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Francophonie Festival Helps Haiti
Diplomatic Pouch / April 5, 2010

By Larry Luxner

Prominent New York language educator Jane L. Ross and President Obama's national security advisor, Gen. James L. Jones Jr. — both fluent French speakers — were honored Mar. 1 during the opening reception of Washington's annual Francophonie 2010 Cultural Festival, which runs until Apr. 11.

More than 250 people, including 30 ambassadors of French-speaking countries, attended the event, held at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel. Two of those ambassadors, Canada's Gary Doer and Haiti's Raymond Joseph, made short, bilingual speeches praising the prize-winners.

Ross is president of the French Heritage Language Program (FHLP), which was awarded the 2010 Prix Spécial de la Francophonie "in recognition of its promotion of the French language in the United States, and of its strong efforts to help educate Haitian child refugees in the U.S.," according to a press release issued by the French Embassy in Washington.

In an impromptu interview following the awards ceremony, Ross said she launched FHLP after her retirement as a veteran French teacher in New York City schools.

"Our idea was to reach out to children who want to maintain their French," she told Pouch."Everyone worries about immigrants learning English, but no one thinks about them forgetting their native language. It's very well-documented through research that by the third generation, heritage languages disappear."

Ross said her program began in Boston "with the idea that immigrant children would learn English better and faster — and that they'd be more successful in school — if they had support in their native French language. So we offered classes to support French language instruction alongside their learning in English."

The program now has 500 students, and these French classes, she says, "are different from the beginning French classes that an American kid would take."

In late February, the city of Miami asked Ross to start a summer-camp program for the children of Haitian immigrants displaced by the recent earthquake in that country. The result was a series of creative and educational workshops in French language specially designed for kids 7 to 15 years old.

"We want to help these children who are temporarily displaced so they'll be able to go back to Haiti," said Ross, pointing out that the opportunity to maintain their skills in French is especially important to these families, since education in Haiti is conducted mostly in French.

At a ceremony inaugurating the program, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said "I'm extremely grateful for the significant support of the French government and am confident that these collaborations will yield significant abenefits for our Haitian community and city as a whole."

Ross said she'd like to be able to raise funds. "We could open three more classes in Miami if we had more money," said the educator, explaining that it costs $3,000 a year to run a class, with 18 to 20 students in each class.

Jones, who gave his acceptance speech in French, is Obama's national security advisor and a retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general. During his military career, he headed the U.S. European Command and was Supreme Allied Commander Europe from 2003 to 2006, and as the 32nd Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1999 to 2003. He retired from the Marines in 2007 after 40 years of service.

The 2010 Francophonie Festival, by the way, is dedicated to the memory of the more than 200,000 people killed during Haiti's Jan. 12 earthquake, and to the rebuilding efforts of those who survived.

During the festival, which is expected to attract 1,600 people, $10 will be donated for every ticket purchased through InstantSeats. In addition, the Grand Fête will feature a raffle of a round-trip for two to Tahiti, with all proceeds designated for Haiti earthquake relief efforts. All funds collected will be given to the American Red Cross.

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