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Our Blog: Education
June 18, 2013
Baseline study completed in Haiti
In May we completed a baseline study. This was a door-to-door socio-economic survey of all 698 households in Phaeton and Paulette. We hired and trained 10 local surveyors to carry out the study and coached them throughout the two-week process.  
We now have solid demographic data, including information about household economic activities – what people are doing to scrape by (a lot!); key health issues; the number of kids who are in school; the number of meals people are eating each day and how many of them are getting meals from our feeding program, etc.
A few points we found interesting:
The overall average monthly income is 1,499 Haitian gourdes, or US$35. This is an important starting point as we begin to work with community members on income generating initiatives. 
Here’s a table summarizing the current make-up of household activities.
The information collected in the survey complements and substantiates what we’ve been learning the past six months in our work with villagers to develop a strategic plan for the future.  As those plans and community dreams turn to concrete action, we will use this data to measure our progress.  
Looking back in a few years’ time, we will know in very real terms that families are earning more income; that people are eating more food with improved nutrition; that more kids are in school; that more people have access to clean water; that more goats, cows and chickens are helping provide food and livelihoods; that more women are getting the care they need during their pregnancy; and that their kids are getting the nutrition and medical care they need to thrive.  
We’re excited about the future of these two communities and we have eager and motivated community leaders ready to work with us. 
April 26, 2013
Introducing Pegnyin, our first female borehole mechanic

As part of our ongoing water access improvement projects in Ghana, recently, Vibrant Village supported the training of 3 community members as area mechanics who can repair water borehole handpumps.


These three Fielmuo community residents have apprenticed under our partner, W.A.T.E.R., for 2 weeks, and have 3 weeks remaining to become fully effective borehole mechanics. This training is vital to our work in the Upper West Region of Ghana because it helps enable the communities to take care of their own water needs, repairs and maintenance. Pictured above is Pegnyin Kuusoyir, area resident, repairing a handpump, along with fellow trainees Kpedogle Faabeluon (seated) and Godfery Teri. Photograph courtesy of Michael Anyekase.

April 15, 2013
Catching up with Maxwell Faulk, Playwrite graduate
By Susan Goracke
In 2012, Vibrant Village Foundation awarded PlayWrite Inc. of Portland a $10,000 grant to fund several of its workshops. This feature story describes the important work PlayWrite does and the positive impact it has on the young people it serves.
At 27, Maxwell Faulk already is a veteran playwright, poet and stand-up comic. He’s also a Portland Community College honor student with a 4.0 grade point average and a dream to work for either Oregon Public Broadcasting or Saturday Night Live. For now, he’s hoping to earn a scholarship to attend Lewis & Clark or another local four-year college in the fall.
Faulk co-wrote his most recent play, “I Voted for Obama,” in the style of Theater of the Oppressed. The play invites audience members to interact with actors as they explore overt and subtle issues of racism that affect African-American students today.
“The title came from the idea that a lot of people in America think that since we now have an African-American president, racism is something that existed in the past,” Faulk says. In fact, he adds, each of the racist interactions depicted in the play actually happened to black students.
“I Voted for Obama” was presented a half-dozen times in front of several hundred PCC students during February, as part of the PCC Women’s Resource Center’s Illuminations Project.

While the play gave Faulk a chance to stretch his playwriting skills, it was writing his first play, “A Rock and a Hard Place,” in 2005 that became a life-changing experience. Faulk was 19 and had been living on his own for three years, preferring to spend nights couch-surfing at friends’ homes rather than live with his own dysfunctional family.
“Both my parents were drug addicts. My father was an alcoholic, and both were abusive,” Faulk explains matter-of-factly. “I was 16 when my parents divorced and my father moved out. My older brother turned our home into a meth den. That’s when I moved out of the house.”
Faulk was working toward his diploma at Portland Night School in the basement of Grant High School when he got the chance to participate in a program called PlayWrite, which was offering playwriting workshops for teens living “on the edge.”
“I’ve always considered myself a writer,” he says. “From the time I was in grade school, I always got positive responses from writing.”
But the PlayWrite Program turned out to be more than just putting pen to paper and coming up with an interesting story. It required Faulk and other students to work one-on-one with specially trained theater professionals who helped them examine their own deep and gut-wrenching insecurities in order to develop their play’s non-human characters that interact with each other like humans.
“Between a Rock and a Hard Place” featured a 15,000-year-old boulder named Roland and a manatee named Hugo.
“They’re on their way someplace on a shoreline, and they begin to share their secret issues with each other,” Faulk explains. “Hugo had struggled with weight issues. He was suicidal and was afraid. Roland was afraid of success.” Faulk describes the play he came up with as funny, but sad. At the end, the two characters reach a resolution and decide to join each other on their journey.
Once it was written, Faulk’s play, along with other workshop participants’ efforts, were performed before a live audience with professional actors playing the parts.
“I put a lot of my own fears and flaws into those two characters,” Faulk remembers. “Before PlayWrite, I had never been in a place where those levels of truth were required of me — or even encouraged. It was almost like therapy. Because of my upbringing, I had gotten really good at protecting myself, not letting other people see the real me. Having these two characters on stage talking about my issues felt really good. It was illuminating.” 
Article about Maxwell's play featured in the Oregonian in 2005
Helping teens successfully cope with the tough life they’ve been dealt is among PlayWrite Inc.’s goals. Executive Director Bruce Livingston helped start the nonprofit group back in 2003. The Haven Project, who Livingston worked for at the time, contracted with a theater professional to bring his framework to Portland, from which the PlayWrite model later emerged. 
“We deal with kids who have been bullied, ostracized or who have economic insecurity,” Livingston says, adding that some are homeless and some have mental illness. “These are kids at the edge. They’re not part of the mainstream.”
A third of the 600 teens PlayWrite works with over the past 10 years have been in locked treatment facilities. Physically and emotionally abused, they have committed crimes that got them into trouble with the law. Some teens have been severely sexually abused and are either pregnant or already have had children. This year PlayWrite will work with approximately 75 youth for the first time and another 12-15 who will be involved in follow-on programming, like the Tuesday Writers Group of which Maxwell is a member.
“We believe that through the process of creating dramatic art, of creating a narrative, it changes the way their brains are wired,” says Livingston, who points to research done on people who spend time writing about emotionally significant incidents in their lives. “People who have experienced trauma usually have a difficult time creating a narrative about that trauma. We think that the process of doing the writing in the workshop helps these teens unscramble events and reassemble them into a narrative so that they can begin to heal.”
To graduate from a workshop, teens must commit to spending 30 hours with a writing coach to produce an original play. The work is often emotionally draining, but in many cases, has become a turning point in the lives of these young people. 
In 2011-12, a research project was designed and carried out by three scientists at the University of Oregon and OHSU: Rosemary Bernstein, Graduate Teaching Fellow at the University of Oregon, Jennifer Ablow, PhD., Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, and Joel Nigg, PhD., Director, Division of Psychology and Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Behavioral Neuroscience at OHSU. The study showed that PlayWrite workshop graduates improved their ability to manage anger and were less hyperactive.
Livingston considers Maxwell Faulk to be among a number of PlayWrite “success stories.”
After graduating from PlayWrite’s workshop eight years ago, Faulk has continued to attend weekly PlayWrite writing workshops and is a member of the organization’s graduate council. He enjoys doing stand-up comedy and his poetry has been published in several literary magazines. Today, Faulk describes himself as “funny, intelligent and capable.”
“I want to positively impact the planet while I’m here,” Faulk says.