Improbable Beginnings…the power of just getting started!
In 2004 we made the journey to visit Mathilde’s family at her birth village, Au Centre, in the Macaya Mountains in Southern Haiti. It is a farming region of shade trees over small coffee plantations; a place of great scenic beauty ranking also as one of the world’s poorest places. We wanted to help — but where to begin when there are so many grave needs?
In those days, less than 20 families could pay the costs for the only school in town. No elementary school meant that most village kids would never read or write, nor qualify for the government Secondary School in Beaumont, an hour’s walk down the mountain. While the town lacked adequate food, safe housing, and medicine and not one house had electricity or safe water; despite these pressing immediate needs, the community leaders asked for help with education. We decided we’d go home and start a scholarship fund.
Back at Mt Victory Camp, our eco-lodge in the hills of St Croix, we staged some small fund raising events. We sent the money for 30 scholarships to Haiti by Western Union. The village elders calculated that what we sent them was going to be enough to get what they really needed: a village public school – free to all children. And before we knew it…a school was born.
They renovated a small village residence; built on a terrace of pounded dirt, mortised hardwood posts, the walls in-filled by mortar and rubble rock, the roof a very old rusted corrugated metal. The four small rooms housed grades 1-6. A shed roof attached to one side sheltered the kindergarten. 5 rooms, 5 teachers, 5 blackboards and 125 children seated on narrow benches; it was a perfectly filled space; human density – 1.5 sq ft per person!
The village committee rented, renovated and built benches, mustered the teachers, designed and made school uniforms. Many villagers for the first time experienced the ritual of getting their kids out of bed, dressed and off to school! The people of Au Centre were determined to educate their children!
Today, nearly ten years later, located in a new large school house building, the Renaissance Elementary School educates up to 225 children yearly. HCS has continued to support this inspirational project.