(Fond Parisien, Haiti) March 29, 2012 — A two-year commitment and $225,000 from Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is enabling a new preschool here to provide education, and nutritious meals, to more than 195 students.
A group of Catholic nuns from the Carmelitas de La Caridad de Vedruna order had been providing the service to 60 children, but with the help of JRS they’ve been able to expand the educational program. Classes were once held in the community chapel, but the new school just outside of the town center opened last September. In addition to the classroom block, a latrine was built, and a well for fresh water.
Fond Parisien is located only about one and a half hours from the Haitian capital of Port au Prince, and saw an influx of displaced families from the capital following the January 2010 earthquake.
"When we began thinking about this project we realized there was no preschool; schooling began here at the elementary level. They were forgetting about the most basic education. We saw a gap," said Sr. Nuria, one of the school founders.
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"We wanted to begin at the most basic level because it will open the children's eyes and culture for their development. If you build a strong base in preschool the children will have more success later in school. Closely connected to this is the nutrition program. So we decided to include breakfast and lunch. So we help not only intellectual and social development but also physical," said Sr. Nuria.
Although public education for school-aged youth is ostensibly free in Haiti, the cost is still relatively high for impoverished Haitian families who must pay for uniforms, textbooks and supplies. Throughout the developing world, JRS comes across displaced parents living in poverty forced to choose between paying for their children's education and buying basic essentials. Even when education is nominally free, teachers’ salaries are often not paid, so families are forced to contribute. Too often, parents, unable to afford the costs of their children’s education, are forced to take them out of school. Unfortunately, those in the most vulnerable circumstances suffer disproportionately, including girls and children with disabilities.
"Many of these children would have no access to education without this project. The schools that do exist are too expensive. At the state level, there is no such thing as preschool. Preschools only exist thanks to organizations and foundations," said Sr. Camilla de Jesus, a member of the school's director office.
"We insisted on having all materials, including the uniforms, because the kids love uniforms. We can see the parents value the school because the children look good, the school looks good, and class size is reasonable. So the parents see that even a poor town has access to the education of the elites," said Sr. Nuria.
"Student fees here are roughly the equivalent of $12 per year," said Sr. Camilla. "Other preschools have a monthly fee that is much higher. If families have trouble paying they can discuss it with us and exceptions are made. Parents can share other goods or services with the school; we have a very collaborative relationship with the parents."
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is providing about $60,000 over two years for teachers, assistants, cooks and guards. JRS/USA also contributed $30,000 for student desks, cabinets & bookcases; $15,000 for school supplies; $50,000 for the school feeding program and $70,000 for school construction.A breakfast meal is offered around 8:00 a.m., and includes sweetened porridge and a biscuit. The distribution is quite simple. A large heated pot containing six gallons of porridge prepared at an off-site kitchen is brought in to the school, and trays with servings for 20 children are prepared.
For lunch, a more hearty meal is provided. Usually there is rice, a very common dish in mid-day meals in Haiti. The rice is served with a side of vegetables acquired locally, and there is also a small portion of beef, pork, goat or chicken. Drinking water is provided throughout the day as needed. (Read more about the food program here.)
"We targeted this community because it is very poor and has gaping educational needs," said Sr. Nuria.
"Every child here is in school for the first time. We are ensuring the school is high quality by allowing a maximum of 25 kids per class, unlike other schools," said Sr. Nuria. "We have also involved a new methodology in school: we don't punish, we don't hit. The teachers are not allowed to do it, despite the fact that it is common practice in Haiti. Even parents ask us to but we refuse."
One of the guiding values of JRS is compassion. JRS sees our service as a call to love, to treat others with equity and respect, as we ourselves wish to be treated.
"Everyone who works here is local and lives in Fonds Parisien," said Sr. Camilla. "This allows opportunity for work and allows the community itself to grow because of the experience the teachers gain. The community believes it’s a great project. Parents bring their kids here, and make sure they are neatly dressed. This shows they hold the school in high regard."
"The project also supports community development. This project brought the community to its feet. Because more than 30 people make their living here: teachers, construction workers, cooks, helpers. So the whole area benefits," said Sr. Nuria.
"School isn't just for today, it is an investment in the future. We hope the community in the coming years will see their standard of living rise and that life in the community improves. That was always the vision of the project, not just to give something, but to enable the people to build something for themselves," said Sr. Nuria.
By Christian Fuchs
Communications Director, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA