Posted by Karl Johnson on Jul 25, 2010
Related program: Haiti Rebuilding Center
Mme Vieux walks to work. She commutes maybe 15 minutes down the road, and another 10 off of it, through a creek where people wash their bicycles and up a steep, informal road to her school's perch on top of a hill. It's a workout every day, she says, but she can't complain–the view from the yellow gate of the southern coast is breathtaking.
220 primary school students share this view, though the don't necessarily share the climb. The Madame's school serves mostly communities from inland–kids from up to 3 km away who nonetheless have the special privilege of attending the only free private school in the Jacmel area.
École Dignité–School of Dignity–provides a series of clean and well-lit classrooms for children grades 1-6. Mme Vieux wants to expand operations by two additional grades, and, given her situation it's an almost guaranteed success. One of the reasons Haitian children drop out of school before secondary school even begins is that their parents can no longer afford to send them.
Mme Vieux doesn't have to worry about that. Her school is being supported by a private funder and she is comfortable enough to run a progressive institution. She shows us the vegetable garden where volunteer students tend to small crops of eggplant and assorted beans. Her cafeteria provides students with a hearty breakfast ("I need them to have energy for their brains," she clarifies "not energy for playing soccer [after school]!") Her latrines on the corner of the property are immaculate-tile-covered stalls and urinals practically sparkle in the sun.
Mme Vieux's classrooms are tidy. Square rooms with wooden benches. Modestly-bound books of Kreyol stories and pictures ares stacked by the metal door. A chalkboard on two stilts leans against the front wall. Natural light wanders in through a grid of oval-shaped openings. One of these rooms is for special needs, another for community meetings. The end room on the second floor of the rear building has a third wall of gridded openings and is reserved for grade 6.
She leads us to her office/library which is modest. A small gas generator is tucked into the corner. École Dignité doesn't have electricity, but she brings the generator out to power a television for Friday movies. She doesn't mind not having power–you don't need it for the lessons, and even community meetings, whether it be the women's league or the fishermen's association, always wrap up before the sun goes down.
But that's not to say things couldn't use some improving. Especially as the new classrooms are serving secondary school kids with advanced needs. We've been asked to design these additional rooms for 7-9th graders, but are entertaining a lot of ideas in the spirit of École Dignité. The kids could certainly benefit from a computer lab, through which they might take their ambitions to a much higher level. Off-the-grid electrification is extremely doable considering Haiti's abundant sun and the hilltop's constant wind.