By Kairi Coe
The founder of the Haitian Creole Language Institute (HCLI) has launched a new initiative geared towards children ages 2 to 5 whose parents want them fully immersed in their homeland’s native tongue.
Wynnie Lamour has welcomed anyone with a passion for Haitian culture to learn and engage with others at HCLI since the fall of 2013, but more recently she’s noticed how necessary it is for the youth. “Our focus has been primarily on adults, but as more people were growing and learning with their families, the demand for a space for young children grew,” she said in an interview with Haitian Times.
After meeting Darnelle Champagne, an educator with a specialization in Early Childhood, the two created the Jaden Timoun Language Immersion Program. The space provides lessons for both the children and their families: pre-schoolers are given hands-on activities to become knowledgeable of Kreyòl and the Haitian culture as a whole, while older members of the household learn how they can reinforce said lessons at home.
During France’s reign centuries ago, colonists made it so the children of Haiti would learn French as their primary language, or what some consider “the language of higher socioeconomic prestige,” according to Lamour. Champagne explains “Language is part of a people’s identity and stigmatizing the Haitian Creole language served as one of the tools to strip away part of that identity to better control them.” The country’s youth were often forbidden to read and write in their native Kreyòl, generating a disconnect where Haitians were made to feel inferior.
“Kreyòl Ayisyen has an official orthography but many people will misspell Kreyòl words and not even make an effort to make corrections. Kreyòl Ayisyen is often described as a ‘broken’ French.”
“All of this is a direct result of French colonialism, which had to dehumanize a people in order to function. That dehumanization extended to the Haitian Creole language,” Darnelle adds. “Jaden Timoun is an initiative that is working to unravel these post-colonial ideologies.”
The Jaden Timoun Pre-School Haitian Creole Language Immersion Program is now open for fall enrollment. The founders will lead the class with a crash course on Haitian culture and a curriculum catered to children’s influential minds. With a parent and/or caregiver, they will learn the vocabulary of those who came before them through song, movement and a handful of other activities in weekly, hour-long sessions.
Jaden Timoun will take place every Sunday from Sept. 16 to Dec. 9. at the Lefferts Gardens Montessori School at 559 Rogers Avenue. Individual sessions are also available.
“Jaden Timoun is open to anyone who is looking to expose their children to an authentic Haitian experience,” Lamour concludes. HCLI also offers a plethora of language-based services for adults, including dialect coaching and translation aide, according to the website. For more information, please visit www.haitiancreoleinstitute.com