Out of the rubble: rebuilding education in Haiti

In a few weeks time, Pierre Raymond—a farmer on the outskirts of Leogane, Haiti—will return to the construction site where he currently works. He’ll bring a handful of rubble from his house that was destroyed in the earthquake, and add it to the piles ferried by his neighbours and friends. Together, the remains of their former homes will help shape the walls of a school. And not just any school—but the school where their own children will learn to read, learn to write, and learn to give back. Welcome to St. Matthieu’s.

The school building in St. St. Matthieu’s was rendered unusable by the January 12th earthquake

In recent months, the Lutheran World Federation Haiti has joined in partnership with the local community around St. Matthieu’s to build a permanent school to replace the one rendered unusable in the earthquake.

“We are all very happy with the school construction,” says Pastor Phanord, who runs St. Matthieu Episcopal Church as well as the school. He has seen St. Matthieu’s through thick and thin, and has spearheaded most of its growth.

When he first came here in 2003, the church was only two rooms, one of which doubled as a classroom. There were no fences or gates to protect the yard from the road. Thirty-four students were enrolled, but only fourteen picked up their year-end grade reports.

By the end of 2009, thanks to Pastor Phanord’s hard work and patience, St. Matthieu’s boasted an attendance of two hundred students housed in nine classrooms, plus offices and a school kitchen. They’d built a security wall around its perimeter and expanded the church to include five bedrooms for visitors.

Then the earthquake hit in January 2010 and brought all their hard work tumbling down.

“Four of our community members died in the earthquake,” the pastor says. “Parents were afraid to send their children to the classrooms because they were so badly damaged. We still hold Sunday services outside the church because the building has so many cracks.”

They were grateful to receive tents from LWF to use as temporary classrooms in the months following the quake. But the tents swelter during the day, and the fabric is thin. The school provides a more permanent answer.

In addition to the seven classrooms, LWF also has plans for a library, a new school kitchen and bio-latrines that will be used by the community as well as the students. LWF has worked with their beneficiaries at every step along the way, allowing the community—including the students themselves—to influence the design, colors, and set-up of the school grounds.

And even before the final coat of paint dries, many community members (including Pierre) are also benefiting from the cash-for-work project that is providing much-needed short-term jobs in building the school itself. They have the dual satisfaction of earning an income while laying the foundation—literally—for their children’s education.

Since the construction at St. Matthieu’s is a pilot project—the first of its kind in Haiti—LWF hopes that its success can be duplicated at over a hundred other sites over the next four years.

Pastor Phanord has served St. Matthieu Episcopal Church School for more than seven years.

Pastor Phanord, too, never stops looking toward the future. “I don’t know how long I have left to live here,” he says, “so I want to do as much as I can.” He hopes to eventually create a computer lab with an Internet connection, so students can do online research.

“In the long run,” he adds with a smile, “St. Matthieu’s school will be of great importance for the community. With the support of the LWF I believe we will get even further.”

The walls of St. Matthieu’s may have crumbled, but the community and its leaders still stand strong.

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