During the hot summer months of July and August travel to La Gonave slows down a bit. As I prepare to go back down in early October one of the things I anticipate seeing are all the school children pouring into their classes, whether in the city of Anse-a-Galet or the remote mountain and coastal villages. Neatly dressed in their checkered uniforms and always smiling, eager to learn and have a break from their lives of meager means. Girleautiful ribbons in their hair and boys with neat shirts and pants.
Late last spring I had a chance to visit a coastal village which had lost some of the support they had once had. A church here in the US had made a decision to stop sending funds to this school. People do that. They are inspired to give for a while, then something or someone else captures their attention and the money is suddenly diverted to another place.
That is human nature, I guess, but it does not speak to the story of how that decision might impact others. We had been told by our priest in charge that this school was desperate for help. That for the last 6 months the teachers had not been paid and that a couple of them had to leave in order to find work that paid. There were five of us that were going to meet with the teachers that remained to try to find a solution. None seemed evident to me, but we had to start somewhere. I thought the agenda was going to be how to find money to pay the teachers.
We arrived in the school yard to the normal cheers and warm greetings that we always get. The children were all in uniforms and happy to see us. The teachers came out and welcomed us as well, making sure we had a room to meet in and a comfortable place to sit. After polite introductions all around we got down to business. There were many obvious needs here: a building in ill repair, teachers who had not been paid, a cistern that was cracked and unable to hold potable water for the children. We asked them about their priorities and I prepared to face the question of back pay.
A lovely woman who had clearly assumed leadership in the meeting raised her hand. “What we want most for our children is a safe place for them to play. They come here to learn and they work hard in class. When they get a break I would love for them to have a safe place to play. Their lives are not easy and school is their best hope, not just for an education, but for a childhood as well.” You see, the yard outside the school was exposed volcanic rock. There were holes with dirt, but for the most part walking across it was treacherous, much less trying to run, skip rope or play ball.
None of us could speak. We had not prepared ourselves for a room full of professional teachers who had not been paid for 6 months that were mainly concerned about the children. Most of us couldn’t speak because we were too choked up. In the face of what these adults were willing to do to get the children of their community educated, we were speechless. In the face of the stark reality of how important it is to ensure that their children had an education, a childhood and a chance at a future, we were speechless.
I am happy to say that from that meeting came a partnership with folks that made up the back pay and will be down again mid-October to have a mobile clinic and to assess what might be done to make this school a safer and better place for these children to get educated. But, school begins again all over the island and we have a number of schools who have not yet found dependable partners.
At our partnership wide meeting in July we dedicated ourselves to a unified effort to get our schools fully funded. Join us in that effort. An educated and healthy child is the hope of Haiti. Join us in helping to educate and care for the children that will grow up as leaders. If you or your church, you office, your group can commit to a monthly donation to ensure that the teachers get paid , I can promise you that the children of La Gonave will be taught and cared for by teachers that are professional and take the care of those children seriously. Many think that teachers everywhere are undervalued… but they should never go unpaid.