Sunday, February 22, 2015

Haiti Backpacks

Teaching 6th graders is one of the highlights of my life right now. I love them! I love American 6th graders. I love Haitian 6th graders. Hopefully next year I can proudly claim- "I love my OWN 6th grader!!!"…. (How is it possible that Elli is almost a 6th grader???)

But, I will fully admit that sometimes I just want to shake them!

I wanna shake up the USA 6th graders. Show them that they can change the world… that teenagers across the globe can and are changing the world and they can be part of the party. I point out teenagers on Channel 1 that are changing the world. I make them read and write about teenagers that are making the world better. I get kind of bossy and make them tell me WHY I am pointing out a particular person- "Because they are a teenager Mrs. Baker and teenagers can change the world." Call it brainwashing- or call it reality.

I want my 6th graders to find the kind of friends that I found in middle school- friends that sang Christmas carols at the nursing home and served at the soup kitchen. We served others but had an awesome time becoming teenagers and celebrating life together. I had the kind of friends that you dream about for your kids. I have a high standard for my own 4 kids friends because I was part of such an incredible group of people that are truly brag worthy.

I love that my 6th graders are JUST beginning to explore careers-- so many options for either gender-- and so many ways here in America to dream big and grab the degree/certification to make it happen. So. Many. Ways. Free public education with bussing and food and class size amendments. (I know not every classroom in America is perfect--- but when you travel around the world and see the reality for millions of school children without free education/bussing/food/teachers etc…. you know you don't have much to complain about.)

But yet I have seen. I have witnessed. And once you know- you know. I know what it's like to have the best teachers, the best friends, the best technology, the best packed school lunch ever… (thank you Mom and Dad for the capri suns, cool ranch Doritos, Pizza Rolls and Totino pizza hookup and for my high school and middle school to have microwaves. My lunch ROCKED!!!)

But now I am parenting children who didn't have the proper early childhood toys, communication, and development. I have seen what living in an orphanage with no toys does to fine and gross motor skills. I have lived through the hell of fixing bodies filled with parasites. (Yes- that is a proper description)….

I have seen with my own 2 eyes what it looks like to walk to school through the mountain cliffs for 2 hours… and then walk home for 2 hours… and then walk to the water source for your family, pets, and crops. And you may or may not have had a lunch or parasite filled water to drink. But you walk anyway. You walk to school for a chance to cram in a desk-in a building with no electricity- to orally practice your education in an overcrowded classroom.
Here they are- walking down the mountain to school... Ignore my dirty hand!) 
I want to shake my 6th grade Haitian friends and say:

- WOW! You did it! You could have SO easily dropped out like so many others. Your parents need you to farm, to fetch water, to take care of the burning fire for meal prep. I can't imagine how hard it was to walk that path every day. To have the cherished school uniform shirt passed down and mended over and over…and it really doesn't fit anymore. You learned so much by daylight hours with minimal resources. You are stronger and braver than me. But-- keep going! Find a way! I know it seems completely impossible to carry on-- and in reality- I am sure it is. But will you promise me you will try? You will try to have a dream-- and try to find a way to live out that dream? Will you make good choices about boys/girls/friends? I beg you to have high standards and to not compromise. Will you ask God what your purpose and destiny is? Will you challenge yourself to take the take the next step to higher education?

Here's the deal- 6th grade is the end for most of my Haitian 6th grade friends. To continue on, they must go into the city (4 hour drive away-- but most will walk)and live without their family to continue on with secondary education. These are poor peasant farming families. But- if that spark (see my last post on Haiti) is still there--- it might be possible!

I need your help. I have been asked to help coordinate 17 backpacks. There are 8 boys and 9 girls in the 6th grade class that I taught art at in Haiti. Preperations are being made for their graduation this spring. This is it! This is the time to continue to inspire them and for them to see that it will be worth it to find a way! I dream along side of CPI Haiti that one day a secondary education chance will be housed with the elementary--- but that day is not here yet. CPI Haiti would like to gift each one a backpack full of supplies to continue the journey. That 6th grade graduation doesn't have to be the end--- but just the beginning.

