READING, WRITING AND REBUILDING A COUNTRY: TRAINING TOMORROW'S LEADERS IN HAITI
Salesian Missions reports students are already contributing to the rebuilding Haiti—even as they learn new skills to become the country’s future business people, teachers, construction workers and leaders.
Students are already contributing to the rebuilding Haiti—even as they learn new skills to become the country’s future business people, teachers, construction workers and leaders.
In Cite Soleil and La Saline, children are returning to classrooms in temporary shelters built by Salesian Missions’ own vocational students. The Little Schools of Father Bohnen— "Oeuvre des Petites Ecoles de Père Bohnen" or OPEPB in French—are in operation despite of the fact that buildings were destroyed and some things are in short supply. The school has found ways to turn the circumstances into learning opportunities.
“While we lack tools and equipment for the vocational students to work with, we are involving them in various projects including construction, tailoring of school uniforms for the younger children, carpentry and painting, thereby encouraging them to contribute to the rebuilding of their school and their country,” says Father Zucchi Ange Olibrice, executive director of the Little Schools (OPEPB).
Fr. Zucchi says he expects about 20,000 students to enroll before the end of the school year, as many families who moved to other towns after the earthquake are now returning to Port-au-Prince.
According to Salesian Missions, many of these students will be studying vocational trades as well as training to be teachers to help prepare future generations of leaders.
OPEPB is among the most progressive and the largest school program in Haiti, serving Port-au-Prince’s “best and brightest,” Fr. Zucchi adds.
Prior to the earthquake, the school provided education from preschool to vocational training. Teacher training programs educated teachers to serve at the Little Schools and Early Learning Centers. At the time of the quake, hundreds of students were killed—many studying to become teachers.
There were also three vocational schools that provided both academic and occupational instruction to 2,400 students in more than 16 careers, including automotive body and repair, automotive mechanics, baking and pastry arts, carpentry, computer typography, culinary arts, electrical maintenance and construction, electronics, horticulture, jewelry design, leatherwork, masonry, plumbing, sewing, tailoring and welding.
Before the earthquake Jan. 12, 2010, the school had added a business technology program to prepare students for entry level office positions.
“These classes were implemented to keep pace with the changing needs of the country. This work will continue as we rebuild,” says Fr. Zucchi, who noted that even before the earthquake there was a high demand for trained individuals and that their placement rate for business students was nearly 100 percent.
At OPEPB, rebuilding has already begun on one of the elementary schools, with many of the workers former students who learned valuable skills in construction. Walls are also being erected to secure the properties where other schools were situated. According to the United Nations Development Program, 80 percent of schools in Port-au-Prince and 60 percent in its South and West departments were destroyed or damaged.
“Our goal is to rebuild all the schools in the near future. We hope to foster positive self image and citizens capable of contributing democratically to the betterment of their country,” says Fr. Zucchi.
He adds that Salesians are fully committed to rebuilding its educational infrastructure in Haiti. Since 1935, Salesians have worked to educate Haiti’s most vulnerable youth and trained the best and brightest to become future business people, teachers, construction workers and leaders.
Salesian Missions in New Rochelle, NY, is raising funds to help rebuild its schools and programs in Haiti. Donations are still urgently needed and can be made by going to FindYourMission.org.
Salesian Missions has launched ProgressInHaiti.org to keep the public informed of its progress in Haiti.