School a safe haven for Carrefour children

Students show up for class at Ecole Le Bon Samaritain/Tracy Simmons - CreedibleCARREFOUR — I’m not sure what time the rain finally stopped. It was raining at 10 p.m., when Jerah (the cook) mopped up the puddles in my barrack (I told him it wasn’t a big deal but he and Mona insisted).

It was raining at midnight when someone shot a gun into the air. A commotion followed. A part of me wanted to jump up and see what was going on, but the wiser part of me knew to stay put.
It was raining at 3 a.m. when a man began proclaiming something excitedly from the streets. I learned later that he was talking about the elections. No one seemed to be responding to him, except for a few emotional screams toward the end of his rant.
It wasn’t raining at 6 a.m. when I rolled out of bed. Because of all the rain Jerah and the other school staff spent the morning drying desks and clearing water.

The students, dressed in pink uniforms, begin showing up about 7:30 a.m.. School starts around 7:45 a.m when the students gather in the makeshift hallway and sing the Haitian national anthem.  Then they break into their respective classrooms.

Inside the school walls it’s safe. Kids can be kids. They can munch on snacks, have a healthy lunch, giggle with their friends, play on the school’s two playground toys – a swing and a small merry-go-round – and more importantly they can learn. They can study fractions and geography and practice their French.
To send a child to Ecole Le Bon Samaritain costs $250 for an entire year. That includes food and basic health care.There are other elementary schools in Carrefour, but when a parent is late paying tuition the child gets kicked out. The Milliens, on the other hand, foot the bill until the family can pay.

Today about 20 students didn’t show up to school. Jean-Ellie said their parents were afraid to send them because of the political turmoil, and last night’s gunshot didn’t help. Christopher, one of the boys I promised I’d see again, said he didn’t go to school today either because his mother felt it was unsafe. Instead he spent the afternoon with me. He taught me words in Haitian Creole, which I already forgot, and I taught him English phrases. I gave him a new soccer ball and a pump and he promised he’d see me again tomorrow. He wanted me to play soccer with him, but the streets are full of mud and it was about to start pouring again.
“Oh I play everyday, no matter what,” he said.
He wanted me to go to the cyber cafe with him, but I knew it wasn’t safe for me to wander the streets of Carrefour with a 15-year-old who speaks broken English as my guide. He said he has a video game system, but no TV and asked if he could bring it to the school. But the TV here is locked away. Before he left to go home, he turned to me and said, “I thought that you had forgotten me because you didn’t come back.” I could never forget Christopher. I think of him everyday. Thoughts of him remind me not to take what I have for granted and thoughts of him remind me to be compassionate toward others. He thanked me for the soccer ball, but I wish I could somehow express to him how much he’s changed my life and tell him how grateful I am.
The other boy I promised I’d see again is Jerry, but I haven’t found him yet. I found his aunt, gave her some photos to give to him for me, and now I sit and wait and hope that he’ll knock on the gate of the school and come see me.

Since my last trip to Haiti I’ve kept in touch with three other Haitians – Ribert, Vialine and Darline. Ribert got a message to me saying he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to see me. He fled from Carrefour into the country and said because of the protests he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to get through Port-au-Prince. Vialine came and saw me though, and so did Darline. Vialine and I sat together in silence, as we don’t speak the same language. We exchanged a few broken words – her family is OK, she graduated last week from the nursing program, she needs to find work. With the help of Jean-Ellie and Mona I was able to communicate with Darline a little bit more. She wants to work at the school as a nurse, but right now there isn’t room on the property for a clinic. She is OK, her family is OK, but she seemed sad to me. Once or twice her eyes drifted to the ground and it looked like she was trying to hold back tears. She’s sweet and thoughtful and it radiates from her. She brought me a Christmas present and a card. I can’t wait to get on bing translator and find out what she wrote inside. I won’t see her again before I leave, but I know we’ll be in touch for years to come (thanks to texting).
There are a million reasons why she could be sad. It’s a hard time for Haiti. I learned more about the elections today and understand why there’s so much strife. Miranda Manigat is the good candidate – educated, wholesome. But she’s a woman and she’s older and for that those in power would rather have an uneducated entertainer as their leader.
And although I haven’t seen the cholera epidemic with my own eyes, I know it’s bad. In the newspaper today I saw a photo of a man pushing a cholera victim through Port-au-Prince in a wheelbarrow. Sadly, scenes like that are becoming the norm. Mona told me that at a nearby Catholic church, four parishioners just died of cholera because they couldn’t get to a hospital for treatment.
If these were things I was facing everyday, I would have sad eyes too.

Athough things are hard here, tomorrow should bring a little cheer to Carrefour. After school, the students of Ecole Le Bon Samaritain will be having a Christmas concert for the community. I heard them practice “Jingle Bells” and am excited to hear the rest.

View more photos on Flickr here.


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