Roger with one of his students at the Tree of Life (photo from Hackley School)
The Tree of Life
After leaving the PG program, Roger Garrison PG ’63 attended Duke for his M.A. in Education and spent 46 years as a middle and high school English teacher in Richmond, VA, and New York. Moved by the devastation of the massive Haitian earthquake in 2010, Roger founded Tree of Life, an orphanage and school that has served as a lifeline for many children. We caught up with Roger to find out more about this project.
After a lengthy career in education, what prompted you to start Tree of Life?
My son went to Haiti on a mission trip and spent three months staying with a Haitian family in a small, poor village. One day, his friend took him to a neighboring village and my son noticed an orphanage that was in disrepair. The children there had very little to eat or drink and no school. My son decided to help out by buying water for them each month. I came down later and helped start a program that expanded to include food and education. After three years, the orphanage was re-established, and in 2010 we decided to start our own orphanage, The Tree of Life Orphanage and School, in Source Matelas, the town [40 minutes northwest of Port-au-Prince] where my son's friend lived.
How often do you return to Haiti to do work with the orphanage?
I go once or twice a year. The weather is hot, the political environment is unstable, and living conditions are spartan.
What is your vision for the future with Tree of Life?
Presently, we care for 15 orphans. We provide food, clothing, water, education, and enriching sports and activities. In addition, we offer free schooling for 210 community children. In Haiti, the average salary is $1 per day, and no schools are free. We employ over 40 adults to take care of all our programs: teachers, cooks, "mothers," tutors, guards, librarians, and maintenance.
Our vision is to maintain our present program and to provide a K–12 education for our 15 orphans, ending with a job-training program. The community school children only get an education up until ninth grade, as we currently cannot afford to extend the program beyond this. We also have a vision to create a computer lab and a self-sustaining garden. We’d like to enhance the selection of books in our library and continue our micro-financing program for some of the needy mothers in town, as well as sponsor our annual June community soccer tournament.
What advice do you have for others who are keen to be involved in humanitarian efforts but aren't sure where to start?
My experience has taught me to get out of my comfort zone and take risks, whether in relationships, jobs, or learning. There is no growth if one practices the same habits. Failure does exist, but it usually leads to an open door and a new horizon.
Tell us more about how TASIS helped to inspire your work.
My time in the PG program and as a summer counselor for TASIS has continued to inspire me over the years, and indeed helped create the idea to establish a program what would help meet the needs of children and adults in the poorest country in my hemisphere.
At TASIS we were guided by Mrs. Fleming and our excellent staff to reach beyond our comfort zones, particularly by involving us firsthand in other cultures. Favorite staff included Dave Mellon, Jacques Villaret, Theo Brenner, and many others. We met so many people from other cultures and became aware of different political and economic concerns. We also visited many famous museums, factories, and historic places. This was the time when the European Common Market came into being with all of its complexities and hopes. Without the encouragement of the Postgraduate Program, I would not have thought of going beyond my own culture and feeling at ease talking with people, both young and old, from different European countries. Mrs. Fleming had a vision far beyond her times.
A Busy New Mama to Boot!
Congratulations to Maria Victoria Borghetti Barros ’10, who was recently re-elected as a congresswoman in her Brazilian state of Paraná and seems on track for an interesting career in politics; her parents are both politicians, so it’s in her blood! Maria also founded a bilingual school, Saint Helena, in Paraná in 2016, which is thriving with 360 students. She admits she incorporated ideas from her years at TASIS and combined them with best practice from schools nearer to Brazil. Maria keeps in close contact with many of her TASIS peers—two of whom were her maid of honor and best man at her wedding!
Our own Emily Bode PG ’08 followed up her recent Vogue Fashion Fund award as a featured designer in the 16th season of the Americans in Paris show during Paris Fashion Week. The showcase took place at 63 Rue Pierre Charron, just off the Champs-Élysées, from March 2–4 and was sponsored by The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and Vogue. The event, which offers global exposure along with marketing and media support, featured ten up-and-coming designers.
