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In May of 2018, STS Spanish Teacher Lisa Lowrance and STS Fourth Grade Teacher Kathryn Donohue traveled to Boucan-Carré, Haiti to visit our partner school, St. Timothee's. Below is Mrs. Lowrance's blog describing this trip and the continued efforts to forge ahead in our partnership with St. Timothee's School. Join us for a reception welcoming Eudras Ceus to St. Timothy's on Monday, October 29, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. Come meet, greet and learn about our Haiti partnership. More information to follow!
By Lisa Lowrance, STS Spanish Teacher
A 2 hour drive through the colossal mountains north east of the Port-Au-Prince airport is a small community known as Boucan-Carré. This area of the country, called the Central Plateau, is home to nearly 50,000 people. Most of the land is made up of mountains and deep valleys. Many locals travel primarily on foot as well as by donkey, motorcycles and the occasional crowded truck. This is a very welcome change to the infamous traffic jams in the capital city of Port-Au-Prince seen below.
To get to the heart of Boucan-Carré, travelers and locals alike must turn off of the paved roads made by the European Union long ago, to mountainous terrain. Traffic varies, but one thing is certain, you must wear a seatbelt and stay alert. There are many bumps, potholes, rocks, dogs, cats, chickens, goats, cows, people and places where creeks and rivers run through the road. Currently, a bridge going over the shallow river that crosses the road to Boucan-Carré is being constructed; however, it is unsure as to how long this project will take. In January 2018, we saw the beginning of the construction process. When we visited again in May 2018, there was no visible progress on the bridge. Without said bridge, drivers must be confident in their ability to navigate this difficult section of the road. We start out straight and then have a very sharp left turn followed by a quick right in order to ford the river at the shallowest point. We are forced to drive quickly to have enough momentum to cross the river while simultaneously avoiding hitting locals gathering water, bathing, and washing off their motorcycles. (It is my favorite part of the drive.)
Once through this section, on Mondays, we are treated to the awestriking site of Market Day in Boucan-Carré. Each town has their own market day so as to spread the wealth and goods among the Central Plateau. To get the full picture, you must first understand that the roads we are travelling on are almost, but not quite, large enough for two cars to drive opposite one another. Though, most of the time, one driver slows for the other to pass. On any other non-market day this is not a big problem due to the lack of car traffic. (We were quite an attraction in our car once we left the city.) When the shops are set up, they are done so on both sides of the already narrow dirt road. Locals wander from stand to stand in search of their necessities. Pickup trucks arrive filled to overflowing with goods to trade and sell. Families have blankets laid on the ground or rudimentary tables laden with local foods, crafts and old clothing mostly left by Americans. We enjoyed reading T-shirts from universities, sports teams, the YMCA and chain stores. The women of Haiti are known for their regal posture. Even in a ripped sports t-shirt and an old skirt they walk proudly and pull it off like royalty. The market is not set up with drivers in mind and you are forced to travel at a snail’s pace, often having to get out to assist the driver or ask someone to move their goods to the side while you pass. The cacophony of sights, sounds and smells is enough to send you into sensory overload.
Moving on past the market, the roadsides are lined with people leading goats and donkeys, pedestrians carrying live chickens tied to their waists or in baskets on their heads and children walking to school in their colorful uniforms. Men and boys are carrying enormous bags of charcoal for cooking, containers of water, or giant stalks loaded with bright yellow and green bananas. Babies and small children are running around naked enjoying the hustle and bustle of daily life in the country. Occasionally we pass a truck overloaded with supplies for the village.
As the road and the location become more and more remote, we finally reach the turn off for our destination! Our hearts warm as we prepare to see the friendly faces waiting for us at St. Timothee’s School. It is a privilege to go to school in Haiti and this privilege is not lost upon their students. Though there are at least six different classes being held simultaneously in the church’s sanctuary, the students are engaged and the teachers are focused on their lessons. As we quietly enter the room we get quiet sly waves, smiles and looks of recognition from the children and teachers who recognize our faces.
A little background information...
Due to limited communication, language barriers and iffy internet service, we are never sure of what we might find when we arrive. The first team STS sent in January 2016 consisted of Father James and Mr. Tinnesz. They immediately identified the need of desks for the children. They came home with the plan, with the help of Friends of St. Timothy’s, to send money to assist with construction of bench-style desks that can be turned around and used for pews during church services. Our partnership was young and we depended upon blind faith that the money would be put to good use. A year later, our group returned to Boucan-Carré and were immediately rewarded with the vision of classes in session using their new desks/pews. Later that same evening we met the builder as he was hard at work building more. A shared vision, financial support and sweat equity were coming together as our partnership grew in strength.