I asked a few of my friends and family to do this project for me this past fall. And it was AWESOME! We passed out backpacks to the top 3 students in each grade level. Being part of this mini-ceremony in each class was one of my favorite parts of the trip. So- I am asking you again. And I need a few more friends/family to help me. I need 17 school supply filled backpacks by the middle of March. Who wants to help?

Please use the link below to commit to a backpack- or 2- or 17! :)

Sign Up Here!

Thanks for helping me spread sunshine! This is FUN!

P.S. Just to warn you now- I am dreaming about how to make yellow gingham uniform shirts and help fund the adult literacy program next…. more blog dream post coming up after the move!


Book Club Recap: Unbroken

First let me recap (since I deleted my original blog…. sniff sniff…) why I even do book club:

1. I love books and after every book I read I go, "Man, I wish I could talk to someone about this book right now!"

2. I don't take being a literate female for granted. Remember this picture from Haiti?
It was one of the few times I cried in Haiti--- illiterate adults learning vowels after the school was dismissed. This scene has been heavy on my heart since I returned and I am asking God to show me how I can financially contribute to the continuation of this program. One day, I would love to host a Jenntage book club with them!

3. I love to throw parties! Throwing birthday parties for my daughters was one of the highlights of creativity for me while they were growing up. It allowed me to be "me" and to not loose my creativity when motherhood felt so overwhelming while still being a full time teacher. However… once we became a "tribe"…and I had 3 year old triplets with an older sister under my wing-- party planning began to feel overwhelming. I "retired" from Baker Birthday Parties after Caden and Lillian each had an official "Jenn Baker themed birthday party"… which is a whole other post! (To this day- birthdays are a highlight of Lillian's life!!!! It makes me super sad to think of all of the children and orphans around the world who never get celebrated around the world…. which also leads me to another blog post and my vision of "Jenntage Jubilees" on my life bucket list… anywhoo--- back to book club recap!

4. I love to make desserts and serve warm drinks!

5. Being the children's pastor at my church, I don't go to "big church" and have much fellowship time with my church family. I know that I need the encouragement, fellowship, accountability, and the desire to grow as a Christian--- so I create those moments for myself by hosting book clubs and crafts nights. Selfish- maybe… needed? YES!

6. Besides being open to the ladies of my church, I love hosting women from Lakeland and surrounding area. Polk county may get a bad rap on the news- but I think some of the most genuine- caring- giving ladies live in my community. I want to share life with them-learn from them- and be inspired by them! I often say/think- "Lakeland is Love" because I see and feel the love to often myself. Those are my reasons! Unbroken Book Club was probably one of the best ones yet. Yes, I always say that… but each time we gather and share- it is just magical. I have been part of some pretty awesome book club nights and they have literally changed my life, my heart, and my outlook. Unbroken was no different! I had prepared some "googled" discussion questions (always a great place to start-- don't reinvent the wheel!) but I hardly used them because the conversation and discussion was so natural. Or maybe the buttermilk pie kept us begging for more discussion to allow time for another piece????

And 2 months later- I am wrapping up this unfinished blog post for a book club update!

- February book club was canceled because of the craziness involved with the selling and buying of our house. Everything was supposed to happen last week- but it looks like Tuesday is the big day for our farmhouse dream that I have been mentally planning in my head for years but never thought it would happen. You just never know where those interest boards will take you… :)

- So--- March 12- 7:30 PM at my NEW house... (Text me for the address) is our next Jenntage Book Club. We will be discussing Orphan Train. Please bring antibiotic cream or EMLA (numbing cream) donations for Sole Hope. I am collecting different needed items each month during book club to help at their Ugandan Jigger Clinic. I would LOVE to host you-- come come come! I can be bribed to make more buttermilk pie!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Haiti Projects: #1- Teach Art


 1. Teach Art- You got it! You must know however, I am really not an art teacher. I only took art in 6th grade for a few weeks. The art teacher at my school was creepy--- so I stayed away. He was the same teacher for middle school and high school- so I never explored that creative classroom. Looking back- I am kinda bummed. I really wish I would have taken pottery or something. But I knew I couldn't draw (not even stick figures)- so I thought art was just out. for life. 

