We have quite a few more things to do in order to make the building functional as a school. On of the most urgent needs is to put up walls to separate large open space into classrooms, an office, and a kitchen. This is a project that will definitely keep us busy! But my how the proper classroom space will increase the quality of the education.
The end of last year's school year was strong. Thanks to some donations from a local restaurant who represents an organization from the US, we were able to provide meals three times a week for the last three months. After the last day of school, we held a "ti magazen" which means little store in Haitian Creole. Volunteers set up donated items such as soaps, clothes, shoes, toys, school supplies, food, and hygiene items like a little store. Students were awarded with points calculated by their attendance and some other special initiatives like their participation in trash pick up. Entering in the order they arrived, they shopped at the store! We plan to do this at the end of each trimester, so in December, April, and June. If you would like to send items to contribute to the store, please e-mail Info@EsperanzaMeansHope.org.
Then, a week after the school year ended, began our English immersion summer camp! Boy was this summer a success! The volunteer coordinator Joanne created a video for each week of camp which can be viewed here: http://vimeo.com/user29596794
After summer camp, we held teacher training. We were blessed to have Martine Michel Toure, a Haitian American from New York with a masters in International Education, come participate in the training. She was able to reach the teachers on a deep level, and being Haitian, they really appreciated having a Haitian American instruct them.
On August 18th, we began the new school year. The first day of school was unlike anything we have seen since the school opened in 2006. Normally the first week of school there are very few students. They begin coming more regularly the second week, and then the third week is pretty consistent. That is just the way things are here. But this year, the first day of school was packed with both students and their parents. I had never seen so much concern from parents either. And this has not stopped. We are now a few months into the school year and each week we have several new registrations. We have had to invest quite a bit in more benches and tables as we did not have enough space.
On January 24th we will have to move into a new space which is yet to be determined. However, we do have a dream location. It is not for rent but for sale. We have rented 5 different buildings in the area for the school until now, and it is time to buy. In addition, the school having its own property is a requirement for accreditation that we are yet to meet. The dream building is a carpentry shop just down the street from where the school is currently. It has plenty of space and at $140,000, for what it is and the location it is in, it is actually a good price. We have done lots of research and it seems like the best thing around. So that is something we are working hard on!
Thank you always for your support!
Teachers recently formed a committee among the older students in the school and have been teaching them about taking responsibility over some things in the school and learning to manage things as well. They led them each to make a small contribution of money, with one of them being the treasurer and money handler. They then used this money to purchase jugs of water so that water is always available for drinking in the school. This is an expense that the organization has not covered, but they found it to be a need that the school had. We also have some donated fortified rice and recently purchased a stove, pot, plates, and utensils. We have some oil as well. We mainly lack the ingredients to make a sauce to serve with the rice. We are very impressed that teachers are taking the initiative to teach students about collaborating and taking responsibility over some of the school's needs. This really shows their appreciation!
Last week was Holy Week here and there was no school. It marked the end of the second trimester, so we gave out report cards last Saturday. This trimester was truly a great one! Volunteers led students and teachers in learning about solar energy through constructing their very own shoe box solar ovens and a larger one made out of plywood to serve the entire school. We tried them out by baking cookies and hot dogs. After two hours, the cookies were hot goo, but some of the hot dogs bubbled and cooked! Other activities that took place this tremester include each student filling out an "About Me" page to share with their sponsors, and
Also, in February, a Delta Sigma Theta group from Chicago visited with the desire to learn about the documentation issues facing Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic. We invited a representative from the Haitian consulate in Santiago to join them on their visit to answer their questions. They also raised funds to help 4 of our students, 3 parents, and one teacher to get passports! The passports have not yet come in, but they were paid for the day of the visit and should be arriving any day.
The four students who are receiving passports are 4 of our 5 sixth grade students, (the 5th received his passport from his sponsor). All will be traveling to Haiti in late May or early June (the exact date has unfortunately not yet been announced and has been moved up from late June due to the World Cup taking place in late June) to take the national exam. So they are in their final month preparing for that! And then everyone is looking forward to Change My Stars summer English camp!
Thank you for your support!
The first trimester ended on December 18, 2013. Over Christmas break we had a parent teacher meeting to give out report cards, a youth/teenager meeting where a psychologist talked about important choices they face, and a visit from our friend Martine, who brought gifts! Although the soccer team was on hold, about 10 boys still came to the school each Saturday and eagerly waited for the bus.
At the youth/teenager meeting, one of our current students pulled a girl over to me by the arm. She said that this girl wanted to go to school here. We talked and it ended up that she had never gone to school before, but at age 16, was hoping to enroll. I told her to come on January 7, when school would start back up, and the director would gladly enroll her. She did show up and enroll and has been attending regularly. However, she does not yet have a uniform but comes in regular clothes. Just this morning I spoke on the phone to Vladimir, the morning director, and he asked for me to excuse him, as he knows that funds are tight, but new kids have been registering daily at school since it reopened and we don't have enough benches to seat them all. The plastic chairs we purchase for the pre-school and kindergarten children are not very durable. About half of them have broken. We need to invest in wooden chairs with metal legs, but that is another matter of funding. At the beginning of the school year, 100 students had registered. It is true that all do not attend regularly, and I have not gotten an exact count of how many more have registered, but the number is somewhere now around 120. The first grade classroom has moved from a small room to under a tree in the yard, as there was no longer enough space in the room. Only 36 of these students are sponsored so far for this year. We hope that supporters will help us in recruiting more sponsors, as there are so many students seeking an education and we would hate for them to be discouraged in that effort because they have nowhere to sit!
