Haitian children in Port-au-Prince enjoy healthy meals prepared in the safe and hygienic environment of a new school kitchen provided by UMCOR and partner Muslim Aid.
By Mehu Josny*
February 7, 2013—UMCOR has had a strong collaborative partnership with Muslim Aid in relief and development projects around the world. In 2011, the organizations came together in Haiti to support food security and hygienic meal preparation.
Since the January 2010 earthquake, it has become even more important to ensure the safe preparation of meals in order to prevent the spread of cholera. UMCOR and Muslim Aid sought to address this threat among one of the most vulnerable populations in Haiti: school children.
They targeted schools that received food assistance from the school feeding programs of the World Food Programme (WFP). At ten sites across the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, they built and equipped school kitchens, benefiting hundreds of children with nutritious and hygienic meals.
The stories below describe the impact this joint project has had on the children and staff of two of those schools.
Ecole Nationale République de Colombie
Ecole Nationale République de Colombie is a government school located in the Bourdon community of Port-au-Prince. It was founded in 1956 with 900 students. However, the number of students decreased after the earthquake in 2010 because many of Boudon’s residents fled the neighborhood. The school currently enrolls 640 students in either a morning or an afternoon session. Colombie is a well-maintained government school, which, despite its challenges, has thrived.
“We are so grateful for the kitchen!” exclaimed School Director Durandieu Marie Metolus. “We struggled after the earthquake to properly feed our students, but with the Muslim Aid – UMCOR kitchen, we are now preparing tasty and hygienic meals for them.”
The school had a functioning kitchen before the earthquake, but like many other structures around the capital city, the kitchen and most of the school’s buildings collapsed in the disaster. Metolus approached the World Food Programme (WFP) for assistance, and Colombie was selected to receive food so it could reinstate its daily hot lunch program. Muslim Aid and UMCOR then selected Colombie to receive a new kitchen—that is, a new building, sink, stove, and two new kitchen tables.
In the meanwhile, said Metolus, “We had to cook using charcoal on an open fire. The staff would start cooking very early in the morning, as it took more than five hours to prepare the food, particularly the beans, which take a very long time to cook. By 10:30 am the food was ready to serve to children attending the morning session, and the second batch was ready by 2:00 pm for those attending the afternoon session,” said the director.
The staff then washed plates and cooking equipment in the backyard under a tree—the same place where they prepare the meals. Metolus lamented that the staff had to work so hard, rain or shine, to prepare the food for the children, who needed to eat.
With the new kitchen, though, food preparation time is significantly reduced. The staff now works in a proper kitchen that is shielded from the hot sun and rain. It is a sanitary place where they can prepare meals without having to fight off swarms of flies, dirt, and dust while cooking. And the school saves on fuel costs, as it no longer needs the large amounts of charcoal that were required to fuel the open fire.
Jeaffrard Rapnaens, 12, is a sixth-grade student whose favorite subjects are mathematics and history. He likes mathematics because he feels it’s important to be able to calculate things, and he likes history because he loves to learn about the past. Sometimes he eats before going to school, but not always.
One thing is clear: Jeaffrard prefers the food prepared at school in the Muslim Aid – UMCOR kitchen:“When our food was cooked outside, dirt got into the food,” he said. “But that doesn’t happen anymore, so I feel healthier.”
Since the initial kitchen and equipment donation, Ecole Nationale République de Colombie has received further support from UMCOR, including the construction of a security fence to keep students safe during the school day. UMCOR also has donated school kits, which include pencils, paper, and stationery, to the students at Colombie.
Ecole Grand Institution Mixte Alexandre Leger
Another school supported by the Muslim Aid – UMCOR project is the Ecole Grand Institution Mixte Alexandre Leger. It is located in the Delmas community of Port-au-Prince and was founded in 1994, with 100 students. It currently has 250 students.
“We are very proud to have received a new kitchen and supplies from Muslim Aid and UMCOR,” reported School Director Asnel Alexandre.
The school was enrolled in the WFP hot lunch program in 2007, but never had a kitchen in which to prepare the food. In a manner similar to the Ecole Nationale de République Colombie, the staff of this school also cooked food outside, over an open fire, and in unsanitary conditions.
“Cooking outside on an open fire is possible, but it takes a long time. Sometimes ash from the fire and dust from the street made their way into the food,” said the school director. “Now we have a kitchen and a gas stove. It is much easier and quicker to cook the food, and much more hygienic.”
In addition, Alexandre said, “Local organizations sometimes use the school facilities, and we are now able to offer them the use of the school kitchen as well. Last summer two organizations ran summer camps at the school, and the kitchen was used to produce food for up to 50 children per day,” he indicated.
Deives Clara is a 12-year-old seventh grader, who has been attending the school for a year. Her favorite subjects are grammar and Spanish. The food at school is very important to her, she said, because her parents can only provide one meal a day, in the evening, so she doesn’t eat in the morning before school. Deives said she enjoys the food at school and is very happy her school has a clean place in which to prepare it.
Ecole Grand Institution Mixte Alexandre Leger also recently received a new classroom building from UMCOR through the organization’s school repairs project. UMCOR also provided these students with school kits.
Your gift to Haiti Response, UMCOR Advance #418325, will make a difference in the lives of children like these and for all Haitians, who are determined to rebuild their country.
*Mehu Josny has been with UMCOR Haiti since early 2010. He serves as the Shelter and Reconstruction team’s program officer.