Approximately 50 percent of Haitian children do not attend primary school, while roughly 80 percent fail to reach secondary school.
Haiti is the only country in the Americas with an adult literacy rate of less than 50 percent and a youth literacy rate of less than 80 percent.
More than half of Haiti's population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day, making Haiti the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Our Introduction to Haiti
Classrooms missing roofs and walls. Children lacking access to basic education. Teachers using tarp as chalkboards. And, amidst it all, the indomitable spirit of people working to improve each other's lives.
CYFS Director Susan Sheridan encountered these dual realities during a mission to La Montagne (mawn-TYN'), Haiti, a beautiful but historically poor mountainside community devastated by a 2010 earthquake.
From late September through early October 2011, Sheridan met with leaders of La Montagne schools and a local association committed to improving the educational prospects of Haitian youth. Their collective resolve in the face of such poverty left an indelible impression.
"La Montagne is a very spirited, inspirational place," Sheridan said. "There is both hope and desperation; extreme poverty and glimmers of opportunity. Relative to the standards of life as we know it, conditions in La Montagne might seem destitute and unfathomable. Yet, there is a strong drive among educators, clergy and caregivers to improve the quality of life for the people of La Montagne, and that is very contagious. Most people work without pay but still assume responsibility for their fellow person. The sentiment is clear: Perseverance and hard work will begin to make an impact."
Sheridan traveled to the country with Friends of the Children, a group that provides biannual medical and dental care in La Montagne. The Wisconsin-based nonprofit organization has treated the sick and injured since 1998.
Sheridan's sister Linda Underwood, a registered nurse, serves on the organization's board of directors with her husband John, an emergency department physician. In addition to treating and evaluating between 3000 and 4000 patients per mission, the team provides education and medical supplies to community health care workers and midwives.
"I became increasingly interested in joining them on a mission trip as they described their incredible experiences and extensive impact over the years," Sheridan said. "Their passion was totally captivating and drove me to want to learn firsthand about the people, culture and condition of Haiti."
How We Got Involved
Friends of the Children's work eventually inspired the founding of the Yonn Ede Lot (yawn EH'-dee lawt) Association, a fellow Wisconsin-based nonprofit organization. Yonn Ede Lot supports the efforts of La Montagne community groups to catalyze sustainable improvements in education, public health, agriculture, finance and other arenas.
With the assistance of her sister Linda, Sheridan contacted Yonn Ede Lot — whose name means "one helping another" in the Haitian Creole language — to explore ways that CYFS could assist La Montagne's educational endeavors.
"It is hard not to want to get involved with the people and their plight," Sheridan said. "Interacting with the Haitians in the clinic, schools and their own homes immediately brings a rush of emotions, but the strongest is compassion and the desire to help."
Elevating Haitian Education
Local educational leaders in La Montagne are working to address several areas of immediate need. Because many Haitian schools receive little financial support from their government, they must charge admission fees that many families cannot afford. UNICEF recently estimated that 50 percent of Haiti's children do not attend even primary school, while 80 percent fail to reach secondary school.
This is especially true in rural areas such as La Montagne, where the headmaster of The Renaissance School described his potential students as the "poorest of the poor" Haitian children. Many of these children lack shoes, pens, notebooks and other basic supplies required by the schools.
Students who can afford to attend must sit in classrooms torn apart by the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that claimed more than 200,000 lives in January 2010. The earthquake left La Montagne's schools in need of extensive structural repairs essential for the shelter and safety of their students.
After witnessing these conditions — and meeting so many Haitians working to overcome them — Sheridan immediately began asking how she could help.
"I don't feel sorry for the Haitian people," Sheridan said. "Rather, I feel compelled to help them meet their own goals. With my own privilege comes responsibility, and that feeling is overwhelming when spending time in a place like La Montagne."
About Friends of the Children
Since its 1998 inception, the Wisconsin-based nonprofit organization has completed more than 20 two-week missions to La Montagne, Haiti. The organization's volunteers include physicians, dentists, registered nurses, physical therapists and others with and without medical backgrounds. Friends of the Children has focused primarily on the treatment, education and prevention of afflictions such as malaria, intestinal parasites, typhoid fever, malnourishment, dental decay and periodontal disease, among others.
Help Elevate Haitian Education by Donating to Friends of the Children
CYFS is partnering with Friends of the Children – a nonprofit organization that has worked directly with the Haitian people since 1998 – to ensure that La Montagne's children receive the educational opportunities every child deserves.
Our generous donors ensured that 51 Haitian students could afford tuition for the 2012-2013 school year. The students hail from eight different schools in the La Montagne region.
Haiti's poverty and our privilege mean that even small donations can make large impacts. In fact, $50 is typically enough to send a child of La Montagne to school for an entire year.
Donating by Check
Checks made out to Friends of the Children can be dropped off or mailed to the following address:
- Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools
216 Mabel Lee Hall
Lincoln, NE 68588-0235
The Fine Print
Friends of the Children is a nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization as specified by the United States Internal Revenue Code. Consequently, donations can be claimed as tax deductible.
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