Meet Micro Grant Recipient, Orphanie Bégon-Leroy in Haiti

We are happy to announce the recipient of this month’s micro grant, Orphanie Bégon-Leroy. 

Orphanie is a Haitian-Canadian who currently lives in Haiti where she runs a school called Institution Mixte Canado-Haïtienne, based in Port-au-Prince.

Institution Mixte Canado-Haïtienne focuses on preschool, kindergarten, and first grade, and teaches the foundations of reading and writing, through a culturally aware curriculum that instills education and self-esteem to its students. 

In this interview, we learn more about Orphanie and the amazing work she’s doing at Institution Mixte Canado-Haïtienne.

Describe what you do at Institution Mixte Canado-Haïtienne.

I am the co-owner of Institution Mixte Canado-Haïtienne, a school nestled in the heart of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The school was founded 23 years ago by my visionary mother, who made her transition in April of 2018. She passionately believed in education as society’s keystone, and the school is now a testament to that belief.

Although both my brother and I are Canadian-born, in the face of Haiti’s economic and political adversities, we remain steadfast and dedicated, committed to investing in our nation’s youth – the future of Haiti.

We pride ourselves in offering not just a traditional curriculum, but enriching programs that sow seeds of self-love, cultural pride, and a profound understanding of self. Our unique workshops include thought-provoking movie and documentary screenings, transformative sessions on natural hair appreciation, candid discussions on the dangers of skin bleaching, and illuminating lessons on pre-slavery history. Through these endeavors, we aim to nurture well-rounded, confident individuals who stand tall, deeply rooted in their rich heritage, ready to face the world and make a difference.

Is the school a non-profit or for-profit business?

Currently, the school operates as a for-profit business. However, when my late mother established the institution, her vision was to cater to an underserved portion of the community by providing high-quality education at an accessible cost. My goal is to further enhance the school’s standards while maintaining or potentially reducing tuition fees.

What are the challenges you’ve faced since the recent unrest in Haiti, and what measures have you had to put in place to mitigate the situation?

The challenges posed by ongoing instability and gang problems in Port-au-Prince are many. Our school has witnessed a significant impact from the mass exodus of Haitians participating in the USA Biden program. This has resulted in the loss of both teachers and students leaving for the United States without warning, with some families also relocating to local rural regions for better life opportunities. 

However, we have taken proactive measures to address these challenges. We’ve created a teacher database to fill sudden vacancies and offered incentives to parents. Additionally, we’ve improved our school facilities, such as renovating our library, to enhance our appeal and attract more parents and students. While our attendance has indeed decreased, we continue to operate at an acceptable capacity, I must say, and we’re still working hard, still pushing to offer the best environment possible to our students and staff members.

How do you plan on using this $500 micro grant? 

Every dollar will serve as a stepping stone in enriching our community and fortifying our unique cultural narrative. 

We plan to purchase sports materials such as yoga mats and play balls for basketball and soccer. Physical activity is not just exercise; it’s therapy, a moment of escape that many of our students, sadly displaced due to gang violence, so desperately need.

The remaining funds will be dedicated to acquiring afrocentric books and DVDs, enriching our library’s resources. We take immense pride in being one of the few schools in Haiti actively integrating African knowledge and identity into our curriculum. These resources are more than just books and films; they serve as mirrors in which our students can glimpse their true, magnificent selves. This is particularly vital for Haitians of African descent who have been conditioned to believe they are inferior. Through these materials, we aim to guide our youth back to their inherent greatness. 

Tell us about your Caribbean heritage.

I am of Haitian descent, deeply proud and profoundly connected to both the Caribbean and African roots that shape my identity. My mother hailed from the southern city of Les Cayes, and my father from the northern city of Cap-Haïtien.

My mother was an exceptionally proud Haitian woman who instilled in us from the jump, an enduring love for our people and our country of origin. She raised us with an unshakeable consciousness that our ancestors are from the great motherland of Africa, a heritage we wear as a badge of honor.

Both my brother and I were educated in Haiti as well as in Canada, allowing us to appreciate the richness and complexities of our multicultural identity. This duality has been a driving force in my commitment to elevating the lives of the Haitian youth through education.

From the get-go, the love for my people and my origins was not just taught but lived, making it the backbone of my educational mission today.

How do you think your Haitain upbringing has impacted your work? 

My Caribbean and African heritage has been a fundamental influence on my work and mission. 

Growing up, the values of community, cultural pride, and resilience were instilled in me, becoming the cornerstones upon which my educational endeavors stand today. 

In Canada, my professional experience as a French-English-Creole Interpreter/Translator for the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) deepened my commitment to serve. Assisting my Haitian brothers and sisters in their quests for refuge and a better life for their families not only fortified my resolve, but expanded my understanding of the complex struggles faced by our community both at home and abroad.

Moreover, being honored with the title of Miss Haiti Canada 2017 was not just an accolade, but a mandate to represent my culture positively. I took it upon myself to shine a light on Haiti, a country often laden with negative stereotypes, thereby challenging the narrative and uplifting our national image.

In essence, my Caribbean and African heritage hasn’t just impacted my work; it is the soul of it, guiding every decision, shaping every program, and defining our collective vision for a brighter, empowered future.

How does your work positively impact culture + community?

Our work is a calling and transcends the four walls of a classroom to deeply impact the culture and community in transformative ways. For instance, after hosting workshops on the origins of the disdain for Afro-textured hair and the dangers of chemical treatments, we’ve seen 10-12-year-old girls courageously embrace their natural beauty. This small but profound shift speaks volumes about the power of education to ignite change at the grassroots level. 

By offering a safe space where the youth can freely express themselves, we create an environment where the minds and spirits of our students are nurtured. This is particularly crucial given the precariousness many of them face outside the school premises.

As the co-owner of a school in my mid-thirties, I bring a fresh, innovative approach to the learning experience. My education in Canada has allowed me to combine the strengths of multiple educational systems, seamlessly blending them with Haitian culture to create a unique, unparalleled model of schooling.

The pride and joy in the eyes of teachers who worked with my late mother, and the commendations from parents, affirm that the modern touch is both welcome and needed. I take this as an endorsement of our efforts to perpetuate our mother’s legacy while paving our own path.

In the end, my ultimate aspiration is for Institution Mixte Canado-Haïtienne to emerge as a cornerstone institution in Haiti, shining as a symbol of exceptional education and cultural pride.  There isn’t a single day that passes without my thoughts turning to my mother, hoping that she is watching, filled with pride at the impact we are creating. It brings everything full circle symbolically, as both of my children, who never had the opportunity to meet their grandmother, are currently enrolled in the school.

Thank you for being a part of our story.

Connect with Institution Mixte Canado-Haïtienne
Instagram: @Institution Mixte Canado-Haitienne

Similar Posts