French IV connection: Peters Township High School students help Haitians
Haiti is less than 700 miles off Florida’s coast, or about the equivalent of the distance between Pittsburgh and Hilton Head Island, S.C.
But despite its proximity to the United States, the Caribbean nation is the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, with correspondingly appalling statistics. According to the United Nations Population Fund, a woman in Haiti has a one in 80 chance of dying during pregnancy or childbirth, and the infant mortality rate is 59 deaths for every 1,000 live births.
French IV students at Peters Township High School have become all too familiar with such information through their work with Midwives for Haiti, a nonprofit organization that trains skilled birth attendants to help give mothers and babies a much better chance at surviving.
“It was very eye-opening,” Ava Corry-Roberts said about what she discovered. “Especially around here, we’re so well-off and we tend to take everything for granted. To learn about their high infant mortality rate was just shocking.”
She had the recent opportunity to visit Midwives for Haiti’s administrative office in Richmond, Va., to deliver supplies that students in the high school’s French Club and National Honor Society collected during a baby items drive. There, she met administrative and development coordinator Kirby McConkey Butler, who will take the items when she travels to Haiti.
“She was telling us that the organization has a great reputation there, and it’s really well-known,” Ava said. “Everyone is just very appreciative.”
The Peters Township connection got its start when teacher Michelle Chenevert was working last year on the French IV curriculum.
“I wanted to work in some service learning,” she said. “I have found what you would call experiential education to be really important, when the students actually get to do real work.”
First, she surveyed incoming students about their interests.
“The things they came back with were primarily women’s and children’s health issues, and the environment. I looked at the curriculum that we would be following, and I saw that in the fall, we were going to have a pretty good-sized unit on Haiti,” Chenevert said about the francophone nation. “And I thought, that might be a good match for us.”
Research over the summer led her to Midwives for Haiti, and in turn, she received a welcoming response when she asked about a role for the students. They began helping by compiling volunteer orientation binders for the organization.
“The girls” – all of the French IV students happen to be female – “researched the Haitian health care system and a brief history of Haiti, to give an overview,” their teacher explained. “They weren’t doing it for a grade. They were doing it for an external customer, so to speak.”
In addition to the baby items drive, this semester the French Club students conducted a Valentine’s Day fundraiser that netted more than $500.
“That might not sound like that much, but it’s like a month of a midwife’s salary,” Chenevert said. “A little bit of money goes a long way.”
For her students, aiding Midwives for Haiti has been rewarding.
“Being able to have Mme. Chenevert create a new learning experience for us and incorporate service learning was really amazing,” Carla Goldsmith said. “It’s something that I’ve never done in school before. And I thought it was really cool to incorporate my French and actually apply it to a real-life setting.”
The medical aspect of the organization’s mission is especially applicable to Haley Contrella’s scholastic pursuits.
“I’m actually in the OB/GYN field right now, shadowing at Washington Hospital, so comparing the two is really interesting,” she said about the United States vs. Haiti. “We have so many technologically advances, and they get such good care here.”
Shruthi Shivkumar’s interests tend more toward systemic solutions to improve public health.
“Exposure to that in school is kind of limited, because you only get exposure careers that are maybe contained in one area,” she said. “These large-scale opportunities are hard to come by. So I think that’s why I really enjoyed helping out with the project.”