“Wherever the very poor are, that is where we will be. We will follow them and stand alongside them.” Fr. Tom said in response to questions about long-term planning from a recent visiting delegation from the United States. This, of course, is not our entire long-term approach, but it truly reflects our spirituality and mission when considering what we are doing in Haiti. And it is the foundation upon which all our projects rest.
Fr. Tom, in a moment of honesty summed up his feelings about working in Haiti, 'I don't like it here in Haiti and I never did but I am not ready yet to "throw in the towel". I have a dream that our schools will be good examples to others of what education should be. I still have a dream that our schools will be extremely clean and orderly, with many good programs and activities. This dream keeps me getting up each day and it also keeps me thinking young."
As "Carnival" ends, marking the beginning of Lent, our students returned to their classes, today - February 14th, after a few days off. We have set many goals for this Lenten journey, hoping to purify and simplify things within ourselves and within our projects. As Fr. Tom writes, 'There is so much here to do. I am setting up a teacher's committee, with representatives chosen by their peers, in hopes that we can have a system for dialogue and for resolving grievances and conflicts. I will be working on modified contracts that require teachers to assist in classroom and cafeteria monitoring, something we really need as there is too much disorder now. I am trying to set realistic goals for each day!"
Becky DeWine School News
Hands Together's Becky DeWine School contains 5,000 students dispersed among 8 separate campuses in 7 different neighborhoods. All of the locations are considered part of Haiti's largest and poorest slum, Cite Solei, where the poverty and violence make it impossible to really implement any consistent programs. Here is a recent email from Fr. Tom to Doug Campbell about the typical daily situation he faces in Cite Soleil, "Yesterday, we had to close two schools early because of all the shooting. It has intensified over the past two days as two wars are going on simultaneously. Solei 19 against Ti Haiti and bran Neuf against Druillard. Two who were shot are participants in our Dismas program. If it keeps up, we wont have to pay any salaries to these guys because they will all be shot." It is with this constant instability and unrest that we open the gates of our campuses each day - praying for God to help us through another day.
Here are some of the recent programs and needs for the January - June school term:
St Franswa High School
The violence and threats to our staff and students that plagued us in October and November decreased significantly, thanks in large part to our outreach to the local gangs through our special "Dismas" project that combines labor, studies and spiritual development among young people enmeshed in gang life. The real challenges at the high school are with the staff and administration. It is hard to find qualified teachers and administrators who are willing to enter Cite Soliel. Some of this year's notable accomplishments include:
- books and uniforms submitted to all students;
- a hearty daily meal for all students and staff, thanks to Mary's Meals;
- started a student government that involves the upper-class students in special activities and study sessions;
- created a parent/community leader committee that meets regularly to discuss and respond to problems and needs of the school, such as local violence, or community clean-up and support - 10 parents come each day to help at the school;
- established internships for our senior class at Radio Boukman - students spend 6 hours per week learning journalism, broadcasting and radio basics,
- conducted a leadership retreat/conference at our formation center in Bassen Haiti for 24 student leaders and 4 high school professors - covered spirituality, responsibility and leadership;
- started a "barefoot school" program for 175 children who never went to school and are between 8-13 years old. They come in the afternoon for a daily meal and our recent high school graduates teach them basic literacy;
- continue to feed 150 elderly each day, with last year's high school graduates helping out.
Most Pressing Needs:
- improved computer lab, internet access and computer tech/teacher;
- solar energy for the school;
- funding for teacher training and formation;
- roof top garden installed on the main building;
- after-school, extra-curricular programs and better religious education programs - including music program, dance, sports,etc.;
- funds for supporting alumni graduates to come back and help and teach - giving stipends.
DeWine Family Scholarship Program
Thanks to the generosity of the DeWine family, we now have a special scholarship program for our high school graduates. Hands Together forged a partnership with the University of Notre Dame Haiti - and their 8 different colleges, so that scholarship recipients would receive 4 years of tuition, room and board, contingent upon a recipients successful admissions into the University. Currently, there are 28, 2012 graduates competing for this merit based award. All candidates must work for 6 months - teaching at our barefoot schools or helping run our elderly feeding programs. In February, Senator DeWine and Fran DeWine met with all candidates and interviewed them.
St Ann Middle School
Thanks to strong leadership from the administration at our St Ann campus - we have a very well run middle school with a great potential for many improvements and more advanced programs. Like the high school, we implemented a strong parent/community committee and started a student council as well. Hands Together has worked hard to renovate the existing St. Ann church that is adjacent to our school complex - and it is here that we hold parent rallies, hold Sunday Mass, and even hold mini retreats and teaching sessions for our gang outreach program. We are trying to increase our Catholic presence and resurrect a lagging Catholic faith presence in our schools and in the neighborhoods.
Most Pressing Needs:
- install an artificial turf field at St. Ann that will serve our entire Becky DeWine school population. We estimate that it would cost about $200,000 - with our Dismas and local people doing much of the labor.
- Add a good computer lab
- obtain funding to expand our "barefoot school" outreach here - to pay for additional school meals and learning materials - $18,000.
- Roof top and school gardens.
Our Fundamental Schools
"If we can begin when they are young, and instill a solid moral and intellectual foundation, we can help change an entire generation and eventually transform the Cite Soleil slum, and the minds of our students will be open and strong enough to imagine a totally different kind of life. A life of service, and responsibility. That is why it is so important to have good quality pre-school and elementary school programs," says Fr. Tom.
Most Pressing Needs:
- playground equipment at 5 locations - $9,000
- "little lending libraries" at each campus - where teachers can borrow classroom books and teaching aids - $18,000
- school gardens.
Radio Boukman Internship
In September, we started an internship for our high school seniors for them to gain real life, hands-on experience in the world of broadcasting and communications. Hands Together supports Radio Boukman with an annual operating grant and we feel that it is a great example of a locally created and run project.
This past summer, Fr. Tom organized 9 groups of 11 young men with ties to the gangs of Cite Soleil and created work projects for them during July and August. This experiment proved very successful and demonstrated that with a little effort, something can be done to alter the lives of those who many consider "beyond hope."
Dismas is an outreach to the at-risk youth and gang element in Cite Solei – named after the thief on the cross next to Jesus, who at the end of his life, experienced Redemption. The central message here is that all human life is precious and redeemable, and that with God’s grace, anyone can change. We are trying to change the hearts and minds of the young people who’ve been labeled vagabonds.
This project is primarily about human dignity, about instilling hope and self-worth. It is not a “job-creation” program, but an outreach linked to the Church and our educational centers “schools” in particular neighborhoods.
Duration: Project begins January 1st and ends April 30, 2013 . Max participants: - 120 Structure & Operations: We will create “dismas teams” of 10 participants – each group headed by a captain. Project will start on January 1st – and continue until the school year ends on June 30th.
Cost: $10,457/ month – x 4 months - $41,828
In early November 2012, Fr. Tom noticed many school aged children wandering around nearby our campuses, but not in school. He discovered that there was an entire population of kids (ages 8-14) who have never been to school and as they get older, their chances of ever learning to read and write diminish rapidly. So we created our "barefoot school" to target these youth. Each day we feed and provide literacy formation to 255 young people who have never been to school - an might never go to school.
We run a barefoot school at our 3 largest campus centers. The participants come at 1pm for a daily meal, and then they sit through 2 hours of basic literacy training. What is unique about this project, is that the teaching is done by our recent high school graduates as part of their DeWine Scholarship eligibility requirements. As more and more students graduate from our high school, we can see the great impact our alumni will have on the communities of Cite Soleil.