Summer 2009 Update

It’s with tremendous sadness that we say good-bye to our dearest friend and companion, Bishop Emmanuel Constant who died quite suddenly in June. Losing him creates a huge void for us -- for he was the first person Fr. Tom and I met in Haiti in 1985 and has been at our side ever since. We will remember him always and all our work with the poor will bear his gentle and compassionate mark.

Thought the recent decrease in violence in Cite Soleil is a blessing, it brings more people into the slums and increases the human needs services. The challenge for us is to focus on what we do well instead of engaging in too many projects. In the past year we’ve tried many things to help the people of Cite Soleil: special job projects, housing construction, vocational programs, pre-school nutrition, water distributions, emergency charity and many other initiatives dictated by the poverty and desperation there. This multi-faceted approach temporarily helped many people but the drain on resources also weakened our core program -– the Becky DeWine School. As we enter fiscal year 2010 we will focus on improving the education, nutrition, emergency charity and employment programs that flow from the Becky DeWine School.

The September Gonaives hurricanes damaged all of our schools, vehicles, agriculture projects and water well drilling programs but after 8 months of grueling work we are nearly recovered. Environmental and agricultural programs began in March, and, thanks to a large grant from the Canadian Aid Agency, we started weekly environmental training sessions for thousands of students. We repaired our well drilling machines and we’ve launched a training program for our drilling team. Our goal is to begin drilling wells by September, 2009.

Many thanks for your prayers and support. We know that we face difficult economic times in the year ahead and we’ve reduced our planned activities to help us focus on what we do best and conserve our very limited resources. Please continue to help us as we enter into FYE 2010. Here is a list of our priority projects:

Our Top Ten Priorities for 2010

  1. The Becky DeWine School

    1. K-12 school programs

    2. Feeding for 7,000 students

    3. Employment for 300 people

    4. Elderly feeding

    5. Vocational programs & Adult literacy training

  2. Bongiovanni Health Clinic

  3. Emergency Charity

  4. HT Headquarters-Operations – PAP & Gonaives

    1. Vehicles & Equipment Maintenance

    2. Oblate volunteers

    3. Offices – Storage, Volunteer Delegations

  5. CFFP – Center for Environment & Agricultural Promotion

    1. Environmental Weekends – reforestation

    2. Prodib farming cooperatives

    3. Training sessions for farmers

  6. Clarke Agricultural Project

    1. Infrastructure and irrigation

    2. Training programs for farmers

  7. Gonaives Area K-8 Schools

    1. Brunette, Guimby, Bassen, Praville, Declin, Labrann

  8. Water Drilling and Resources

  9. Ti Desdunnes Village project

    1. Feeding programs for children ages 2-7

    2. K-8 School construction & operations

    3. Agricultural– clear canals & improve irrigation.

Becky DeWine School

We began the school in 1998 with 4 classrooms & 75 students as a true “barefoot school” for children unable to pay tuition. Today there are 6,400 students and over 135 classrooms. From January to June of 2009, we worked hard to improve the quality of our school programs, facilities and staff. Here are the some highlights of the Becky DeWine School activity:

  • Completed renovations for needed classroom and office space for the next 2 years – essentially adding 14 classrooms, offices, a library, an auditorium, a chapel and new recreation spaces.
  • Expanded our kitchen and dining areas at the high school campus.

Providing Books

In past years we created libraries at several of our campuses and purchased a few books that were shared among teachers and classrooms. Despite vigorous efforts to prevent it, these books were stolen from us on several occasions. Because we cannot provide a high quality education without good textbooks, we’ve instituted a “book program” that assigns (math, French, geography and science) textbooks to the parents. During the last week of school, parents must turn in the books or the student will not receive report cards nor be allowed back to school until we receive all the books.

The cost to outfit our schools with books (even when they are shared among 2-3 students) is staggering. Thanks to a $10,000 donation from anonymous friends in Pennington, NJ we purchased 2,682 books.