After this second visit we were able to identify more strengths as well as needs at St. Timothee’s School, Boucan-Carré. There was no shortage of children at the school. The teachers were teaching, the students were learning, everyone seemed content to be there and the day to day course of events looked and sounded very similar to what you would see in many classes across the world. Through observation and talking with the small group of faculty and church leaders, we did identify some needs that were hard to ignore: food and water. Those basic needs that we take for granted at schools in the U.S. were not being met. The lack of a bathroom is worth mentioning, but at this point it is nowhere near the top of the list. Through conversations, we learned that the children do not eat during the school day and often do not eat much outside of school either. We were able to fund a school-wide lunch of rice, beans and chicken both days that we were there. The Haitian cooks we brought up the mountain with us made a makeshift kitchen and fire to cook on behind the church and prepared a lunch for around 150 people. We had the honor of helping serve all the children on disposable plates that they shared between them. If they had a cup, they could dip it in the bucket of water brought up from the creek for a drink. It was a VERY hot and humbling job. After the children ate, we crowded into the small office and ate the same meal with the teachers. It was delicious. The two school days we spent observing, doing the crafts we brought and playing with the children was all at once heart-wrenching, heart-warming, physically and mentally exhausting and super fun. With the help of school and church staff we were able to identify two top needs/wants; school lunches and purchasing the lot of land immediately behind the school to expand classroom space. We returned to STS Raleigh with a plan and--with the help and advice of our friends in Haiti--a budget. Now we had to figure out how to make it happen financially. Through word of mouth, our plan was shared and donations arrived without asking. Through generous and unsolicited financial donations, we were able to help STS Boucan-Carré. It was up to them to put in the time, coordination, planning and the sweat equity. We also had to once again rely on blind faith that this would all come to fruition.
In January of 2018 we returned. What a beautiful reunion it was! Upon our arrival, everything appeared the same. The church and school consist of the sanctuary and one wing. The wing has two classrooms and the church office. The sanctuary holds all of the other classes. We heard the typical sounds of school and children reciting lessons. Due to the lack of pencils and paper, most of the learning is oral and aural. However, as we walked around to the back of the church we were greeted by surprise after surprise. This first was that the preschool/kindergarten class was being held in an outdoor classroom on the newly acquired land! We immediately sat in on the class with beaming smiles on our faces.
Surprise number two about knocked us off of our feet. We were told that the children had been receiving lunch at school but we were TOTALLY surprised that they had also built a kitchen! The kitchen has two rooms. One is for cooking and consists of three charcoal heated cooktops. The other room is a small storage area for wood and charcoal.
There was one more surprise in store for us - RUNNING WATER!!!! With the purchase of the land came a spigot attached to the creek down the hill. They had also purchased small water purifier hand pumps to clean the water for cooking and drinking. So much had been accomplished through their hard work over the past year.
We also had a few surprises up our sleeves. The children are fascinated by looking at pictures of themselves taken on our phones. Before our arrival, we printed out many of the pictures and had them laminated. The students at STS Raleigh made and decorated frames with messages of friendship and inspiration. After lunch one day, we fashioned a gallery wall of photographs of our students and their students on the school/church office wall. Both teachers and students had a great time looking at and commenting on the pictures. This was a bigger hit than any of us had expected! After yet another successful trip we left celebrating positive development and a clearer picture of future goals. St.Timothee’s Boucan-Carrè would like to build another building with more classrooms, an office and a bathroom on the new land to better accommodate their students.
In May of this year (2018), Kathryn Donohue and I returned with the sole purpose of fleshing out more details on our partnership and having a face to face meeting with the church administration and architect. After many discussions, research, both reading the book Toxic Charity and speaking with others in our community, we knew that we needed to go into this partnership with a clear vision and understanding. We want to do our best to make this a reciprocal partnership by identifying and working with their strengths, being culturally sensitive, helping with sustainable development, and making real friendships without creating dependency. We promised each other that we will do our best but recognize that there will be bumps along the way. We flew down to Haiti with many meetings on our schedule and a long list of goals to accomplish. This would be no trip for the weary! Of course, we still had a few surprises up our sleeve.
Mr. Tinnesz has always expressed his desire for better and more constant communication with STS Boucan-Carré. This is very difficult with sporadic (if any) electricity in the school. If there is electricity, it is mostly used on Sundays for music. This is made even more difficult because they are located way out in the country where cell phone service is weak at best. Kathryn and I were in search of a solution. Mrs. Sanders let me know that she had about 20 old computers in her science lab that were not being used. Mr. Tinnesz agreed to let us have them for Haiti. Mr. Cocker agreed to install clean, licensed systems on 4 of them before we left. This is about all we could fit in our bags anyway. If we can figure out an internet solution, they can have a computer lab! We are already having visions of Skype meet and greets and pen pals with our students.
