(Anse-à-Pitres, Haiti) January 13, 2012 — Two-hundred and forty students in this Haitian community have moved from a dilapidated building and outdoor desks protected only by tarps to a new school complex.
Although public education is ostensibly free in Haiti, the biggest challenge for parents is being able to buy their child one pair of shoes, two school uniforms, books and notebooks, and to be able to pay the $100 fee — $10 per month during the school year — to sustain the operations of the school.
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is covering the operational costs at the elementary school for the first year. The JRS program provides $15,000 for school fees and for shoes, uniforms, books and school supplies for the children.
"The children simply would not be able to go to school if the fees were not paid by JRS,” said Jenia Pierre, a mother with eight children in the school. Jenia lives with her children in a small, ramshackle structure.
Looking to the future, she added, “If the kids don't study, they will never have a better way of living."
The Canadian government funded the construction of the new school. Unlike the old school, the new school has real walls, floors, ceilings, electricity and a library.
"The library is much better now. Before we had to always borrow books, now we have constant access," said school director Augustine Valdes.
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA purchased 600 desks for the school, at a cost of $23,000. JRS is also funding 11 teacher salaries for the first year, at $13,000, and has provided $7,000 for a playground for the children.
Anse-à-Pitres is on the shore of the Caribbean Sea, and is one of four major border crossings between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. More than 15,000 people live in the area, and after the January 2010 earthquake the area absorbed 5,000 more people displaced from Port-au-Prince and Jacmel.
"During a storm in May 2004, the town was under water. During hurricanes, the ocean rises and it floods here. The new school location is much safer, it's higher and farther from the sea, and can be used as an emergency shelter during a hurricane," Fr. Andre Helvetius Affricot of Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School told us in May of last year.
Literacy levels in Haiti hover at 53% for school-aged children. Only 38% of Haitians above the age of 15 are literate, with significantly less adult literacy among women than among men. As children under the age of 18 account for almost half of Haiti’s total population of nine million people, a free universal education system is undoubtedly a critical element in rebuilding and strengthening the nation’s political and socio-economic development.
JRS believes that primary, secondary and higher education must be decentralized so that it is available to those who live outside of major urban centers; this tenet led us to concentrate on education initiatives in the border regions.
"We invest in education because an educated person is beneficial to society. My goal is to have an education center with primary, secondary and technical schools," said Fr. Andre.
The school hopes to raise $65,000 for the purchase of a bus. The vehicle is needed for younger students to reach the new school.
"The new school is several miles away from the center of town, and up in the hills in higher ground safe from potential flooding. In case of natural disasters, school facilities will serve as the main shelter for town residents. With no public transportation locally available, a bus would be a great help to transport the children to the school, especially the younger students, the ones in kindergarten," said Fr. Andre.
Asked why he liked working at the school, Br. Frederick Duson, a technical director and custodian at the school, replied simply: "God loves these children, so I love them."
Learn more about Jesuit Refugee Service in Haiti and the Dominican Republic here.
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is an international Catholic non-governmental organization whose mission is to accompany, serve and defend the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.
JRS/USA witnesses to God’s presence in vulnerable and often forgotten people driven from their homes by conflict, natural disaster, economic injustice, or violation of their human rights.
As one of the ten geographic regions of the Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS/USA serves as the major refugee outreach arm of U.S. Jesuits and their institutional ministries, mobilizing their response to refugee situations in the U.S. and abroad. Through our advocacy and fund raising efforts, JRS/USA also provides support for the work of JRS throughout the world.
JRS/USA gives help, hope, ear and voice to vulnerable people on the move by being present to and bearing witness to their plight; by relieving their human suffering and restoring hope; by addressing the root causes of their displacement and improving international responses to refugee situations.
In addition, JRS/USA inspires the Ignatian family and others to respond together to the needs of refugees and displaced persons worldwide and forges strong partnerships with like-minded institutions and agencies devoted to the cause of refugees and displaced persons.
JRS works in more than 57 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social and other needs of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. JRS services are made available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.
JRS provides primary and secondary education to approximately 170,000 children, and undertakes advocacy to ensure that all displaced children are provided with a quality education.
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.