Our Story

dorelien family
Edwidge's uncle (the priest), aunt (the teacher),
and grandmother (seated).

Cric Crac

It is with this exchange that the griots (story tellers), my ancestors in Africa, began their storytelling. No records have been kept of my ancestors' passage from Africa to America, from freedom to slavery. Nonetheless, this tradition remains alive today in the Haitian countryside. At night around a bonfire, before retiring for the night, the elders of the village are still telling the stories that their fathers learned from their grandfathers and their grandfathers from their great grandfathers so that these ancestral traditions continue to pass from generation to generation. One of my favorite moments as a child was to listen to these stories during summer nights at my grandmother's home in Grand-Bois, a small village east of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.

Edwidge's Story: Cric Crac

By the throw of dice, I wasn't born and raised in a village, but I spent most of my summers at my grandparent's home in Grand-Bois. My father was the youngest of 11, and one of the four children my grandparents chose to send to Port-au-Prince to be educated. It remains unclear how my grandparents made this difficult decision, but it was not uncommon for parents in Haiti's remote villages who couldn't afford to send all of their children to school to select a few among them. Among the four children that my grandparents sent to the city to be educated, the eldest became a priest; the second a lawyer; the third, a girl, a teacher; and the fourth, my father, dropped out of school during his senior year of high school to marry my mother.

In Haiti, as in so many places, women are the pillars of the family. My father, like many, proved an absent figure, a poor role model. When my mother passed away at the age of 36, she left behind six kids. I was 10 years old, and it was a defining moment in my life. I lost my innocence and became, in essence, an orphan. Fortunately, my uncle, a devoted priest, took on the task of providing for and educating my siblings and me. Growing up in his household, I became inspired by his dedication to serving, sharing, and helping others. I learned the importance of charity, community, and humanity. He instilled in me a strong sense of service and empathy. Reflecting on my upbringing, I would not change my past, although I continue to feel the profound void of my mother's absence.

My life has been divided in three phases: the first focused on my survival and education, the key to my freedom. The second phase centered on raising my family; since I did not grow up in a traditional family, my goal was to be different than my father. I wanted to be there for my kids, to provide for them, to educate them, to raise them to become independent, and most importantly, to be good citizens.

edwidge with children from Grand-Bois
Edwidge with children from Grand-Bois
Now, in my late 50's and approaching the sunset of my life, comes the third and last challenge of my journey. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to give back and repay my original debt.

Despite my father's opportunity – being sent to the city to be educated – he failed to meet his moral obligation: giving back to the children of the brothers that were left behind. Two years ago, I went to my father's village to be reconnected with my extended family, and I was shocked to see the living conditions of the people of the village.

The best gift one can give a child is the bread of education. I owe everything I have today to my uncle who made it possible for me to receive an education, and it is a moral responsibility for me to go back and help the forgotten children of Grand-Bois. My dream is to build a boarding school that the village children can attend without placing a heavy financial burden on their families. My vision is to build a school modeled after the boarding schools where I have taught for the last 18 years. I spent four years at South Kent in Kent, Connecticut, and I have just finished teaching at Blair Academy, a boarding school in New Jersey, after 15 years.

I know this is a challenging undertaking, and that I may not live long enough to see the full impact of the school in Grand-Bois. However, before I close my eyes, I want to plant this seed in my father's village. It is my hope that one day the children of Grand-Bois, through the education they will acquire, will be able to achieve their full potential. As author Paulo Coehlo has noted, "it's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting."

Edwidge Dorelien