You may have heard of a law that was passed this year that removed citizenship from people of Haitian decent. This has caused quite a bit of negative backlash from the international community. Most of our students have immigrated here illegally from Haiti. Some were born here and have never known Haiti. We have held two meetings with a group called MUDHA which advocates for documentation rights and aids people in getting their birth certificates and passports at times. Several parents have attended in hopes of receiving aid, but no one has received anything tangible yet. However, I was recently contacted by someone with the Delta Theta Sigma Sorority near Chicago. They are visiting in early February and contacted us in hopes to learn more about our organization and especially about the struggle of the Haitian immigrant population and the issue of documentation. After dialoguing, it turns out that they will be visiting the school on their trip and we will hold a meeting with a representative of the Haitian consulate and MUDHA, as well as some select students and parents. They will have a chance to ask questions, get some answers, and will providing, I believe 8 students and parents with passports! We plan on sending 5 6th grade students to the national exam in Haiti this June. Some students have received extra support for their sponsors to help out with this, but others have not, so it is wonderful that this group is stepping in to help, and also to aid some parents who have been attending the meetings. Other than that, this first semester held a lot of drama among teachers which led us to further investigate the law in running such an institution and create an ideal game plan for the future to assure that the Dominican government is supportive of the institution. We have always tried to do this, but it has not always been within our financial capacity to do everything as required by law, and quite honestly, it is not always straight forward in figuring out what the true law is! However, this has been a time of education and enlightenment for sure! Thank you for reading, and stay tuned!
We have been blessed with a new building! All summer we searched for a new school building as we knew that the one we were in last year was a little expensive for the amount of space it provided. It also was in an area of the community where the water pressure is so low that it doesn't even rise from ground level up into the taps. We found an apartment for a bit less rent money and a bit more space with better access to water, but the downside was that it had no yard area, whereas the one from last year had at least a little. Plus, it was not a house, but an apartment connected to other apartments and on the second floor. Nonetheless, we were going to go for it. As time neared to pay the deposit and move, Willy, our first grade teacher, told me of a great house he found in a neighboring community that is a little.. actually quite a bit wealthier, which means better access to water, electricity, cleanliness, and peace in general, not to down talk the barrio by any means. One day during summer camp we left the group to go check it out. While on the way, we passed a yard and building with a playground that used to be a restaurant. I had noticed it before. It had a large "For Rent" sign and a phone number. I pointed it out to Willy. We immediately stared at it and commented at how perfect it would be for the school. I quickly called the number and spoke to the landlord who told us the rent - about $40 more per month than our current building.
The landlord's wife was next door and would come to open it. Once I got off the phone, we celebrated and expressed our disbelief that a building with a yard so big and beautiful with a playground could cost just $40 more than the building we were previously in. Willy, who had just been talking about the persecution he was facing and health problems he continued to experience, which he believed to be a result of his involvement with the school and effort to advance it despite of jealousy and competition among other community members, something that has unfortunately come up a bit among our teachers and I believe falls under the category of spiritual warfare, said, "I think.... I think it's God that is giving us this building." I (Caitlin) agreed. He didn't mean literally giving it to us to own, but led us to it to use for the school.
After checking out the building, we saw that it didn't have enough space inside to house all of the classrooms, but it had adequate porch space in the front, side, and back, and with the Caribbean climate, this is perfectly fine. I ran back to camp and after it ended and local campers were dismissed, led volunteers, teachers, and the campers who travel to camp with us to check it out. Everyone was pleased with it. The landlord said that someone else was looking at it and deciding about it. After missing out on great houses in such situations before, I shared this with the volunteers and let them know that the deposit money was not yet available from organization funds. Three volunteers generously fronted the money so that we could move in that weekend! So English camp had a new home for the last week! We quickly discovered that a big lesson kids would have to learn was playground etiquette. It was heart warming yet also heart breaking to watch teenagers pile up on see saws, swings, and a slide, as though they had never been on a playground in their lives, and maybe some of them had not been. So we did demonstrations of waiting in a line behind the slide, having just one camper on a swing at a time, and taking turns. The first day before we sat them down and talked about this, we were lucky that the most serious injury was a busted lip! One last announcement is that we have a new morning director and new afternoon director. Wanbert, school co-founder and director since 2010 has stepped down as director and will be working as a teacher in the
morning and afternoon. Pastor Milien has proposed a man named Vladimir Romulus as morning director and one of our teachers Met Prosper will be serving as afternoon director. Spreading out the responsibility in this way will undoubtedly cause the staff to work more in a team fashion and will make the overall effort more productive. We had a meeting this morning that ended up lasting 3 hours! After spending the summer with volunteers, teachers have learned a lot about the life of a volunteer and therefore a little more about the base of the organization. We hope to bring in more volunteers this year to use their skills to support our teachers and staff. Don't forget - we are starting a new school year and need sponsors for each of our students. We have had around 100 register so far and have 11 sponsored for this school year. School started September 9th so we need more sponsors! It's $100 for the year. E-mail Sponsor@EsperanzaMeansHope.org for more info.
Also, Global Giving will have a Matching Day on October 23rd where all funds will be matched at 30%. Bonus prizes will be giving to groups bringing in the most unique donors and the most funds. Let's brainstorm about how we can win one of these prizes and make the most of this opportunity!
Thank you for your support!
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