While we were in this village I noticed a boy carrying a bucket of water on his head. It was 10:00 in the morning, and clearly a day that he should have been in school. I asked him why he wasn’t in school, and his response was truly saddening. His two brothers joined him in telling their story. They were students at the local public school and even completed the first trimester of schooling. Tragedy struck when their aunt, the only working member in the family and the one person helping them pay their tuition, unexpectedly passed away. Without 4 dollars per child to pay for the next trimester’s tuition, they were informed that they could not attend school any longer.
Given that the Haitian government has allegedly eliminated any school fees for public schools, I decided that we should all take a trip to the school. The three brothers and their father loaded into the car and we drove about 5 minutes to the school. As soon as we arrived at the school, I could hear an adult shouting from the hallway. The next thing I see is the Director of the school, belt in hand, yelling at the students, “Chien, ale la kay w’, vakabond!” He was calling the students dogs, telling them to go to their homes, and useless individuals. I thought that perhaps if he noticed me, he would stop this tirade, but he did not, continuing to berate students.
I quickly got his attention, and asked if he could show us around the school, which he gladly did with the assistance of the 6th grade teacher. Here are some of the unbelievable conditions that we witnessed. The 6th grade class had 85 students in one classroom, and 6th grade is the year they take the government exam. All the locks on the classroom doors had been broken off, and during the night people come and poo and pee in the classrooms. One teacher who took her father’s place after he died, had not been paid in nearly 2 years, but she kept coming to school every day to teach. The benches that the students were using to sit on were mostly broken, due to the fact they were the same benches the school had been using since 1972.
What I had failed to realize during my first encounter with the school director, was that he was actually senile! He had been at the school for 36 years, and it was clear, he was in no shape to be working at the school anymore. I told him my goal was simply to pay the 4 US dollars per child for the three brothers so that they could return to school. He acquiesced, I paid the 12 dollars, and we returned to the village from which we had come.
The worst part of this experience, however, was upon returning to the home of the three brothers we asked one to write down Brice’s name and phone number in case they needed anything else. This poor 15-year-old child first wrote Boare, then Barise, then Brise, and finally, after we said the letters for the 4th time, Brice. This child, in 6th grade, did not know the letters of the alphabet. It was truly a sad situation.
I feel so sad for all the children in that school that have to sit 4 to a bench that was made in 1972 in a class with 85 students, with teachers that have not been paid and a senile director. Those students were so well behaved, so beautiful in their school uniforms, and they were just itching to learn. And yet, it is apparent, that the system of education in Haiti has failed them, another generation of lost talent. It is truly a shame.
Steven M. Kirby, Ed.D