ProLiteracy’s Partner in Haiti: Serving the Vulnerable
June Levinsohn is the founder of Ayiti Konse Vet (AKV), an agronomy project in Haiti. She spoke to ProLiteracy about AKV’s beginnings and the role literacy is playing in transforming lives in impoverished communities.
You first came to Haiti on an internship. Can you describe what experiences prompted you to start AKV?
While working on my graduate studies in English as a Second Language (ESL), I did an internship in Boston. I worked with Haitian refugees. My students told me stories about what they went through when they were emigrating from Haiti and it had a big impact on me.
I spent three months in Boston and then I did a second internship in Haiti at the Haitian-American Institute in Port-au-Prince. I saw Haiti for the first time in 1982. Port-au-Prince at that time was another version of a nightmare. The immense poverty and the suffering deeply affected me. The enormity of the physical, social, and political violence impacted me so much that I felt like I had to do something.
The key moment was in 1998 when I was asked to assist with putting a roof on a school by Food for the Poor, an international relief and development organization. On the way, in the back of a truck, I met a Dominican agronomist who was looking for organic mangos. As we began talking, the idea of doing some small agriculture project that combined the advanced practices of Dominicans came to me. What a great way to have Dominicans helping their neighbors in a small agricultural project! We originally called it the “Two Countries, One Island” project.
Is there a translation into English of Ayiti Konse Vet and whom does it serve?
‘Ayiti’ is Haiti, ‘Konse’ is conservation and ‘Vet’ means green. So the combination of the words means Haiti Green Conservation or “Keep Haiti Green.”
We serve different areas in the northern region all the way to the west near the Dominican border. We are spread out in about eight different locations around the upper half of the country.
What are some of AKV’s current projects?
We are running many projects at this time. The literacy classes are key because we believe they play an essential role in producing practical solutions. Most of the other programs involve small goat-raising projects, home gardens, and school gardens. The overall intent of the program has always been to find what agricultural products native to the area could serve as the engine for economic growth and improved nutrition in the region.
We believe development is a multifaceted agenda and needs to be approached in a holistic way. Everything we do is accompanied by orientation and training. For example, the agronomists offer training on how to care for the animals and plants and how to set up irrigation, among other things.
Tell us more about the adult literacy project at AKV.
There are 10-12 ongoing classes. Each class has 1-2 monitors (teachers). The curriculum is in Creole and incorporates agricultural and farming practices. We focus on scenarios that are real to Haitian people. They meet twice a week for about 90 minutes. Our graduation rate is 50-70 percent. We allow students to keep repeating the classes until they are able to graduate and move on to the next level.
What are some of the benefits of being associated with ProLiteracy?
ProLiteracy has been supporting literacy work in Haiti for 25 years. Our programs have grown through the support we’ve received from the organization. We’ve also had ProLiteracy staff and interns come and do literacy training with our own staff in Haiti. The partnership has been very beneficial.
What is one of your favorite student stories?
I love telling the story of Rosaile Valsaint. Rosaile is from Mwouj, a region in the northwest part of Haiti. She faced many challenges owing to her low literacy skills. Living in rural Haiti, she had limited access to healthcare and her two children were constantly susceptible to diarrhea. Rosaile was desperate because she could not read the prescriptions for her children’s medication. One of her neighbors told her about AKV’s literacy programs. For the next three years, she attended classes. Today, she can write her own name and read the prescriptions, but that’s not all. She can also help her children with their homework, demonstrating that her improved literacy skills have benefitted her entire family.