Bemidji to Port-au-Prince, One Door Opens to the Next . . . and the Next
By Steve Asper | Published: June 6, 2017
As a wide-eyed 11-year-old, full of apprehension and excitement, I arrived at camp in Bemidji, Minn. The one with the name I couldn’t pronounce. I donned a new name (Henrik) and was introduced to new friends and melkeskjokolade. That was all it took to hook me, and the door with the funny name, Skogfjorden, opened. I dove through, head first, even saving my own money every year to make sure I could go back. Who knew learning Norwegian could be so fun?
High school soon arrived with doors of its own. Norwegian wasn’t an option but French was. My friends chose French, so with all the wisdom of a 9th grader, I did too. A year later, I was still learning Norwegian in the summer and French at school. That led to a junior year abroad in Norway and multiple study abroad adventures in college, all with many doors of their own.
The hook was set. This language thing was no longer an interest or course of study. Learning language and culture was now a passion that had to be shared. Opportunities for teaching at Concordia Language Villages and then in a French immersion school allowed me to continue learning while sharing my passion.
Several years went by and the next door became technology. Who would have thought that the guy once accused of “being afraid of his computer” would make a career in helping others leverage technology to accelerate learning for students?
Then another door appeared, but this one wasn’t open. January 10, 2010, a devastating earthquake hit the heart of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. I have skills: French, carpentry, teaching. I wanted to go, but how? Crack.
Two years go by and a close friend spends a week in Haiti to work with kids and deliver clean water. Crack.
A year later was still not my time, but my wife’s. When she returned, she looked at me as only a knowing spouse can, and said, “Steve, you HAVE to go.” Creeeeak.
A year later, I was invited to join a Healing Haiti team spending a week delivering water in Cité Soleil, a slum of 300,000 people living without clean water or electricity. We visited hospitals of the dying, schools and orphanages of all shapes and sizes. An understanding of French, cultural differences and children were invaluable skills and provided an immediate path to connecting with the children and adults we encountered. And the experience left me in awe. How could one place be so broken and the people so beautiful? Beautifully broken!??!
Haiti is beautifully broken. The beauty I found there broke my heart in the best kind of way, and it pushed me to seek out other avenues to discover more about Haiti, another door. I learned of a former colleague who had started a non-profit organization, Kozefò, to support one primary school in Port-au-Prince. Without the support, education would be out of reach for many of the children in the community. She invited me to join her team and expressed an interest in starting a technology component at the school.
With the help of a generous gift, we were able to connect the school to the internet, provide Chromebooks, a projector, a technology teacher and ongoing professional development for staff and teachers. A New Arrival Center Primary School is the first Google for Education (G-Suite) school in Haiti and the school now has a long-term partnership with Otter Lake Elementary School in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.
The opportunity of working for the students at A New Arrival Center Primary School has now lead to another door, potentially the largest of them all. If it goes well, I promise another WorldView blog post to bring you up to speed. Kozefò has become the wonderful intersection of all of my passions: language and culture, education, technology, children and service. We never know what crazy path learning another language might take us, like Norwegian opening a door to Haiti. Which door will you open?
About the Author
Steve Sverre/Etienne Asper is a seven-year villager and 20+ year staff member at both Skogfjorden and Lac du Bois, the Norwegian and French Language Villages. He is currently the technology support manager for White Bear Lake Area Schools and CIO and board member for Kozefò.
comments powered by Disqus