to be launched in late September. I know you will be as excited about this venture as we are!
As I sat on the roof late one night later in the week, I pondered this story of heartache and tragedy – a story that ended in hope and then in faith, hope, and love – all because of one young woman and one family’s fortitude and sustained courage. The heartache will, of course, always be a part of Britney's family and yet this one, beautiful, outgoing woman has touched the lives of not only 66 children but well over 100 staff members and neighbors: building homes, offering clean water, providing education and employment to the caregivers and children. Many might say how wonderful it would be if Britney could only “see” what we now call Brit’s Home but I like to imagine and to believe that she knows; that her spirit and smile are part of the everyday life in her home – the birthdays, the worship, the music, the cooking and baking, the homework and studying for exams, the activities, the tears, the hugs and the holding, the laughter, in the dreams – and even in putting children to bed at night when they rather still be playing.
Rev. Dr. Debbie Pallatto-Fontaine, Becker College
Staff development advisor and facilitator for Brit’s Home; Board of Directors member