Help from Senator Durbin

On December 21, Sen. Dick Durbin from IL visited our schools for the second time and decided to help buy more books. Here is part of a letter (reprinted with his permission) he sent out to his friends urging them to “skip the fruitcake” and give $12 to buy 2 books for our students:

Dear Friends,

It's that time of year when our family asks us what we want as a holiday gift. My perennial answer is "Thanks, but nothing. I have everything." 
 
Yesterday I stood in the courtyard of a school in the worst slum in Haiti. Fourteen hundred uniformed students sang a song of greeting in French which ended with their holding a sign which read "Merci Durbin." 
 
By our standards these Haitian kids have nothing. - They live in the poorest country in our part of the world. Their life expectancy is among the lowest. Literacy is rare. School is beyond the reach of most. The official unemployment rate is 60 percent. Disease is rampant. Housing is primitive for most and hurricanes visit God's wrath with regularity. 
 
But along comes Tom Hagan, a Catholic priest from Philadelphia who twenty years ago decided to try and make a difference. He started with a little school in Cite Soleil, the poorest slum in Port au Prince. He fed the kids and then their hungry parents. He found a few novice teachers who would give them the basics. A few people donated enough to keep him going, including some soccer balls which the kids kick around a rock strewn lot behind the school. 
 
Local gangs would terrorize the kids and Fr. Tom learned the police were at the time inept and corrupt. It took more than prayer to keep the school going with all of these challenges. But Fr. Tom persevered. 
 
My former colleague, Mike Dewine of Ohio, became Fr. Tom's one-man benefactor and Haiti's Senate guardian angel. They set off to build another school and dedicated it to Mike and Fran's late daughter, Becky. Today Fr. Tom has 7,000 students K-12. They sit on benches in front of blackboards. Some carry book bags with pencils and tablets back to their one-room homes. But they have few if any textbooks. 
 
That is how you can help. Twelve dollars will buy two reading books or a math text for one student. 
 
So if you are willing to skip buying a fruitcake, wrap your gifts in newspaper instead of expensive throwaway wrapping or forego a double-shot grande frappucino or two, you will have saved enough to help a Haitian child own a brand new textbook he or she will treasure. 
We have just a few days before Noel (Christmas) and I know you won't miss this chance to help. 
 
So Happy Chanukah, Joyeux Noel and Bonne Annee. Thanks for all you do. 
 
Sincerely, 
 
Dick Durbin 
U.S. Senator

This letter raised nearly $30,000 and enough funds to outfit most of our High School students. We salute him and thank all of you who participated.

Special Christmas for the students thanks to Senator and Fran DeWine

On December 21-22 we held or annual Christmas Party and gave each of the younger students a “beanie baby” stuffed animal toy and the older students a special “Becky DeWine School” pen. Fran DeWine collected the beanie babies during the year, and bought the 3,000 special pens for the middle and high school students. For most of our schoolchildren, these simple gifts are the only Christmas presents they receive.

The Becky DeWine School Inauguration Ceremony June 10, 2009

Thousands of students joined Sen. Mike DeWine and his wife Fran along with the Prime Minister of Haiti, Michel Pierre-Louis, HT President, Joe Taylor, Fr. Tom and Doug Campbell for an official Inauguration of the Becky DeWine School. Additional honored guests included: Archbishop Auza the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Miot of Port-au-Prince, Bishop Pean of Gonaives, Robert Padberg the Haitian Dutch Consul, Janet Sanderson the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, the Haitian Chief of Police, the Mayor of Cite Soleil, and many other colleagues.

It was a moving and inspirational ceremony – filled with colorful performances by our students, music, and several very moving talks – highlighted by a rousing speech from the Prime Minister who challenged the students to “take responsibility for their own lives and problems, and embrace your education here at the Becky DeWine school.” Fr. Tom reminded us all of Becky DeWine who died in a car crash in 1993 and how her spirit fills the school and the children. Fr. Tom recognized the tireless work of Fran and Mike DeWine to help the children of Haiti and to keep the Becky DeWine school operating.

