On March 15th, I had the opportunity to travel to Cien Fuegos in Santiago with Project Esperanza to investigate an area with a high Haitian population not in school. Wanbert Elie-Tireus, co-founder and teacher at the school in Padre Granero, requested this visit to assess the extent of the lack of schooling for the youth. Another teacher, Francois Oreste and a parent to four students, Damus, were also quite excited about the thought of bringing education to Cien Fuegos. They requested funds to travel from Puerto Plata to Santiago to do an initial investigation on March 8th with the intention of presenting their findings to Project Esperanza.
After this trip, they reported great need with many children either not in school or walking long distances to attend. They organized a meeting with Project Esperanza through their organization Association of the Improvement of the Conditions of Life of Haitians (ACoVHa). At this meeting, there were many misunderstandings about expectations. While Caitlin and I were invited to visit Cien Fuegos, some group members believed that we were definitely going to start a school there. We had to reiterate that Caitlin and I visiting Cien Fuegos was solely a research trip. There were also some power issues with the elected president allowing Wanbert to travel with us and represent the entire group. I also felt a lot of individual pressure because ACoVHa saw me as someone who could personally support a school and not as part of Project Esperanza. Before Caitlin and I agreed to travel with them, we shared our thoughts about different ways in which they should approach proposing their ideas that do not involve pressure.
When we were visiting Santiago, we collaborated with Wanbert in conducting more research assessing the need in Cien Fuegos. Several mothers there reported that their children were not attending any school. While we did determine that there was a public school nearby, we did not visit this school due to many issues registering Haitian immigrant children in public schools. Some of the students in Cien Fuegos did report going to a Haitian school at a 7th Day Adventist Church. This school is an estimated 15-30 minute walk from the area and charges students 200 pesos a month. It became apparent to us that preschool and kindergarten aged children would have an extremely hard time traveling to this school without a parent accompanying them.
After hearing of this other Haitian school, we decided to visit in order to collaborate over what to do about the large amounts of children not in school. The 7th Day Adventist school is funded by student fees and the efforts of a Haitian pastor in the US. It has been functioning for 5 years and employs 4 teachers. We talked to some teachers who were asked objectively where the most need is for schooling with a high population of Haitians and they said both Cien Fuegos and another area.
We identified many potential approaches to bring more education to the Haitian children in the area. These approaches include:
1. A sponsorship program to pay the school fees for the children in Cien Fuegos who are old enough to walk the long distance to school.
2. A small school in Cien Fuegos for preschool, kindergarten, and 1st grade.
3. Conducting an investigation of the other area mentioned that is not within walking distance of the existing school.
If this investigatory trip is acted on, it would be something where an already existing Project Esperanza employee, possibly Wanbert, would move to the area and maintain a fixed salary to run things. However, any additional funding would be disbursed to ACoVHa. Teachers in the possible new school would work with the understanding that they would be paid on a random basis and students in the 7th Day Adventist School would only be supported when they are sponsored.