As the child of a teacher, whenever anyone says to me “the start of the year”, I do not think about January; instead, my mind jumps immediately to September, which is the start of the school year in the UK. In Haiti, the schools have started back in the last week, and I have been visiting the schools we are building. Unfortunately, we haven’t finished building all the schools we had hoped to finish by now; the delays have been for so many reasons – the problems of importing treated timber, finding contractors who would work in the remote locations where we operate, transporting materials to these remote sites, and of course the hurricane season bringing bad weather for doing all of this. Although we are late I am still proud of what we are accomplishing. By waiting for treated timber we are ensuring that the schools will stand for 20 years instead of 2 years, and by persevering with working in remote locations despite the challenges we are going where other Agencies won’t go.
The first school I saw this week is the first one we completed. When we arrived we expected to find an unpainted building, but it seems that the school headmaster had taken the initiative and painted it over the weekend …… pink! Apparently we had given him red and white paint, expecting him to keep those colours separate, but he decided to mix them, which creates quite a jolly school building. The construction team, all men except the manager, were not thrilled with the colour choice, but I thought it was great. The team want us to give the schools yellow and green paint – which are Tearfund colours; I explained that we don’t need to brand the schools, but we should let the headmasters choose what they would like.
The second school I saw this week was also a joy to see, even though it wasn’t completed. It started with a drive down a river for about half an hour, and then we could go no further, so we got out of the car and started walking along the river. After about an hour, at times knee deep in water, we reached a hill and walking up it, we crested the top and there was the school – timber frame already erected, on the top of a hill, surrounded by mountains. Walking along the river it was humbling to think about how all the materials for the school had been carried by the community members to get them to that hill; infact we even saw a boy carrying the last of the roofing sheets as we walked. Looking at the school, the huge amount of timber, the amount of cement needed to make the slab for the floor, the sheer quantity of sand and gravel required (which we also saw being collected – you can see the community volunteers with buckets on their heads in the group photo – those are the people collecting the sand and gravel) ….. it all gives you this impression; these people really wanted us to build them a school. Is there a community in England that would have the commitment to mobilise the whole community to carry, piece by piece, their new schools for an hour along a river to the construction site, free of charge?
I love that we are working in these remote places. I love that part of my job is seeing those hidden parts of Haiti that few people see, far from the towns and the displaced peoples camps. And I love seeing the commitment of communities to work together to ensure their children are educated.