KONEKTE Princeton Haiti

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See how area residents are connecting our town with Haiti

By Sarah Emily Gilbert

Photography by Andrew Wilkinson

Stuart Country Day School photography and digital arts teacher Andrew Wilkinson sought to emulate French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ability to capture “The Decisive Moment” during his recent trip to Haiti with KONEKTE Princeton Haiti. It takes one look at Wilkinson’s photo series– aptly titled “Haiti – A Defining Moment” – to see that his mission was accomplished.

As written by Wilkinson in his blog, “Haiti is an amazing country – the people, the landscape, the culture – and every breath I took was filled with all of that.” In true Cartier-Bresson fashion, Wilkinson’s compelling photos say all of this without the need for a single written word. However, the women behind KONEKTE (Haitian Creole for connect) know that written words can be a necessity, especially in the Ganthier region of Haiti where 35% of Haitian youth are illiterate, 70% of students do not attend secondary school, and 75% of teachers lack adequate education (http://konekteprincetonhaiti.org). That’s why area residents Anne Hoppenot, Madelaine Shellaby, and Judy Sarvary have made it their mission to empower the children and communities of Haiti through education. With their philanthropic organization, they are able to “konekte” people like Wilkinson and local volunteers with liaisons in Haiti in order to aid the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

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Since 2012, KONEKTE founder Anne Hoppenot of Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart and her team have led groups of adults and students on summer trips to the Ganthier region of Haiti to build ties with the community through construction projects, music, art, and sports. However, KONEKTE’s efforts are focused in funding and developing three schools in the Gantheir area: La Référence de Ganthier, Men Nam Men, and College Mixte Marius Carnold. The organization’s emphasis on education comes as no surprise as all of its team members have spent time working in the classroom.

Hoppenot, a French native and current French teacher at Stuart Country Day School, worked at L’Oreal for 10 years, where she traveled the world as an internal auditor in finance. After the January 2010 earthquake devastated much of Haiti, she visited the Ganthier region with the Foundation for Peace, and was inspired to found KONEKTE Princeton Haiti. Among her organization’s many initiatives is the KONEKTE Partner School Program that links Princeton area schools, such as Stuart, with schools in the Ganthier region to promote cultural exchange and a shared learning experience. They also have training and support programs for teachers and young business people in addition to their annual summer volunteer trip, for which they are currently accepting applications (available for download here).

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Since its founding, KONEKTE’s teams have built new classrooms, installed three solar suitcases, implemented school art programs, conducted medical clinics, provided food and water to a local deportation camp, and organized the annual KONEKTE soccer tournament between four local teams. With their 2016 summer trip yet to be made, it’s clear that this is only the beginning for KONEKTE, whose efforts are making a change both locally and abroad.

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