 2. I remember loving any creative project K-12th grade. The highlight of my kindergarten year was to learn to put my crayons in rainbow order. Do it every time… anything and everything- even my clothes in my closet are rainbow order! I started out in college as an elementary education major- but knew that I would devote too much of my energy into bulletin boards instead of lesson plans- so I switched to secondary social studies education. 

 18 year old decisions looked like this: Who was my favorite teacher in high school? Mr. Rodgers. Favorite childhood toy? American Girl Dolls. Bam- I think I will become a history teacher. (Best teacher ever shout out goes to my beloved Mrs. Collins… that's why I started out as an education major!)

 After rainbow ordered 1st grade crayons, creative high school book reports and Homecoming/Snowfest floats…. the next thing I discovered was scrapbooking, which led to sewing, which led to crochet…. If you give a girl a box of crayons, then she will need poster board, and then and then and then…. cue in the "If you give a mouse a cookie" book lines- just substitute art supplies for cookies. Or not. I really like cookies too! Rabbit trail… 

 3. So when our Haiti trip got rescheduled for November and now that the girls that I wanted to teach crochet to where in school at the time- I got volun-told for art. I got pretty excited because I currently teach a bit of art at the end of the day and absolutely LOVE it! There is more to art than just drawing!!!! Art is color, and techniques, and visible emotions, and history as a cherry on top! Glue guns, and fabric, and rainbow sharpies and pinterest- whoohoo! My students love coming to art class because they get to socialize, be creative, and are not behind an electronic screen! (I eavesdrop on them and this is what they really said!) You can't mess up in art. I personally don't want my students not to pursue it "for real" in 7th-12th grade so I am trying really hard not to be too creepy :) 

 4. I was told that the students in the school we were traveling to do not have art class or do art. I didn't really want to believe it. In my current stage of life (mostly simply raising triplets)… art is therapy for me. But sure enough- here is what the classrooms looked like on Sunday: 

 It kinda felt like operation color... Or extreme classroom makeover! 

 I taught 5th grade art on Monday and the same projects on Tuesday to the 6th graders. I tweaked a valentine printable from here

I started by passing around a mirror. This helped to break the ice and get the kids giggling…they were super quiet at first. 

 I tried to convince them to color their skin color in… but that got lost in translation! After they created their self-portrait, they glued rainbow tissue squares all around. 

 The next project I typically do at Easter time with my kids from church. I loved how this one turned out- so colorful and instant smile makers! A little bit of watercolor and paint tape created instant magic.

 I kinda have this personal goal of making sunshine cookies with kids all around the world. I love spreading sunshine- especially edible ones in the form of cookies.... But then again, I have already established that I love cookies! I have done them at church, kids summer book club, my class, my own tribe, and now my Haitian kiddos. The 5th graders were a MESS… my candy corn had melted and turning the white frosting into yellow frosting was intense!!!! For 6th grade, I took advantage of the only classroom resource: the chalkboard. 6th graders did a great job! Frosting was totally a first for both groups- they licked every drop off of their fingers and wanted to know what it was called! Some of the sweet 6th grade girls saved 1/2 of their sun to take home to share. 

 After the sunshine cookies, they made journals. I did most of my "teaching" by show and sign-language. But I did grab the translator for the intro for the next 2 projects. They created an art or writing journal. I told them… no begged them… to write out their dreams. Draw their dreams. Write poetry. Leave their legacy. I told them their story matters and that it was ok to dream. I am not sure if they got it. Or that it was translated correctly. I am not sure if they believed me. Can a message from a white lady with no clue of their hardships and life really make a difference? I tried to show my genuine compassion through my smile and eyes and patience. I sure hope it worked. I hope those girls heard just a morsel of what I was saying. I hope the boys tucked it away too.  On our last night there, I (and some Swedish fish bribed friends), wrote a note in their journals to remind them of my pep talk. And that I meant it. 

