Friends of Jenifer Grant say that she likes to “go fishing” to find people with common interests that might be relevant to her philanthropic efforts. When the Sister Cities Essex Haiti project library needed help with a new robotics initiative at the library for the children in Deschapelles, Haiti, Jim Myslik of Chester responded to the plea of his fishing friend.
Myslik has worked for years in IT and automation at Bristol-Meyers Squibb and his son, Patrick, is a senior at Valley Regional High School and a member of the school’s robotics club. The Mysliks approached classmates, friends, and clubmates Sam Paulson and Nick (Rocket) Otte about the opportunity and a plan was born.
Grant, daughter of Gwen and Larry Mellon, is carrying on the family tradition of giving and sharing knowledge to help improve the lives of others. Her parents built their own legacy of the generosity of the Mellon family in Haiti by constructing Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles in the 1950s. Grant is a founder of the Sister Cities Essex Haiti non-profit organization that, with the help of some grants, built the library in Deschapelles and coordinated programs that develop cooperation between the people of these communities and expands educational and cultural opportunities for the residents of Haiti.
Dubbed Operation Learn Robotics, the goal was for the VHRS students to teach a group of 30 kids, aged 8 to 14, and bring their experience with robotics to the library, which also serves as a community center offering adult and child literacy, music, and tennis.
Patrick Myslik’s parents, Jim Myslik and Karen Kaestle, and Sam Paulson’s mother, Michelle Paulson, accompanied the VRHS students in early August for the eight-day journey to Haiti. With a Google Chrome laptop paid for by the Sister Cities project and a new Lego Robotics Kit, software, and other supplies, the group went on an adventure that would prove to be educational for both the Haitian students and the Connecticut travelers.
The library in Deschapelles had an existing, but older, Lego robotics kit. With the newer equipment, laptop, and software, the VHRS robotics team was able to get the kids up to basics on controlling the small robots.
Patrick Myslik explained, “The kids had no programming skills, but they had excellent building skills.”
In fact, the kids got up to speed so quickly with robotic projects that shot balls, recognized colors, and picked up objects that he said that they “blew through the lesson plans” and they had to scramble to come up with more ideas over the four-day workshop.
Kaestle pointed out that almost 40 percent of the Deschapelle students were girls. She found this hopeful. Many of the middle school-aged kids brought their younger siblings, so Kaestle became an instantaneous pre-school teacher, going through the library’s selection of crayons in a few days. Because formal schooling is expensive and over capacity in Haiti, some of the children who come to the library are getting the only literacy training and education they will ever receive.
The visiting parents and VHRS students stayed in a small home that was provided by the Sister Cities project. It was the first time that the students had ever slept in mosquito nets and humid heat of that kind—but, as Sam Paulson said, “It got us out of our homogenized culture!”
Grant welcomed the visitors to the home her parents built in the 1950s in Deschapelles for dinner and visited the library while they were setting up the coursework. Her fishing had worked out.
After the completed robotics workshop, the Nutmeggers did get to spend a day at a beach resort that would be prohibitively expensive for the children they had been with just the day before at a $15 entry fee.
“It was weird to go from an impoverished area to a high-end resort. A big contrast,” noted Patrick Myslik.
All of those who visited Deschapelles agree that the next steps are to return in some capacity and write a grant that would allow them to continue with the same group of children, but also expand the program to include more children, and bring more supplies.
All three VHRS students are seniors and are hopeful that other local students would like to participate in the exchange with the Deschapelles Library. Interested students and parents can contact Jim Myslik at email@example.com.
See more photos and commentary from the VHRS students at their blog www.robodeschapelles.com. Learn more about the Sister Cities Haiti Essex program at www.sistercitiesessexhaiti.org.