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#2693: Literacy in Creole advocated (fwd)


Published Thursday, March 2, 2000, in the Miami Herald 

 Literacy in Creole advocated

 Program graduates new class  HANS MARDY Herald Writer 

 Last month marked a milestone in 77-year-old Codio Saint-Jean's life.
 He clutched a certificate and recalled how hard it had been for his
parents to send him to school in his hometown of Bainet, a city in
southeastern Haiti. Decades later, he was one of 13 Haitian adults who
recently received certificates of achievement for completing the Creole
Literacy Program at the Catholic Charities Pierre Toussaint Center in
Little Haiti. ``I felt proud of myself,'' said Saint-Jean, who has lived
in Miami for 21 years. ``I have been retired for 13 years. I should have
come to that program earlier. By this time I would have been done with a
four-year degree.'' Like many from his country, Saint-Jean could speak
his native language but not read or write it. Even though many U.S.
Census and other forms are printed in Creole, many Haitians say they
cannot understand them. Since graduating in February, Saint-Jean has
started an English as a Second Language class, through which he hopes to
complete his GED and then go on for a college degree. ``The program
really brings change into their lives,'' said Bishop Thomas Wenski,
 director of Catholic Charities, who spoke at the graduation ceremonies.
 ``It's not a shame for you to be graduating today,'' Wenski told the
graduates during the service. Wenski started the Creole literacy program
nearly several years ago, when he was pastor at Notre-Dame d'Haiti
Catholic Church. ``You are not responsible if your parents did not have
enough money to send you to school in Haiti,'' Wenski said. ``I give all
of you credit for taking advantage of what's offered by the Pierre
Toussaint center to learn how to read and write your own language. It's
a shame for those who knew about the program and refused to
 take the advantage.'' Since the Creole literacy program started in
1992, more than 500 students have graduated. Most of them continued
their education at different public schools while others attended
vocational schools. Ginette Laneau, 44, who traveled to Miami eight
years ago, agreed that the certificate will change her life.
 ``Now I can get involved in so many things,'' said Laneau, a North
Miami resident and mother of four. She thanked program organizers for
the opportunity to advance. ``If I receive a paper in Creole from my
children's school now I can read it.'' One of the goals of the Creole
program is building greater self-confidence in the participants.
 Nearly 100 names are on a waiting list to get into the program, but
most are not eligible under a set of criteria instituted by the state
agency now funding the service, said Emile M. Viard, literacy program
administrator. The center received a $400,000 grant from the Refugee
Program Administration of the state Department of Children and Families
to expand the Creole literacy program. There are requirements for
entering to the program: Haitians who have green cards based on
political asylum, or those who have I-94 immigration forms.
 In addition, they must have been in the United States for no more than
seven years. Saint-Jean signed up for the program before the new rules.
 ``We are now negotiating with state officials to see if there is a
possibility to modify the program so Haitians who have been in the U.S.
for more than seven years could get a chance to get involved,'' Viard
said. If unsuccessful in that effort, ``We will have to look out for
some private source,'' said Wenski. ``We cannot afford not helping those
people.''  Saint-Jean, a former jitney driver, urged every Haitian who
doesn't know how to read and write to sign up for the program.
 ``I don't want to hear excuses explaining that you are too old to
learn,'' Saint-Jean said. ``I will not buy it. I'm a perfect example of
the elderly. At 77, I graduated and I started to go forward. . . I don't
for how many more years I'm going to be alive. As long as I'm alive I
will not give up my schooling.'' He added: ``My goal is to write a book
before I die. If God keeps me alive I will do it -- either in Creole or
in English.''