Our students in Raleigh always like to hear about the students in Boucan-Carré. One day I was talking and showing pictures of the oldest students to one of my 7th grade classes. I was asked why there were only 2 girls. Well, that is a touchy question to answer. I closed the door and told them that they were ready for this information. Once girls “come of age” it is very difficult to leave the home during certain times of the month. Missing this much school makes it very hard to keep up and most of them quit. That did not sit well with a group of 7th grade girls and they decided to take action. We spent the next three months making something called luopads, which are washable feminine pads for the girls to wear during school. My mother-in-law, Brenda Lowrance, had made these for women in Africa. She and Mrs. Parrish volunteered many hours with us after school cutting and sewing towels and sheets and installing snaps. We managed to finish 15 packages of undergarments and 6 pads each before we left. Those girls worked hard! We are hopeful to see more girls at school in the future!
Back to the original story…
We are pulling into the school in May of this year after the almost hour long drive from our hotel through curvy, crowded, steep, bumpy roads eager to lay our eyes on the children. As we arrive we see that all is well! Classes are underway and everyone is going about their school day. This is the first time that we have visited during the rainy season which makes the new makeshift classroom of sticks, tarps and blankets behind the school unusable. The youngest students are inside and the oldest have been moved to the covered area across the dirt road at the deacon’s home. We quietly walk through the school observing the day and with a wink put our fingers to our lips to keep the children quiet as their eyes light up when they see us. The air inside the school is still and oppressively hot and with no walls to separate the classes each classroom is on display. There are simultaneous lessons on math, grammar, reading and history going on in the very same room. I sit in on one class and am able to decipher enough French and Haitian Creole to know that they are learning about Christopher Columbus’ arrival to Hispaniola. Another classroom is practicing spelling in their typical beautiful cursive handwriting. The headmaster is seated in a chair at the front of his class with a group of young students crowded around him as he reads a story. In the corner an older group of students is learning French grammar. The self-discipline the children possess is incredible.As it nears lunchtime we venture around to the back of the church to visit the kitchen. A new sight greets our eyes! The last time we were there, the children were sharing any kind of dishes or spoons they brought from home or sharing disposable styrofoam plates. On our last visit, we gave a cash donation to the church deacon to buy some reusable plates and spoons for the children to use at lunch. We walked around the corner to see a group of children washing dishes in big buckets while the cooks prepared the meal. They school now had a complete set of tin plates, spoons and serving spoons for school lunches and all the children rotated lunch duty jobs! When the lunch was prepared another group of children arrived to help serve plates. Meanwhile, the other students waited patiently with their class to receive lunch. Though we probably hindered and slowed down the well-oiled machine, Kathryn and I of course jumped in to help serve plates and fill buckets with beans and rice.
After all of the children had eaten, a bucket of beans and rice and the onion/vinegar sauce was brought to the school office. We were also pleased to see a basket of cold bottled water and the local cola. We enjoyed a meal with fellow teachers and then brought out the surprises that we had to share. They were very excited about the computers and we began the discussion about how to get internet and wifi to the school. We shooed the men away and had a lively conversation with the two women teachers (translated by our male guide, Eudras) about the sanitary bags for the girls. As Eudras good-naturedly translated and acted out what we were telling them, the two usually very serious teachers broke into a huge fit of giggles. It was infectious and soon the little girls were running in to check out the commotion.
Kathryn and I spent the late afternoon in the hotel talking with our thoughts swirling about everything we had experienced during the last few days. Through several meetings with the church rector, the architect, the deacon, teachers and the headmaster, we came home with a clear wish list, costs and had them in prioritized order. We said a warm farewell to our Haitian friends with the hopes to see them again sooner than later.
What about the future...
Where are we now? Thanks to more generous (and unsolicited!) donations, we are pleased to be able to realize some of our shared goals. We are continuously and constantly humbled and amazed at the generosity and kindness our community has shown towards our friends in Haiti. We are fortunate that with a small-scale one-to-one partnership, each dollar and act of service goes directly to St. Timothee’s, minus the 10% that goes to the Episcopal Dioceses in the Haitian Central Plateau. Father Alphonse, who hosts us for dinners and lives in the rectory in Mirebalasise, is the Archdeacon of the 16 Episcopal churches in the Central Plateau including St. Timothee’s. We have been fortunate enough to accompany him to church services and have ¨broken the bread¨ with him many times. This past May we were a small group and Kathryn, Eudras, Father Alphonse and I ate dinner together each night. Our final evening we had a lively dinner laughing, practicing Creole, telling stories and ended the evening with a walk to the main church in Mirebalaise. In his quiet and unassuming manner, he greeted and introduced us to many people along the way. He is delightful and I have confidence that he uses the 10% well.