Emily was also selected as a finalist for the renowned LVMH Prize. Open to designers from anywhere in the world, the prize includes a grant of EUR 300,000 and a year of support from the LVMH Group to help with brand expansion. The final will take place in mid-June at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris.
Following on to his 2017 Fashion Designer of the Year award from Esquire and opening his flagship store in Istanbul, Bunyamin Aydin ’09, Founder and Creative Director of Les Benjamins, was a speaker at the 2019 Fashion Tech Forum. His panel focused on how to inspire youth culture through collaborations and co-creation, and Benji certainly walks the walk. His collaboration with Puma was released worldwide on April 6 in stores and online at puma.com.
Connecting with a Crowd
We were delighted to hear that Aida Loggiodice ’17 was a featured speaker at the TEDxBocconiU event at Bocconi University in Milan on April 12! Aida won the Student Speaker Competition and recited a poem that focused on what it means to connect and disconnect in the modern world. She gave a shout-out (on social media, of course) to her English teacher Peter Locke for his editing chops. Aida, who won the Cynthia Whisenant Award for Excellence in English Literature and the H. Miller Crist Award in 2017, is studying International Economics and Management at Bocconi. She was born in the US, grew up in Venezuela, and lived in Spain and Saudi Arabia before moving to Lugano and then on to Milan. Read her moving poem “17,” a retrospective look at the way her world was shaped by TASIS, in the 2017 edition of TASIS Today.
IB Prep from the Pros
Photographer Simon David ’08 has returned to campus to talk with our IB Art classes about curation and museum work. The IB requires students to curate an exhibition of their own work, and Simon was asked to be a guest lecturer to inspire and educate the students from the perspective of a gallerist and artist. Simon founded Galleria Ramo in 2016 in temporary, pop-up spaces until finding a home in 2018 on Via Natta in Como.
Stories and Goodbyes
Longtime TASIS friends will recognize Sarah Di Lenardo, who spent much of her life as part of our community. Sarah came to Lugano in 1968 as Mrs. Fleming’s personal secretary and immediately got stuck in, doing everything from last-minute trips to Florence to publicize a theater program to babysitting, stuffing envelopes of Christmas cards, and procuring particular items for our Founder. When a situation arose, Mrs. Fleming was known to say, “I’ll call Sarah, Sarah will know what to do.” Sarah retired from TASIS in 2009 but continued to teach a course the School offered to adults in Montagnola and work in the MCF Library.
A group of veteran staff came together to bid farewell to Sarah at a convivial evening in Casa Fleming at the end of March. The keeper of many TASIS stories, Sarah had her former colleagues in fits of laughter during the steady flow of accounts from the past.
We bid farewell to Sarah as she leaves Switzerland for a new life and hope she will soon return to share more TASIS stories—in the way only she can!
Yvonne Procyk, Judy Callaway Brand ’63, Kelly Reynolds TESS ’82, and Bill Eichner
TASIS reunions are legendary, and in April nearly 60 alumni came to Houston to celebrate their time at the School. The historic Manor House at The Houstonian Hotel was the perfect venue for a night of stories, friendship, and fun.
Alumni in attendance represented a number of TASIS schools: Lugano, England, Greece, Cyprus, and even France—which was open for only one year! We had attendees from the 1960s to the 2000s, with an especially good turnout from the classes of ’92, ’86, and ’72. As always, it was lovely to see alumni making new TASIS friends across the decades—and across the schools as well.
A highlight of the evening was a presentation from TASIS Director of Institutional Advancement Bill Eichner that showcased the achievements of some of our alumni. Everyone was swept up with nostalgic delight upon hearing Mrs. Fleming’s voice in the video clip. As one attendee wrote afterward, “To hear Mrs. Fleming’s voice amongst like-minded people—that was special for me.”
We’ve had some fantastic responses to our 2018 TASIS Today cover shot of the Class of 2008’s reunion at Casa Fleming last summer. We regret that we didn’t properly credit our photographer, Michelle Arslanian, in our masthead for this dynamic shot. Thanks, Michelle!