 I read the book- "The Dot" to encourage them to just start. Leave a mark. To have confidence and that their name was important. (And yours is too by the way!) 

 We ended the day doodling away and coloring in some popsicle stars. (I saw them here) After school, I hung them up all around the banner that we hung in every room as a "banner verse" :) At night (yay for a generator at night!) and the last few days we were there, I laminated everything that I could so that it would last as long as possible and hung it up to create classrooms full of color. There is no electricity- just open windows for sunlight to come through. Yay sunlight! I put a group of young men to work tearing up fabric to create banners- as seen here

 The rest of the team took a grade level or 2 and created awesomeness as well. I love love loved being part of this team and doing art with kids. Creating a cute classroom is one of my favorite things to do for my students--- so why not take that show on the road? (Or airplane!) Thank you CPI Haiti for allowing me to come along and do my thing! Spreading Sunshine is my fav! Here was our creative classroom team: love these girls! 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Haiti in my Heart!

Quick (haha!) recap of my 2nd trip to Haiti over Thanksgiving break. 

 I have a lot to say about this trip--- but I don't want to share much without sharing my view on poverty… because that is a big part of the story. I got the privilege to share in church today… so I thought I would just start with a copy and paste of those notes. I will talk about more specifics over the next few weeks.

  Here is what I shared today:

Good Morning! My original intent to going to Haiti was to teach a few high school girls how to crochet my coffee coasters with hopes for them to earn money to continue to pay for high school tuition. Going to school in Haiti is not free. It will cost you. More than just money.

However, for a variety of reasons, our focus shifted to Extreme School Makeover! And it was fantastic! 

(I still have a STRONG passion for teaching crochet/crochet coffee coasters- along with lots of supplies from my IG friends and able to purchase more from my Etsy sales.... still working on that- stay tuned!) 

I went with CPI Haiti- a local lakeland group determined to make a difference. At last year’s LV Kids cupcake stand, our church body gave enough to send $400 dollars to the children in Ugandan prisons, most of them wrongly accused and it went to 60 Feet in helping to fight social injustice. The other $350 went to support our new sponsor child- Chilove (pronounced SHE-love... Best name EVER!) in Haiti. 

 Chilove attends CPI’s FREE primary school because of your kindness and generosity. Free primary school is very rare in Haiti. She rocked it last year and was actually 3rd in her class! I got to meet sweet Chilove and she is simply a beauty! So shy... so determined... and my kids are still wondering why I couldn’t just bring her home with me!!! She walks all the way from the water source to come to school...

 (I'm pointing to the water source in above picture to give you an idea how far away it is.) 

One of the things I was looking forward to most was walking to the water source myself. I teach 6th grade World History and that is a key concept to my entire year. I had just taught Mesopotamia and knowing that Egypt was next... I NEEDED to get to the water source. Having access to the water source is a primary feature to our very first civilizations. We were not allowed to go because of recent gang activity by the water source and the leadership said it was too dangerous for the white folks.

 So seeing Chilove walking over an hour+ to school and then another hour+ back home... walking through gang activity... On the last day, I was able to sneak her a backpack and was cautioned that it may not make it home because it could be stolen.... there are no words.... 

(Because if your name is Chilove-- you must have heart sunglasses from crazy white lady going goo-goo - ga- ga over you!) 

I was supposed to share last week--- but I was still “recovering” from something funky in Haiti... last week was the first week of Advent--- HOPE. I had the BEST story to go with that theme--- and even though it is the week of PEACE... you have to hear it. 

 One afternoon I was there, I was working down in the make-shift child-sponsor room where they were taking pictures of the school children and helping them sign their name to a letter for their sponsor family... when in came Wilner. 

