Posted by Karl Johnson on Jul 21, 2010
Related program: Haiti Rebuilding Center
It was like being in an espionage movie–We were meeting with a local correspondant to receive a document that she no doubt had to cunningly wrest from the municipal bureaucracy. A low-key restaurant in the middle of Jacmel that serves three dishes (chicken, goat and fancy-goat*). A ceiling fan twirling above us. Sunlight shooting through the overhead windows to the back of the tiny dining room, landing right above the head of the only other patron (a quiet, bespectacled figure in a canary dress shirt). Just on the other side of the front wall, trucks and motos went screaming down the narrow street. Tamsin sips a radioactive pink Tampico out of a glass mug through a ridiculously long straw. Our contact and her driver were sitting across from us and she pulls a folio from her bag. She clears her throat.
Our contact is Linda from CAFT Haiti, a Canadian-based nonprofit that's been training teachers in Haiti for nearly 30 years. She slides a printout across the table, between the handpainted placemats. It's a datasheet on the 49 damaged schools in the Jacmel area. It details 22 public and 27 non-public schools with student attendance and the number of relief tents supplied (from which you can roughly calculate the extent of damage for each school). It's a wealth of information. Linda looks at us taking it all in. "It's funny how differently Jacmel works," she confesses. "In Port-au-Prince you ask for something and they might get around to it after a couple weeks. But the guy I asked about this got up in the middle of a meeting to print it out." Cunning indeed!
Linda was also taking us to a couple sites in the area that could potentially host schools. The land was secured, and that's a big first step. We imagined a situation where a severely damaged school could move from where they didn't have land rights, if it weren't too far away. By the time we were on the road East along the coast, dark clouds had rushed in and it began to rain. We pulled of the road into a hotel restaurant Linda knew. A sign at the entrance boasted the hotel's sponsorship of a primary school. It happened to be on our list.
"No. 5: S.O.S Enfants. Secteur: Non Pub; Effectif: 153; Nombre de tente: 6." S.O.S Enfants is an international organization with a school in Jacmel, evidently. The front desk told us the hotel had built and was helping sponsor the school, but didn't know the status of its reconstruction. It just so happened, he told us, that the school's director and the hotel manager were both in the restaurant. We were led to a thatch-topped dining patio overlooking a crystal lagoon. The director and the manager were chatting amid several empty tables and a pacing maitre d'. Behind them a small construction crew had started reframing a demolished series of hotel rooms facing the water. This was a bit shocking as the rest of the hotel we had just walked through seemed in perfect order.
The two were generous enought to interrupt their conversation to give us a few details. It turns out the manager had approached the ministry for assistance in rebuilding his school only to be denied. They had declared him "too wealthy" to recieve aid. At this he scoffed. "Looks like I'm going to have to redo this with my own two hands." He spoke with the relegated disdain one acquires from his kind of work. The director, for her part, said things at the school were going fine, considering. The kids were still able to learn but she was pretty tired. They would make do until September, when the semester would end, and restock their patience before getting into their fall semester rebuild.
We left them our information in case they needed design assistance and wished them well. With such a firm relationship between those two, there was no cause for concern. The rain had let up and we proceeded to the sites.