School Year Ends and Other Recent News

On June 17 we finished classes at all of our HT schools. In many ways we are relieved to finish this school year -- as a steady decline in the discipline and quality of our programs left us contemplating closing the schools early and making students redo this 2010-2011 academic year. The frustration with our students and staff was expressed in an email that Fr. Tom sent to Doug Campbell on May 6, 2011: 

"Our high school has 1400 students and it might be the only one in all of Haiti that is free. Discipline is poor and sometimes it seems like the students, not the teachers, are running the school. The quality of education is poor, lacking professionalism, creativity, competence, integrity and morality. In the past year, potential violence increased dramatically -- with students bringing neighborhood troubles and conflicts into the school with them. Recently we removed guns, knives and other weapons from several students.

Today, I can say that the school desperately needs leadership and direction and that it is moving in a dangerous direction. And now we struggle with the question of what to do. I feel that after the quake, Hands Together, (and rightly so) focused on rebuilding schools and projects. But we may have paid a heavy price. We may, unintentionally, have created a monster or allowed parasites to enter and eat away at something good.

 What energizes and helps me is envisioning just how good the school could be, and how much it is needed in the messed up lives of these young people living in the slum. We will either improve it or fail trying.”

This decline in the quality of programs and staff contributed to the volatile, violent and toxic environment of Cite Soleil to leave us faced with serious challenges and problems:

  1. During rebuilding, the daily operations of our schools were largely unsupervised and the programs deteriorated.
  2. The quality of our feeding, education, training, and charity outreach was weakened by many people taking advantage of our work. There is a parasitic element in Haiti that finds its way into any program or project that is not well defined and managed.
  3. Discipline among our staff and students is very poor. There is violence and disorder in the schools. We lack leadership, and operate with a poorly trained Haitian workforce. Problems of personal conflicts and violence hamper real progress.
  4. There is a great dependence upon our non-Haitian staff to solve the major problems. This “dependence syndrome” permeates most of our projects and demonstrates a real lack of personal ownership by the project participants. The result is a fatalistic and apathetic approach to the work. In too many cases, if things are broken or not working right, our staff either does not care, or they wait until Fr. Tom or Doug or Fr. Gerard initiate a solution.
  5. Our school population is too large, and students who do not belong have somehow “snuck” into the schools - causing great harm.

To address these deep rooted problems we created several strategies designed to improve our educational programs and schools:

  • We will enlist U.S. volunteer help to train, mentor and assist the Haitian people in project management and the transition to a less dependent relationship with Hands Together. 
  • We will purify our school population and reduce it to a manageable number so that we can provide a quality education.
  • Our commitment to agricultural development and improving the environment will increase and we will involve more young people in agricultural based vocations.
  • We will strengthen our staff team with intensive training and ongoing education and seek hire additional qualified workers.
  • We will rigorously involve parents and community leaders in the operations and activities of the schools to help with discipline and foster a sense of ownership among the families and residents who benefit from the schools.
  • We will expand the school day, isolate certain grade levels,  and concentrate on core educational, vocational and spiritual formation.

There is a lot of work we must do this summer to get our schools ready for September. We've contracted with an excellent educational consultant who will oversee a comprehensive teacher/administrator training program during the month of July. We need to build lecture halls at the HS level and create a special campus for the 7th and 8th grade levels that includes metal and carpentry and computers and we will extend the school day to help the students avoid the pitfalls awaiting them in the streets.

Doug Campbell recalls his June 14, 2011 visit to the St. Franswa campus, "The place was very discouraging. It was the second day that Tom had expelled several students for discipline violations. Students were leaving the classrooms whenever they wanted, and the teachers had little or no control. Tom and discussed closing the school down right then and just informing all the students that they would be forced to repeat the year. We blamed ourselves for much of the problems because we simply weren't able to provide the oversight and supervision that was needed after the earthquake.

Then, as we made the final rounds through the buildings we came across 4 young women students and 1 young male student in an empty classroom. They were sharing a calculator and writing calculus problems on the board and sharing one textbook among the 5 of them. They told us they were studying for the year end exam and that they loved the school. We asked them what they would do if they ran the HS and they said that they would hire more teachers and ask parents to be more involved. They said that there were students who did not belong in the school who had snuck in and that they would remove them.

This brief encounter validated everything we were trying to do and gave us the inspiration we needed to dedicate ourselves to creating a better Becky DeWine school in Cite Soleil.  

Summer programs and Catholic Camp

During the month of July we will run a summer camp for 250 of our 7 and 8 grade students. Our six Haitian St. Francis de Sales volunteers (young men contemplating priesthood who live in community at our center and teach at our high school) along with 6 other catechists, will run a day camp to help instill basic ethics, religious education and provide healthy activities during the summer months. Students will receive a daily meal and there will be recreation as well as music programs.

We will continue our elderly feeding throughout July as well, serving 1,200 elderly a daily hot meal.

Mobile Clinic spends week in Gonaives

Dr. Fanfan and our mobile clinic team was joined by 2 doctors from the Gonaives area and they spent 5 days circulating among the rural villages of Ti Desdunnes, Trou sable and other parts of Gonaives, treating about 100 people each day.

 We are excited to see this sturdy, state of the art clinic access areas where people have never visited a doctor.

During the 2011- 2012 we will be accepting applications from U.S medical personnel who wish to volunteer for a short 1-2 week rotation with our clinic. Health professionals with experiences in the ER or simple clinic settings would be a great help to us.

Clarke Farm - Agriculture Progress

Fr. Gerard Dormevil and our development team in Gonaives continue to improve the Clarke Farm project and increase the outreach to rural farmers and young adults seeking a vocation in agriculture.

  • In May of 2011, we broke ground for the construction of offices, living quarters  and classrooms.
  • During April a priest from the Dominican Republic donated a $14,000 drip irrigation system on several acres that will irrigate large plots of vegetables with a fraction of the water typically needed. The inexpensive plastic hosing can easily be used in poor villagers and our agricultural technicians will bring this technology to local farmers who need it. 
  • A collaboration with Earth University gives us 4 partial scholarships for Haitian students. After their 4 year degree,  these students will serve 4 years on our Clarke Farm teaching staff.
  • A team from EARTH will spend 2 weeks in July grafting 12,000  mango trees - preparing a large plot of land for mango production and export.
  • Recent planting of banana and papaya crops yielded high value crops for 3 different peasant groups. 

Water well drilling

Thanks to Holy Family Parish in South Pasadena, CA,  and a Rotary in California, we installed a large irrigation well outside of Gonaives. The irrigation will water a crop of 10,000 mangos that will be planted through a grafting project spearheaded by the experts at EARTH university in Costa Rica.