Author Holiday Reinhorn on how Lide project uses the arts to help educate girls in Haiti

Girls' education

Holiday Reinhorn had a four-hour trip to a tiny rural school – far from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. The American fiction writer was travelling with her husband, actor and TV star Rainn Wilson, to visit schools being supported by an education charity.

On the way, she asked a director of the school if they used writing exercises or the arts to encourage students to talk about their aspirations. No, he said, it was all about getting children into school to learn basic literacy. But be my guest, he added.

Holiday said: “When we got there, I sat the students down in a circle and asked what their hopes and dreams were. This tiny girl started speaking to me in Creole and said ‘I come from a family of 11 – I want to write, I want to sing, I want to dance’.

“Soon all the kids were gathered around because this girl had come to school for six months and hadn’t said a word. That became the germination in my mind that this was the kind of teaching I wanted to do.”

And so was born the idea of Lide. In Creole it means leader. The Lide programme was established in Haiti by Holiday and Rainn in 2012 – more than two years after that first trip – to promote educational initiatives for adolescent girls in a Caribbean country where more than 40% of the population are under 18.

Holiday Reinhorn with girls at workshop Picture: J/P HRO

Lide trains teachers to employ writing, drama, photography, film and art to boost literacy and help the girls find dignity and learn life skills in a society where they are often treated as second-class citizens. Many girls in Haiti end up as domestic servants – and it is this population that Lide primarily serves.

Holiday said: “I come from four generations of teachers. As a fiction writer I always wanted to combine what I did on the page with service to women, helping them to establish their own voice.

“I always believed that the act of writing and the arts could be a bridge to learning.”

That first visit to Haiti in 2009 happened after Rainn became a celebrity for his role on the American TV series The Office.

Holiday explained: “Due to his television show we found that people were writing to him all the time, asking if we would be able to help their cause. Universal education was our thing. So off we went to Haiti.”

Lide facilitator Guerline teaches girl to read her own story

Rainn was involved with the Mona Foundation, which was sponsoring four schools in Haiti at the time. Then came the deadly earthquake of 2010 which killed between 100,000 and 300,000 people.

Soon after, Holiday volunteered to return to teach the arts at a charity-run tented camp.

She said: “We did a two-week workshop of creative writing, photography and theatre for 60 adolescent girls. We started to see the way that these workshops transformed these girls’ lives.

“It was miraculous to us. And they kept meeting for a year after we left.”

Lide is based in the poor La Liberte area of the city of Goniave. Many adolescents are out of school and many teenage girls have children. Lide serves both students who are at school and those who can’t afford tuition. It becomes the only source of education for the latter group.

Kathryn and Holiday at workshop in Haiti Picture: J/P HRO

Now Lide is branching out. In August, Lide director Dr Kathryn Adams visited Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon with a view to developing similar programmes there.

She explained: “What I kept hearing there is that there is a huge gap in services – money is being prioritised for primary school education.

“In Haiti we have teenagers who go back to school but can’t read or write. The lessons are aimed at a six-year-old and they feel so much personal shame that they don’t stay in school for more than six months

“So in Lebanon and Jordan the issue is similar – that no one is helping these teenagers in the refugee camps. As a result, girls are being married off or they are being locked up. Sometimes the families marry them off because they are afraid that the girls will be raped. Or have to trade sex for survival.

Rainn Wilson helps to train Lide teachers

“Our hope is that we can deliver programmes that will address the lack of help for adolescents and give girls a safe place to go, help them have a voice, help them build literacy skills.”

Lide is also planning to provide university scholarships in Lebanon and Jordan for Syrian refugees. The hope is that – when the conflict in the region finally ends – these graduates will return to Syria to teach and help others.

Kathryn said there are many lessons to be learned from Lide’s work in Haiti. She added: “We suddenly expanded rapidly when we started working with local farming collectives. They said this was the kind of stuff that only the city kids would normally get.

“It does no good to put a child into school in a classroom with 96 students. Our programmes look after each child. And we stay with them rather than just walk away – otherwise the kids themselves just walk away from school.”

Holiday at #EducationCountdown September Forum in New York

One of Lide’s success stories echoed that of the little girl who hadn’t spoken at school for six months. Jenny arrived at Lide with selective mutism caused by trauma.

Kathryn said: “She was abandoned by her mother and raised by a collection of uncles in shanties. After about two weeks in the programme, which includes improvisation theatre and games, she was the most outspoken kid in the class, singing and dancing and playing games and talking to other kids.”

Holiday laughed at the thought of Jenny. It is that self-exploration that Lide has helped so many young girls to achieve. And it doesn’t stop at the doors of the Lide programme.

She added: “The children teach the games to each other. We come into the neighbourhood and all the kids know the games and they’re playing them in the streets.”

You can find out more about Lide on its Facebook page.

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