HARWICH — In a teacher’s room tucked in next to the cafeteria of Harwich Elementary School, a group of students and adults meet weekly to give back to people they’ve never met.
The elementary school offers after school enrichment programs through the Monomoy Cooperative Learning Program which give kids a fun and enriching activity to do after school. Gina Grenier, a teacher at Harwich Elementary, was inspired to propose an enrichment program that would not only provide students with an exciting after school activity, but also to contribute to less fortunate children thousands of miles of way.
“When I first started here there was a new student who had just arrived from Haiti after the earthquake to live with a family while his parents tried to rebuild their life back home,” she recalled.
This encounter has now turned a humanitarian dream into a budding enrichment program. Every Thursday afternoon once the bell dismisses them from school, six young girls rush down to the teacher’s room for a snack and some down time before getting to work. On their last Thursday meeting two weeks ago, the snack table was covered in various foods that children in Haiti would eat. There were mangoes, pineapples, plantains, and beignets, a form of banana fried dough. For refreshments, the girls enjoyed mango and papaya juice.
While the students get a taste of Haitian culture through their snacks, they also learn about how their lives compare to the children in Haiti. Grenier invited Cyndi McNamara, a special guest who goes on mission trips the Dominican Republic, to show the girls some pictures from her trips down south. The girls crowd around a laptop in awe of the scenes depicted in the pictures. They participate in inquisitive discussions about the poverty stricken families and they reflect on some of the comforts they have in their everyday life that Haitian children would see as a luxury. The overwhelming understanding of “Haiti doesn’t have as much stuff as we do” was common among all of the girls.
As well as learning about Haitian culture, the girls made care packages to be brought down to Haiti on an upcoming mission trip. Inside the homemade bags decorated with cheerful drawings were dresses made out of pillowcases, travel-sized bottles of shampoo, knitted washcloths, handmade soap, and picture books that the girls filled out with some of the Creole words that they had learned. Every single item in these individual packages was made with the help of the girls and no two packages are alike.
Cyndi McNamara stressed to the girls that “for some of these girls (in Haiti) it will be the very first time they get something new just for them.”
The project not only provided an after-school activity for the girls, but the effects of its products will carry across thousands of miles to make a child’s day a little bit brighter.