 Now Wilner is a big, tall, handsome young man. My friend Ida jumped into the translating conversation and pep talked 101’ed him. We started to tear up, get goosebumps and we went ALL momma bear on him. Here’s why.... Last year, at the age of 15... Wilner informed his parents- “I WANT TO LEARN.” period. 

 Up until this time, Wilner was a farm hand for his family on the side of mountain 'er... CLIFF in my books!

 (Side note- the area that we were in were all poor peasant farmers. Very similar to our migrant workers here in America. Small shack, working the land... often time not their own land... and trying to survive. This group of people are snubbed often and looked down upon.)

 Anyway- Wilner. Age 15. Decides he wants to learn--- despite his parents saying no- and walks down the mountain for Pre-K for the very first time. Age 15. In Pre-K. So when we met up with him in the sponsorship room--- we had a progress report from his teacher and we had to convey to him through a translator that we him... he has worked so hard and studied so well that this year- Age 16- he is in the THIRD grade!!!! 

 On Wednesday- we decided that our momma bear pep talk (which a year ago- with Ida- he also accepted Christ!!!)... that we wanted to walk him home and brag on him to his momma. We wanted to thank her for allowing him to continue to go to school EVEN though we TOTALLY understand why she needs him on the farm. 

 So up up up up... holy hot cakes... up up up and up some more- about a 45 mins walk UP (have I said that before?) the incredibly steep and rocky mountain we march. 

 Mind you--- kids in flip flops were running past us on the edge of the mountain cliffs....

 We finally huff and puff our way up the mountain... and Wilner is locked out of his house. 

 His mom was not back yet from walking down to Port-Au-Prince- (a 4-5 hour walk--- so for the Americans it would have been about 8!!!) to sell produce from her farm land. His dad had left for another woman who lived at the water source--- so it was now just mom, Wilbur, and 4 surviving siblings. We were bummed not to be able to meet her and thank her-- but we didn’t want to miss the moment with him. 

 So we broke out in more momma bear pep talks, man to man talks, and student to student talks. We got a tour of his land and got to learn more about his day. Besides walking to and from school, he also makes a trip or 2 to the water source daily, studies as long as there is daylight, and works the farmland.

(I taught him the concept of a selfie while Ida taught him the more important life skills of giving and receiving of hugs!) 

 Wilner is going to make it. Can you feel it in his story? For a 15 year old to say to his parents- “I want to learn” and start in pre-k.... Determined. Brave. Hope.

 Psalms 78: 4-8 

 So we sponsor 1 child. Chilove. We pray for another one. Wilner. We have HOPE that they will break the cycle and be the first to be educated in their family. 

 It’s NOT so they can start to look and act like Americans. The goal isn’t to set their school up to be like ours. 

 Let me do a very quick insight to poverty. 

 Imagine a wheel. Poverty is in the middle. The spokes coming out of the middle are 6 things:  
Social: politics and justice 

EACH one has to be address and functioning for the wheel of poverty to start moving forward and break the generations of poverty for that child.

 (They are all addressed in the Bible as well. Read “Too Small to Ignore” by Wes Stafford to read more about this!) 

 If your tire to your vehicle is only 5/6 of the way fixed... it’s STILL broken.

 BUT- when we have HOPE. And we Go. And we share. We encourage. We help with the resources. We share Jesus. We teach them to read so that they can read for themselves the most wonderful book- the Bible... the wheel starts to move. 

But there’s more. It’s a mind set.

 Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset

 (I teach this to my students every year- goggle it- along with "grit"... Awesomesauce!) 

Poverty is a mindset. The spokes on the wheel are all symptoms. For generations they have heard and seen and felt- YOU DON’T MATTER. 

It’s overwhelming. 

It’s what you know. Poverty is an inside out issue. It’s an issue and mindset of your heart and soul.

But... when you see that sparkle in a child’s eye... We need the SPARKLE in their eye. 

 And guess what- the little children still have THAT sparkle. And when that sparkle continues- and you provide all 6 spokes of poverty- and you intervene with LOVE and HOPE.... You bring children to their heavenly Father. 

