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Retired Teacher Tells Westport Group Of Finding His Calling In Haiti

Roger Garrison, founder of the Tree of Life Orphanage in Source-Matelas in Haiti.
Roger Garrison, founder of the Tree of Life Orphanage in Source-Matelas in Haiti. Photo Credit: Roy Fuchs

WESTPORT, Conn. — Roger Garrison, founder of the Tree of Life Orphanage in Source-Matelas in Haiti, was introduced to the Westport Sunrise Rotary by his friend Ken Bernhard with the Haitian proverb, "Beyond the mountains are more mountains."

Tree of Life helps 15 orphans ages 4 to 11 as well as 105 other children living nearby to get beyond those mountains by providing food, shelter, education and health care for the orphans and free schooling for the others, Garrison said. It employs 10 teachers and 17 other staff members.

Garrison started the orphanage three years ago. He recently retired from teaching at the Hackley School in Tarrytown, N.Y., and dedicates much of his time to helping Tree of Life serve a growing number of people in its resource-starved community.

Tree of Life remains a special project for Westport Sunrise Rotary, one it has supported since its start. Garrison came last Friday to give the group a progress report.

Education is far from universal in Haiti, he said. Parents must pay for their children to attend school, they must buy the uniforms that are mandatory throughout the country, and they must buy many of the required classroom materials.

Tree of Life follows the Haitian National Curriculum, with students copying what teachers write on the board. The education prepares them for their standardized tests and readies them to lead successful lives within Haitian society.

“The students are never a discipline problem," Garrison told the group. "They understand that education is the key.”

Not every child begins school at the same age, so students are grouped by “how they test” rather than by age.

“Graduation is momentous because it means children in this school are moving ahead despite all the adversities they confront,” he said.

Garrison was introduced to the needs in Haiti through his now 31-year-old son, who went there with his church group as a high school junior.

He initially stayed with a pastor in a house with electricity, then left to live where he was the only white person, and where he stayed for three months. “He loved it, as my wife and I did when we visited,” Garrison said.

Bernhard praised the Sunrise Rotary's contributions to the school “We should be proud of what he’s accomplished with Tree of Life,” Bernhard said of Garrison.

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