We left Haiti in January with these 5 future goals:
- Continue and increase school meals for students
- Provide funding for wifi services at STS Boucan-Carré
- Assist with their fund for building a new school wing
- Host Eudras (our Haitian translator and guide) at STS Raleigh to meet students, faculty and families
- Return with a group of school faculty in 2019 with the purpose of completing one of the following recommended projects:
- Chickens and coop for egg production for school meals and revenue
- Water purification system to sell and provide clean water for students
After reviewing our budget, we are happy to say that we are well on our way towards realizing these goals! We are able to continue with meals, and we are hoping for a report any day of wifi at STS Boucan-Carré. A new school/church wing will be a shared venture of fundraising between STS Raleigh and STS Boucan-Carré and will take years, but Haitians have a long history of hard work, patience and working with what they have. We plan to have a staff/faculty group travel with a purpose and ready to get to work in 2019. Perhaps one of the most exciting developments for us is that Eudras is coming to visit!!! He will be here in late October to meet our school community, share about life and his work in Haiti, and teach future travelers a little Haitian Creole. Stay tuned for specific dates, and we hope that you will join us as we welcome him to STS Raleigh!
Lisa Lowrance, STS Spanish Teacher
Join us for a reception on Monday, October 29, 2018 at 7 p.m. at STS as we welcome Eudras Ceus to St. Timothy's. Come meet, greet and learn about our Haiti partnership and St. Timothee's School in BoucanCarré. More information to follow!
“That's when I feel most alive, when I'm helping people.” Paul Farmer
Ever since the beginning of the partnership between STS and St. Timothee’s School in Haiti, I had a strong desire to be part of it. It may have been a calling, or just me wanting to serve these beautiful people and see the land and school that I imagined.
Traveling up a long and winding, dirt road filled with people, we arrived to St. Timothee’s School. The staff greeted us with open arms, while the children’s faces expressed more curiosity and perhaps apprehension. Seeing it for the first time, gave me pause. The building is rudimentary and is not surrounded by much, but I had a feeling what was inside was going to change me forever.
The first day, our goal for the group of five was to observe and gain trust. Within no time, the children began to come up to us asking us questions in their beautiful Haitian Creole. The language barrier was there, but human interaction with gestures and facial expressions helped us begin to form a connection. Away from phones, cell service and any devices, we began to interact. Getting down on the level of the smaller children, we quickly found smiles, laughter and a people that are happy in a way that our society here has trouble finding.
Lisa Lowrance, Spanish Teacher, who has been on this trip before, squealed with delight when she saw the small, concrete building that serves as the school’s kitchen, which was built since her last trip. For some of us, we had no reference, but Lisa began to explain to us that on the last trip, the school had to cook their meals outside on an open coal fire. This new kitchen showed progress, which creates hope, and sometimes hope is all people have. After the last trip to St. Timothee’s in Haiti, the three teachers that went on the trip returned asking that we help provide at least two meals a week. It was wonderful to see that the meals were being provided due to our efforts. The meal of rice and beans that we served is sometimes the only meal these children get that day.
Still, much progress is to be made. The smaller children are in an outdoor classroom where wooden beams hold tarps that cover their wooden benches and makeshift desks. If there is inclement weather, they either pack inside with the other children, or just do not come to school that day. During the meals we served, there was a shortage of reusable plastic bowls and utensils. We had to reuse the bowls without water to wash them, and some children simply ate with their fingers and others just borrowed a spoon or fork from a friend. After witnessing this shortage, we decided to donate money we had for discretionary items for them to buy more bowls and utensils at the local market.
In addition to providing money for the utensils, we also took several suitcases full of supplies given by STS parents to donate to St. Timothee’s. On the second day, we presented these items to the head of the school and staff. The older students received red St. Timothy’s bags filled with pencils, composition notebooks, and pencil sharpeners. We also left them school supplies, soccer balls, air pumps for the balls and other donated items. The students and staff were very grateful, and the students clamored around to see the items. Playing games, assisting with a school activity, and in general watching the dynamics of our group interact with their staff and children gave me a sense of optimism and excitement. I feel this is the beginning of a long and wonderful bond and partnership that STS will have with this school.
When I left, it was with a sense of unfinished work. Knowing it might be some time before we see them again, I did feel heavy hearted and a bit helpless. Wishing I could stay to continue to serve as needed, I resolved to hopefully return. However, watching them kick a soccer ball instead of an old, plastic bottle means that every small chance we get to help, will be one that helps these children grow and learn. Being a part of St. Timothy’s School in Raleigh has meant working and having my children at a place where nurture and kindness abounds. The children of St. Timothee’s in Haiti exhibited such happiness, and care for one another, it confirmed for me that there aren’t that many differences between our students and their students. School is a safe place for learning and play. STS can help ensure this continues for not only their generation, but for many generations to follow, and I am beyond grateful to have been a part of such an experience.
For more on this trip, read Fourth Grade Teacher Kathryn Donohue's online travel journal.
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