The answer IS the gospel. 
Every Time. Every Where. 

 When that child with the sparkle in their eye grows into the adolescent and says for the first time ever- I MATTER AFTER ALL... you changed a child forever. And when you change a child- you eventually will change a family. and a village. and a community. And the next community because that sparkle and mindset is contagious. 

 (Both breaking out of poverty and staying in poverty are contagious). 

 They don’t know what success tastes like--- and won’t have the motivation to keep going after it-- until they have experienced it. We have to GIVE them those experiences. We can share our unique personalities and gifts and talents to provide those experiences. We have excess. We can love more and share more. We don’t look at missions (local and global) and think- you want my money and time again? 

 We need to say- Yes I will give again and again and again! 

 To me- it looks like- more child sponsorships to keep the school running and expanding. It looks like teaching art for the first time to add color and dignity and a welcoming environment. So- that’s what we did.... we turned bare plywood walls into a bright and cheery learning environment. We made sunshine cookies and tasted frosting for the first time ever. They got to do art and the spark to express themselves for the very first time.

 It’s the little things in life that give you the eye sparkle. 

 And when that teenager who said- “I matter after all” gets asked: 

 “Well what do you think?” 

 And for the first time... because they have had support, encouragement, and a taste of success says.... 

 “Well, I don’t think my community should look like this...” 

 or “I don’t think it’s fair __(Fill in the blank)________ so I am going to do ____(Fill in the blank)______ “ 

 You start the LONG and slow path of changing the world. 

 It starts with that one child. That one sponsorship or adoption or mentorship. That one trip where you just needed to see and feel and witness for yourself so you could pep talk kids until you were 100% exhausted when the sun went down. So you could look them in the eye.

 So you could smile at them. And believe.

 Have hope again for this generation.

 There is hurt. There is war. There is poverty. There is injustice. There is illiteracy. There is so. much. brokenness. 

Here and There. 

 BUT when you see them at school and excelling. And you hear the after school adult literacy class chanting vowels.

 And you see them with the sparkle in their eye looking in the mirror to create their self portrait you have PEACE. 

 You pray and hope and believe for Jesus to steal their heart instead of the poverty and the world winning and stealing again.  

God said that all children are arrows in the hands of the mighty man, Jesus Christ. All we have to do in order to evangelize the whole world is to take the arrows and place them into Jesus’ hands. (Book- One Million Arrows-- read that one too!) 

 Being gone for another Thanksgiving wasn’t easy on my family-- but Andy rocked it and my kids survived because their wheel is moving forward JUST FINE... 

 But a week in Haiti right before Advent- I’ll take it. I would do it again in a heartbeat- because I am waiting for Emmanuel to keep changing lives. Whether it’s here in our congregation or on the mountain side of Haiti. 

 A baby boy changed the world 2000 years ago... our little arrows will continue to do the same--- if only given the chance! 

 Children matter. Their story matters. Your story matters. And if you don’t believe that- you are believing lies. 

 Be the reason little eyes sparkle this holiday season and in 2015!

(There are a few kids from the school -more being posted soon- as well as adult literacy sponsors needed... If you have ever thought about sponsoring a child- do it now! Gift it away for your kids for Christmas.  Do it in honor of your favorite teacher.  Do something! Everyone can do something! I personally loved being part of the CPI group and highly recommend joining their vision with child sponsorship.) 

*not a paid or sponsored post- just sharing from my heart! 

New blog… same address!

So in a season of life where everything felt overwhelming last year- I deleted my blog. Like hard core deleted. I know I know--- I threw away our written legacy. My book club wrap ups… our journey to adoption… But those memories are tucked away in my heart and I am moving on. Yes- I tried to reclaim the deleted blog with no success… it is what it is! Welcome to another blog journey with Jenntage. Bottom line- I got too much to say and share and show. Follow me on IG (jenntage) for a daily glimpse of Jenntage life! :) -Spread Sunshine- Jenn