Thursday, December 11, 2008


"Is that colonialism in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"
One of the eligibility requirements that we have implemented for those who wish to attend The Caribbean Institute of Media Technologies is that they have a working fluency in English. This means they must be able to speak, read, and write in English.

Now I won't lie, this decision was not made easily. It comes with certain grand and sweeping implications; specifically, that it rules out a LOT of creative people who would love to attend the CIMT. Nonetheless, it is a decision that I stand beside.

There are several reasons for this decision. For those who care, I shall outline them now.

1 - English is one of the most-spoken languages on the planet.
Depending on your source, English falls as either the second or third most-spoken language on the Earth (Mandarin wins by a landslide - 1 billion speakers). According to most sources, English is spoken by around 500 million people worldwide. French, the language of the highly educated in Haiti, ranks 10th on the list (coming in at 130 million). In terms of global reach, there is no comparison between French and English; English takes the prize. In order for our storytellers to have a global reach, English is essential.

As silly as this may sound, I once told someone, "When Oprah calls, I want the students to be able to speak with her themselves."

Students who require a translator to speak outside of their own culture are immediately isolated and at a distinct disadvantage. In our estimation, this is not the correct place to begin.

2 - A wealth of great resources are available in English.
Software, literature, films, and a great wealth of industry professionals (less than 700 miles away) are readily available in English. To educate in Creole, a great deal of translation and interpretation would make for a drastically reduced level of efficiency (specifically as it relates to the interpretation of artistic matters) and ultimately serve to diminish (if not altogether destroy) the atmosphere required for this sort of technical and artistic training.

While we do fully intend to offer training in Creole in the future, we have again decided that to do so now would not be to play toward our strengths or the strengths of our initial students.

Certainly, this point is made with a twist of irony. When considering cinema, educating in French would make a lot of sense. For sure, French is a language that is intimately meshed with cinema. In fact, one of the first motion picture cameras was invented by a Frenchman (Louis Lumiere in 1895). Subsequently, there are scores of important films and resources available in the French language. Nonetheless, numbers don't lie, and with the enormous gap between the number of English and French speakers worldwide, the scales are once again weighted toward English.

3 - We are training the trainers.
Upon matriculation, the students we train are expected to be among an elite group or craftsmen (and women) in their country. To put it bluntly, these will be the leaders of the leaders, responsible for passing their knowledge on to their own countrymen. In this case, by having multilingual Haitians as seasoned experts in their field, the possibility for non-English-speaking Haitians to receive a quality education is even greater. With a rich cultural understanding of Creole and firm grasp of English, our students will be capable of deeper and better translation and interpretation than anyone from the outside.

We truly come in peace.
The point has never been to come in and change the culture, heritage, or identity of Haiti. Without question, so long as those things do not stand in the way of the development of the basic human rights of every Haitian, I think that they should be preserved.

Those who once settled the island of Hispaniola came primarily with the Christian sword as their authority and the lust for gold as their darker motivation. Their barbarism soon wiped out the native Tainos and introduced the Americas to an unprecedented wave of human trafficking.

When the slaves revolted and won their freedom from the colonizing French, it would be the beginning of a long and ongoing struggle for autonomy in an increasingly shrinking world. Today, with the bulk of her natural resources exhausted, Haiti must find a way to retain her sense of self while integrating herself into the global economy. The rejection of outside influences has long been a matter of protection and pride for many Haitians. After studying history, I can certainly see why. Experience has shown that outsiders cannot be trusted.

But the luxury of isolation and autonomy has run its course. Too much is at stake for the walls to remain. Quite literally, pride or no pride, people are suffering and dying in Haiti under the crushing heel of problems that the rest of the world has long-since solved.

I want Haiti to remain strong and independent. I want Haiti to be free, not just on paper, but in the practical sense too. I want international businesses to feel safe in Haiti again. I want tourists to book trips and cruise ships to travel further than the Northern Coast once more. I want children to be fed and living with their natural parents. I want roads that are well maintained. I want hospitals and forests and wells and decent schools and justice.

It starts with Haiti's ability to visualize herself as part of the world at large. It is time for her voices to be raised and heard around the world, and for that, Haitians must be willing to bend a little and show the world just how versatile... how truly amazing... they really are.


Rebecca said...

I understand why you are teaching in English and I stand by your decision to do so. Not only are the things you mentioned very true, but students are often very excited to be able to practice their other language and improve upon it. We had a teenager come up to us when we were in Haiti a few years ago and just start talking to us because he knew English and wanted to talk with people he could learn from. It was exciting to see *his* excitement about learning in a real life situation, not just in the classroom! (He asked us about Michael Jackson.) Maybe in the future, you could also have TESOL classes available for those creative people who want to be a part of CIMT.

CIMT BLOG said...

That's an excellent point about English Language classes, and we already have plans to do just that! As a matter of fact, in addition to teaching the older, English-speaking group (our primary students), I plan to host some beginner workshops within the surrounding community. These will be taught in Creole and be used to not only introduce the idea to young children but to also prepare them for a media technologies education of their own in the future.

Thanks for the wonderful feedback! It's your involvement that makes this possible!

Rebecca said...

That's awesome. I love arts in the community! I teach art classes at the YMCA and it's so wonderful to see people getting out, learning, sharing new ideas, and connecting with each other. I am so glad to hear about all that you are doing! I love your blog posts - they are informative and thought-provoking. I know you must be busy, but keep posting! It's a great utility to connect with people who support your ministries. *Thumbs up*