The new classroom UMCOR repaired at Grande Institution Alexandre Leger offers a safe and attractive learning space.
By Mehu Josny*
The January 2010 earthquake in Haiti destroyed 1,500 schools and caused the near collapse of another 2,600. To contribute to the repair and reconstruction of these facilities, UMCOR’s field office in Haiti implemented its Repairing Schools—Facilitating Community Return project in the West Department, the area most affected by the disaster. The stories below describe the project’s impact on the children and staff in three of the 11 participating schools.
Ecole Mixte Pierre La Rousse
The new classroom UMCOR built at Ecole Mixte La Rousse serves as a powerful symbol of hope and renewal for the school’s students and staff. It provides not only a space for learning and employment but, also, for healing wounds left by the earthquake. Healing is a process, students and staff told us. It is a process that School Director Jean Francisque knows very well.
Francisque founded Ecole Mixte Pierre La Rousse in Delmas, near Port-au-Prince, in October 1985. He worked hard to start and maintain the school. When the earthquake occurred, the two-story building collapsed. Francisque was traumatized, but he rallied quickly because he knew the students needed an education. He salvaged what he could from the rubble, including timber and metal sheeting, and built temporary structures where the students could continue to study.
But because the school was in poor condition, the director had to cut expenses to retain the students he had and attract others. He reduced school fees, and the teachers agreed to a cut in salary. Parents also contributed to keeping the school open by providing the cleaning and security themselves.
Soon after, UMCOR offered to build Ecole Mixte Pierre La Rousse a new classroom, providing a permanent, clean, and safe place for students to learn.
“We never expected to receive help so quickly,” Francisque said. “Parents and neighbors have commented on the quality of the building. It’s the jewel in our neighborhood’s crown!”
Norphiles Johny, a student at the school, agreed and said the new classroom instills pride. “After the earthquake our school was in a bad state,” he said. “We were embarrassed to attend. Now, we can walk tall! We are proud to attend this school with its beautiful new classroom.”
Grande Institution Alexandre Leger
At Grande Institution Alexandre Leger, the earthquake destroyed 17 classrooms. The school, which was founded in 1998 by its director, Alexandre Leger, had started with 100 students and had grown to 250 students. Leger was devastated when the buildings were destroyed.
“I felt terrible because I did not have the means to rebuild and students were waiting to return to class,” said Leger. “So, I took out a lease on a residential property. It was in bad shape, but it had four rooms plus a half-destroyed building in the rear. I salvaged the space and created temporary classrooms. Classes started again, and I hoped I could make improvements to the school over time.”
UMCOR learned of the school’s needs when, in collaboration with Muslim Aid, it provided Grand Institution Alexandre Leger with a new kitchen through UMCOR’s School Kitchen program in 2012. While installing the kitchen, UMCOR staff noticed the partially destroyed building and included it in the school-repair project.
Now the new classroom is making a big difference to students and staff, providing a safe and attractive learning space. The room is very comfortable and airy, and large enough to hold four classes at the same time.
“The temporary shelter had no door, no proper floor and a leaky roof, so it was very difficult to study,” said student Dieu Clara, 13. “With the repairs UMCOR has made, we have a beautiful, clean, comfortable, and attractive space. Learning is much easier here now.”
Ecole Vocationnelle was founded in 1961 by Joseph Backer. After his death in 1989, his daughter, Magdalina, took over as director. At its peak, the school had 1,200 students enrolled. After the earthquake, though, most students changed schools and enrollment declined to 480.
The earthquake damaged the school, including its perimeter wall. As a result, thieves were able to enter the grounds and steal computers, furniture, even the kitchen door. In a single month, there were three robberies. Unfortunately, the school did not have the resources to repair the wall.
UMCOR responded by repairing Ecole Vocationnelle’s wall and adding security wire along the entire perimeter of the site.
“Thanks to UMCOR this problem has been solved,” exclaimed the director. “Now that the wall is repaired, the school is safe and there have been no thefts. The children feel much more secure as well. We think the school will attract more students now because this beautiful wall is a symbol to others that the school is starting to return to its former condition.”
Student Shneidine St. Jean, 17, told us: “I felt really uncomfortable with the robberies at the school because I thought the thieves might attack us. I’d like to say a big thank you to UMCOR for coming to our rescue. With the repair of the wall we are safe and happy.”
Your gift to Haiti Response, UMCOR Advance #418325, supports UMCOR’s partnership with the people of Haiti as they endeavor to rebuild their country following the 2010 earthquake.
*Mehu Josny has been with UMCOR Haiti since early 2010. He serves as the Shelter and Reconstruction team’s program officer.