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The new school at St. Michael is visible on the right, below the old church. The school has 113 students and opened for classes in Oct. 2011. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

(Thiotte, Haiti) April 5, 2012 — Students in three communities in and around this small town in the mountains of Haiti have been able to move into new schools because of a partnership between Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and the Sacred Heart Parish of Thiotte.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA has contributed $135,000 for the construction of the three new schools, and is providing a stipend for teachers of $5,000 to each school for two years. Additionally, JRS/USA provided $25,500 for 560 desks at the three schools.

The St. Mary Magdalene School in central Thiotte was built on an empty lot behind the church. Construction started last July and the school opened December 5. Currently, there are 220 students enrolled. There are three preschool classes, one elementary and two middle school classes.

There are eight teachers, who, like the teachers at the other two schools, were recruited through the parish. The teachers are in training, and are not yet professional. They have received training and are able to gain experience teaching here before completing their training.

"The students are very happy," said Fr. Louiders Jean Pierre of Sacred Heart Parish. "They never had classrooms before or school materials, now they have chairs, desks and a recreation area. It is like a fantasy."

"It's like entering a new house," added school principal Wilcar Theodore.

Click the photos to view larger versions of the images.

After the earthquake of January 2010, more than 7,000 people were displaced from the affected area and sought shelter with relatives in Thiotte. Another influx consisted of people who returned from the Dominican Republic to Thiotte to help care for family members affected by the earthquake. Enrollment in local primary schools increased about 25 percent as a result.

A second school, St. Anthony’s, has risen in the jungle in the remote Bois d'Orme area near Thiotte. Students had been meeting outdoors under tarpaulins.

"There are currently 78 students, but each day more students show up," said Fr. Jean Pierre. "Word of mouth spreads the news about classes and so more students attend." 

The new school has five classrooms, an office and a latrine. The 'nearby' — a relative term, as it means a strenuous hike over several hills in the rugged landscape — public school is over-crowded, and Fr. Jean Pierre believes some students will leave there to attend the new parish school.

The Bois d'Orme community is isolated and the road is terrible. It is a single-track up and down steep hills through dense trees, and can only be driven in four-wheel drive equipped vehicles. The road, such as it is, consists of rocks large and small. People walking it have to step into the brush to make way for passing trucks.

"Normally, Bois d'Orme is a farming community, but the rains were light last year which caused additional hardships. In addition to farming, community members trade goods at the Dominican Republic border, which is not far. This is one of the poorest communities along the border," said Fr. Jean Pierre. 

Many children attending school are underfed, and Fr. Jean Pierre is seeking a way to provide a meal or two to them while they are at school.

The third school is St. Michael's, which lies on the grounds of a church on the mountain road outside Thiotte. St. Michael's currently has 113 students, and classes started in the new building in October 2011. Previously students met in the dilapidated church.

The project to bring these schools to Thiotte leveraged community support to see a successful conclusion to the building phase. Locally available building materials and labor were instrumental in the construction of the new schools. 

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA believes that given educational opportunities, young people are able to build their communities and thus to strengthen and stabilize their countries for generations to come.

The long-term outlook for the schools of Sacred Heart Parish is good, as at least two of them have already been in operation for five years. Additionally, the Diocesan office will absorb the upkeep costs of the new buildings and infrastructure. The move into the new buildings bodes well for the continued education of students in the area. 

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