Visit to Haiti

Published 11:21 pm Friday, July 29, 2011

Students in the old school building in Dos Selles, Haiti, smile enthusiastically during a visit by members of St. Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church in Suffolk.

Church travels to school to assess their needs

To most people, a 16-mile journey up a mountain on the back of a motorbike might seem like too much trouble.

However, Paul Fletcher and Chris Elliott were up to the challenge last month.

The two St. Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church parishioners visited Haiti in June to see a new school the church is helping build for children there.

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“The mission of this trip was to get to the school,” said Fletcher, who heads the Haiti committee at the church. “We wanted to talk to the teachers and find out their needs.”

St. Mary’s is twinned with a parish in Belladere, Haiti, about 60 miles east of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, which was devastated by a January 2010 earthquake.

As part of the twinning program, St. Mary’s is helping build a school there, and visits regularly to check on the progress of the school, encourage the people there and take supplies.

Fletcher has been to Haiti several times, but this was the first trip he had seen the school because it is in such a remote area — called Dos Selle, French for “saddleback.”

People hoping to reach the school must travel about 16 miles up one long, corkscrew road that goes up a mountain. The first part of the trip is made by vehicle. Eventually, the road runs out, and Fletcher and Elliott had to board motorbikes driven by local children to complete the journey.

“It was a pretty wild ride up there,” Elliott said.

The two men visited the old school, which still is in use while the new school is built. Children — about 200 of them — come from all around the mountaintops to attend the school, which only goes up to the sixth grade.

The new school will include four classrooms, Fletcher said. The local people are building it slowly, as all the building materials have to be transported up the mountain in the same way Fletcher and Elliott rode up.

“They’re building it brick by brick,” Elliott said.

Teachers at the new school earn only about $60 a month.

“They said it wasn’t about the money,” Fletcher said. “They just want to teach the kids.”

When asked about their needs, the teachers at the school requested such humble items as desks and flashcards.

Fletcher also wants to ensure the classrooms have a world map and a Haiti map.

“It would be nice to show the kids a map of Haiti and show them where they are,” he said.

Elliott, who teaches French at Norfolk Collegiate, got the experience of teaching a French class at the school. While most people in rural Haiti speak Creole, they are required to speak French in school.

“The people will tell you it’s the language of kings,” Elliott said. “French is so global. We [in America] get cut off from that a little bit.”

Fletcher said the construction of the new school is anticipated to be complete around September. He is trying to organize a large group of St. Mary’s members to visit the school for a dedication next year.