December and Christmas in Haiti - 2011

All of us at Hands Together wish our supporters and friends a most holy Christmas! May the peace of our Lord and the great hope that now fills the universe because God came to us as one of us, be part of your Christmas and inspire you to be a bright light in this world. We pray that God blesses you and your family!

In the true spirit of Christmas we held a special mass for the elderly and our Becky DeWine students and Fr. Tom encouraged everyone to "see Jesus in the face of those all around us." Modest gift bags filled with rice, beans and oil and some linens and towels brought great joy and smiles to more than a 1,000 elderly. Thanks once again to the DeWine family and their friends, who donated belts, make-up kits,  beanie babies, toy cars and lots of nice, individual presents for students of all ages, we could throw a little Christmas party at each of our eight campuses.

 "I'm always very moved whenever we give a small present to the children and elderly and see how pleased they are that someone thought of them and cares about them," said Fr. Tom. "We made an extra special meal with more sardines in the sauce and larger portions of rice and beans and they clapped and sang. Then as they were leaving they lined up and received their food kits and blankets. Some of the elderly could barely carry the stuff they are so weak, but all of them were beaming and signing and thanking god and Jesus. It certainly captures the real spirit of Christmas."

Coordinating the gift giving, meals and Christmas activities was a huge chore. "Everybody pitched in, and it's a good thing because giving out food or anything for that matter, is always chaotic and can even lead to violence. So things must be well coordinated and prepared," says Doug Campbell of the efforts to give out Christmas gifts. "We were fortunate that two American volunteers, Monica Herman and Jean Young, were with us to help prepare all the gifts and organize everything. Both of them made significant contributions to our medical clinic operations and to our administrative staff and programs."

The Christmas parties helped close out a decent school semester for us -- certainly one that showed some real improvement from last spring. The progress we've made can be traced back to some decisive moves we made back in July, namely: hiring 25 additional teachers at the high school, investing in textbooks for all students at all levels, expanding the campuses and installing good equipment and classroom materials, reducing the number of students and removing those who were causing trouble.

These changes helped us begin moving in the right direction, but they come at a great financial and human resource cost. According to Doug Campbell, "well, we can feel good about using all of the money folks donated to us for the earthquake -- that is all spent now. It will be a challenge to find the funds to meet the 35% inrease in payroll each month, nearly $42,000 per month just for our Port-au-Prince work. But we always try to use funds for employment and jobs before anything else, so I know that will try real hard to keep this funded."

Books & Computers help elevate education

It's very hard to learn without books and that is just what we've been doing for several years. Five years ago we bought books for our middle school and after a few months all of the books were stolen from the school library. We purchased books for two sources: 1) the fundamental school texts from an outfit in Aux Cayes that sells less expensive, soft cover workbook texts (cost $28,000) and 2) our high school and staff texts from a Port-au-Prince company (cost $27, 599).

Providing textbooks helped improve discipline. Before, the teacher would spend 15- 20 minutes writing the material on the board while students basically sat there and did nothing. "It makes a huge difference. I would see 4-5 students sharing one beat-up book, or teachers wasting lots of time writing out lessons and making students copy the basic text by hand in notebooks. So now I'm not seeing the huge numbers of students constantly leaving the classroom and wandering around that I did last semester," says Fr. Tom about the new books.

Computer Lab

Thanks to our good friends at Holy Family Parish in S. Pasadena, CA, there are several dozen computer learning stations at our high school. These labs now have satellite internet (for safety reasons we must bring the modem back and forth  from our HQ each day) and it is a great learning tool - especially for our upper level classes.  

St. Francis de Sales HS lecture halls and recreation buildings

Construction of the recreation and lecture hall buildings is nearly complete. These buildings will not only help us maximize the the impact of our best teachers, but will help us launch our extra-curricular programs. We will use them for activities such as music, dance and drama, lectures and special presentations, sports and physical education programs and school assemblies and media programs. The insulated rooves and natural venting keep the buildings 10-15 degrees cooler than our cement block classrooms and make them ideal spaces for large groups and long programs.

The table below highlights the remaining work and costs:

  • Paint Columns Green - $1,400
  • Excavate existing basketball court - $8,000
  • Reform, and pour new floor for Rec building - $25,000
  • Install a 15 x 20 ft depot for chairs, tables, media equip etc.. - $15,000
  • Install wiring, lighting and outlets - $4,200
  • Build trench and drainage - $5,000

Rebuilding St. Joseph Campus - Becky DeWine School

Thanks to another generous grant from Digicel corporation, we began rebuilding the St. Joseph campus, the last to be repaired after the January 2010 earthquake. This is our main pre-school campus along with St. Veronica and for the past year we've limped along using 4 plywood and damaged classrooms. "We considered shutting the campus down entirely," said Fr Tom. "St Joe's is in a very tough neighborhood and hard to access by jeep. But we really need the space for our preschool programs and the people in the Soleil 4 neighborhoods begged us to keep the school open -- it provides some stability and hope in a section filled wtih violence, crime and fear."

The grant from Digicel will fund the construction of 9 new classrooms, latrines, playground, and teacher office. The building project also provides much needed employment to local residents who help with the construction and school operations.

"We need really good pre-school and grade school programs -- one of the reasons things are so hard with our high school is the poor education going on in the early grades. We're investing lots of resources into quality programs for these young children so that by the time they get to middle school there is a very solid moral, spiritual, educational and physical foundation," says Doug Campbell.