Daily School Meals - Nutrition

Every Hands Together student knows they will receive a hot meal each day. It may be their only meal and we’ve seen firsthand the rapid improvement in health and spirit from proper nutrition. We need nearly $500,000 each year to run the school feeding and all of the food, transportation, & cooking fuel is funded through Mary’s Meals (a Catholic Aid Charity based in Scotland that focuses on providing school feeding).

Schools and meals served each day:

  • Becky DeWine School - 6700
  • Ti Desdunnes - 600
  • Guimby & Brunette - 330
  • Declin & Bassen - 506
  • St. Loran - Praville - 400
  • Christ Roi Labranle - 400
  • Total - 8936

The school meal program provides jobs for 30 men and women and many parents volunteer to help distribute the food and clean up. The menu is a basic diet of rice & beans, or sorghum and beans, with a fish or meat sauce with vegetables.

Charity & Emergency Intervention

Fr. Tom faces as many as a hundred people each day who are desperate for assistance and/or jobs and have nowhere else to turn. This creates tension, conflict and guilt when refuse far more people than we can help, sometimes resulting in violence. During 2010 we will allocate $75,000 (about $200 per day) to help ease suffering and whenever possible save lives. Last year we helped many people pay their rent, pay funerals, cover medical costs, and buy food.

Employment

During 2007 we created part-time jobs for men and women in Cite Soleil in an attempt to reduce conflict and steer the youth away from gang life and crime. We employed them at our schools, clinic, and at building and neighborhood cleanup projects. We emphasized that the work was only temporary and we encouraged larger NGO’s (United Nations, CHF, USAID and other groups assigned to build roads and improve infrastructure) to concentrate on job creation for these people in Cite Soleil. Unemployment is close to 75% and it breeds many of the worst problems in the slum.

The program was meant to be a one year, one time outreach project designed to phase it out early in the 2008 school year. By September 2008 there were 180 participants that we knew we could not continue to pay $12,000 per month. When we announced our plans to reduce the workers and phase out the project, the workers erupted into fierce protests – endangering our schools, staff and children.

To resolve this crisis we offered the workers a “seed money” stipend that they could use for either education or enterprise business opportunities, like running a taxi or setting up a store. Participants signed contracts acknowledging that they could no longer work for Hands Together and each contract was witnessed by Cite Soleil’s mayor and chief of police.

We enter FYE 2010 with a trimmed workforce that will cost $40,000 per month (this includes all workers in P-au-P and the staff for all of the projects in Gonaives and rural Haiti.) Whenever possible, we favor employment over charity and direct assistance. We know that good leadership in Haiti is sorely lacking and this year we will concentrate on employee formation and enlist the help of volunteers and organizations who provide training workshops.

Radio Boukman

With so many failed projects all around in Haiti, we hold up Radio Boukman as a model for success. It was created by a small group of local residents with a dream to provide Cite Soleil with music, education and spirituality through radio. Several of the founding members taught at Hands Together schools. Radio Boukman demonstrated responsible use of funding and we saw directly the growth of this dream.

In December 2008 an electrical fire destroyed much of the equipment and broadcasting rooms at Radio Boukman. We pledged our assistance through a 3 year, decreasing grant -- $15,000 for year 1, $10,000 for year 2, and $5,000 for year 3.

Health Outreach

We’ve partnered with the local Cite Soleil Hospital – St. Catherine Labore– for help with staffing and lab tests. Our clinic receives more than 100 patients each day -- mostly women with sick children. Our resident M.D., Dr. Fanfan spends 2 hours each morning training our team of health workers who circulate through our campuses responding to student and local community health needs.

As we prepare our Becky DeWine school for the 2009-2010 school year we want to thank all of you whose gifts and prayers give us the strength we need to carry on our mission in Haiti. We pledge to seek out the poorest families and help them as much as we possibly can.