The K-13 schools are back in action after the long holiday break. The early morning streets are filled with children of assorted sizes in a variety of colored uniforms walking, running, and cavorting along the town’s main street. The roads and paths from the mountains make their winding way to the three roads that lead into Petite Riviere. From as far in the mountains as 4 miles away children walk them, beginning and ending their days in the darkness, sure footed as mountain cats. Their numbers are at first a trickle, swelling to a substantial flow by the time the reach the edge of the town. Although busy, the mid-day streets seem somehow still. The children who played there yesterday are in class today, their play activities confined to an hour in the yards of the schools they attend.
School in Haiti is operated on the “French model”, meaning that there are Kindergarten and 13 grades. Some of the students who graduate are well into their 20’s, having been forced to miss some school years because of money issues, health problems, or the need to help their families in their homes. Hundreds of children enter kindergarten and first grade every fall in Petite Riviere alone. Only a couple of handfuls per school will make it all the way through grade 13.
Work in the schools is intense. Expectations are high and the workload is demanding. Opportunities for recreation and extracurricular activities also abound. Many of the schools also field soccer teams and have an assortment of after-school clubs and organizations. The philosophy of education in Haiti is very evident: work hard and play hard. While you are at it, enjoy life.
Graduation brings new challenges to the successful students. There are very few jobs in most of the small towns and virtually all the rural areas of Haiti. Those who graduate and hope to continue to universities are faced with a financial challenge. There are very few universities within a commuting distance of Petite Riviere. Most students who want to pursue postsecondary education must move to Port au Prince, several hours to the east. A move to Port au Prince is expensive. Rental costs rival those in the US despite the fact that most incomes are typically much lower. Add to this the cost of tuition and books and a university education become unattainable for many graduates. Some are able to live with friends or relatives while they go to school. Sometimes they can also pay tuition with the help of a relative or some other benefactor. Often tuition is simply out of their reach.
St Patrick/St Vincent Youth Center and the Cap Mona Angel Fund have recently created an alternative for some graduates as well as for those who do not finish high school. St Patrick now has 9 vocational training programs, allowing students to develop knowledge and skills that will help them find jobs or start their own businesses. These are the kinds of solutions, along with scholarships for graduates who wish to attend universities, that will provide opportunities for young people and gradually transform the economy of Haiti. Your prayers and support make you a part of the transformation. Thank you!