Today 420 students got up early to iron their school uniforms; the boys shined their shoes and the girls fastened bright colored matching bows in their hair. They ate some spaghetti, a common breakfast in Haiti, and took off for their first day of school at Imagine Missions.
These students attend Imagine Missions School tuition-free. The school offers 16 classes from pre-kindergarten through the end of secondary school.
About 100 of those children are supported directly by Imagine Missions, living in our children’s home or in transitional housing so they can complete their education. Roughly 380 of our students are from the surrounding community.
Without free education, many of those 380 youth are at risk of being surrendered to an institution like an orphanage or children’s home. Unfortunately, in a country where 59 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day, and two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs, an estimated 80-90 percent of schools are private, with a majority of those being run by entrepreneurs who charge tuition.
For example, one of Imagine’s hard-working security guards, Rochet, is the father of a 4-year-old who attends kindergarten. Because his small family lives far from our school, Rochet pays to send his daughter to a nearby school, but it costs ~$300US per year. This incredibly high ratio of tuition costs to the average wage forces parents into difficult positions financially.
Many children who attend our school do not eat more than once per day and we suspect that for some they only eat every other day. And that is at our free school! When parents are forced to choose between feeding, clothing, and schooling their children, the more basic needs are naturally prioritized.
Our third-grade teacher in Haiti, Madame Claudette, explains that she sees the effects of financial decision making often.
“Some of [my students] fall easily or vomit frequently. I ask: ‘Did you eat this morning?’ They’ll respond
'No, I haven’t eaten since yesterday.’ That touches my heart. I’ll gather my purse and if I have money with me, I’ll buy them some food. I know that Melissa cannot do everything. If they had food, these children would be healthier and be able to learn better. If they make a ‘6’ in school now, but had the opportunity to eat regularly, in my eyes some of them could earn ‘7’s or greater. But because they don’t have health or food, the level of their education is negatively impacted.”
At the school, we have children taking gym, music, computer, and even karate classes for the first time in their lives, as extracurriculars are not typical of Haitian schools. Madame Claudette believes this quality of education will change the future of Haiti.
“Education allows our society to be changed. It’s how we learn to treat our neighbors. Because of teaching, [our students] know how to live life. They learn they cannot throw trash in the street, to take care of the world God has provided, and how to share with friends,” she said.
Our secondary school English teacher Oriscat Reynold has repeated that “education is the key to the country!”
Education is the key to a country and educating ourselves is key to effective donations and aid. You can educate yourself about Haiti and their education system by checking out our blog at imaginemissions.org or joining our virtual book club group on facebook by searching: Imagine Missions' Book Club.