Islanders unite to bring hope to Haiti
For many islanders, Haiti might seem a world away.
But only 800 miles separate Sanibel and Captiva from the rural mountain village of Haute St. Marc, located in the northern part of Haiti next to the Dominican border, where many island residents have banded together through organizations such as the Sanibel Community Church and Sanibel-Captiva Rotary to help improve one of the area’s elementary schools and fulfill the needs of its more than 650 poverty-stricken students.
Through various mission trips, grants and the generous donation of money and supplies from residents of Sanibel and Captiva, an island collective of dedicated volunteers are working tirelessly to give hope to Haitians in Haute St. Marc.
What does Haute St. Marc need?
Joseph Julmeus, an award-winning Shell Point employee and an alum of the Mary Austin school in Haute St. Marc, came to the United States in January of 1980.
“Haiti is a difficult country and they need a lot of help. It’s very difficult for the poor people.”
But to Julmeus, the major needs of Haitians — particularly in the more rural areas of the country, like Haute St. Marc — are beyond what monetary donations alone can provide.
“The money is not the big issue. We need to show the teachers what to teach to their students in schools. If we make schools better, we make the future better,” Julmeus said. “We need teachers to show them how to do things, how to make tomorrow better — how to plant, how to fish, how to do agriculture, how to raise chickens. If you do that, you make all the communities rich — rich in food and rich in supplies.”
Recently, Mary Austin school principal Angelo Eugene attended a 10-day agriculture course at ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) in North Fort Myers in an effort to make the school more self-sustaining.
“It was a fantastic class that gave Angelo a lot of information on how to teach the students at the school the basics of agriculture,” said island resident and Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club member Chet Sadler. “Haute St. Marc is a very rural community and most of the students come from an agriculture background. The course provided information specifically designed for Haiti with the latest in technology from ECHO.”
Eugene returned to Haute St. Marc with $1,000 worth of seeds to sprout and plant in a two-acre plot of land adjacent to the school. Currently, local farmers use the land for sugar cane, but it’s the hope of people like Julmeus and Sadler that the plot will become a source of sustainable food for students and the community.
“They’re already in the process of sprouting the seeds and they’ll begin planting them once the rainy season ends in October,” Sadler said. “We’re also hoping to start a tilapia farm. Those are two of the big long-term projects that, if we can get somebody knowledgeable enough on the ground there to get them started, the community can support the projects and support themselves.”
Julmeus, who acts as interpreter for both Eugene and the mission group during phone conversations and trips to Haute St. Marc, is grateful for all the work that islanders are doing to help Haiti and said that he hopes that agricultural initiatives, such as ECHO, will ultimately help Haitians help themselves.
“I never stopped to say thank you for the Sanibel mission who made hope for Haute St. Marc. I want God to bless the pastor and the church members from Sanibel,” Julmeus said. “For me, it’s a privilege to help because the community is small and very poor. I’m happy. A lot of people are trying to help make a better tomorrow and I always thank God for people helping Haiti and I hope to help Haiti make changes for the future.”
(You can learn more about ECHO at www.echonet.org.)
How islanders are helping
Though a self-sustaining agricultural system will ultimately help the Haute St. Marc community feed itself, in the meantime, islanders are focusing their attentions on the immediate needs of the Haute St. Marc community.
In 2008, the Sanibel Community Church conducted its first mission trip to Ouanaminthe, a town located further down the mountain from Haute St. Marc. Sanibel resident Dan Budd, owner of Wildseed Construction, was on that trip.
Less than two years later, the earthquake hit.
“The pictures you see in the media are the worst possible images they could show and even though they’re in trouble, while we were there, the people were continuing to live. They weren’t waiting around for help,” Budd said. “Haitians have so much energy, confidence and hope. I was amazed. You can’t crush their spirit.”
Though both Ouanaminthe and Haute St. Marc were outside the catastrophic reaches of the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed thousands, refugees from the tent camps in Port-au-Prince continue to surge north and Principal Eugene said he expects his student population to grow from 650 children to 1,000 for this upcoming school year, which starts in October.
To help accommodate the growing number of students, Budd and his fellow SCC mission members (which included Sadler, Matt Kirchner, Garry Decker and Dave Truelsen) returned to Ouanaminthe after sending a cargo container full of building supplies and 100,000 prepackaged meals (donated by members of the SCC congregation) to Haute St. Marc with the hopes of building a second story for the Mary Austin School.
But when the mission group arrived in Haiti, they were told the container — which they sent more than a month in advance — was still stuck in customs and would not be released any time soon.
Budd and his team arranged for the local purchase of building materials to get the project started and the building team, which included 10 local workers, successfully began construction on 12 new second-story classrooms, in addition to a new concrete roof, on Sunday, April 24. But by Tuesday, the team had exhausted the last of the local cache of building materials and the cargo container was nowhere in sight.
“Tuesday night, as we were leaving the site, we were all really depressed because the container was still stuck in customs,” Budd said. “But as we were going down the mountain that night, we passed the cargo container going up. It was very serendipitous.”
The cargo container (the release of which was in part due to the efforts of Sanibel resident Marcia Kimball), provided enough building materials for local workers to finish the basic construction projects and allowed the school to distribute the 100,000 prepackaged meals to members of the Haute St. Marc community.
Awhile ago, Sadler received news that an anonymous donor had given $5,000 to the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club for the purpose of building a restroom facility at the Haute St. Marc school. The organization matched the donation, bringing the total up to $10,000, and then applied for a matching grant to the Southwest Florida Rotary District, who bumped the total sum up to $20,000. Finally, after an application was sent to Rotary International, headquartered in Illinois, the final matching grant sum rose to $40,000.
“Rotary International doesn’t normally supply money for what they call ‘bricks and mortar’ projects, but with restrooms, they make an exception because they are so keen on health and sanitation,” Sadler said. “And right now, all the students are going to the restroom in an open field near the school.”
Thanks to that generous anonymous donor and Rotary, Budd and the mission team will be able to move forward with the bathroom installation.
“For our next big school project, we’ll be adding electricity and plumbing
to the school,” Budd said. “We’re going to put in the bathroom system and hopefully get started on the tilapia fish farm and the hydroponic plant systems.”
But until they can get started on these complex — but essential — projects, the schoolchildren of Haute St. Marc have more pressing needs.
How you can help
“There is great need in Haiti. With it being so close, it seems like a no-brainer for us to be involved there,” said SCC Missions Pastor Brad Livermon. “Our mission team is very open to sharing what we are involved in with other folks. We have an open door at all of our meetings and mission events. Our church, in general, is very welcoming to folks who are seeking.”
Before the earthquake, the SCC’s Haiti Missions Committee was focused on upgrading the Mary Austin facilities and giving the school the tools to become completely self-sustaining.
But after the earthquake, the committee drafted a new set of priorities to keep as many students as possible in school and receiving a quality education.
At a recent committee meeting, Sadler, Budd, Julmeus and Pastor Livermon discussed the immediate needs of the Mary Austin School in Haute St. Marc with Principal Eugene.
The first priority is food. Because many of the students at Mary Austin eat only one meal a day, which is provided by the school, food is crucial to keeping attendance up. Some children will not go to school if they know they won’t be fed.
For $45 a day, or $225 a week, the school can buy enough rice, beans and oil to feed the entire school.
The second priority revolves around establishing a general tuition fund.
“Even though the tuition is only $20 a year, less than half of the students can pay it, which also means they don’t have money for uniforms,” Sadler said. “Some children won’t go to school if they don’t have a uniform. They don’t want to be viewed as being too poor to have a uniform, and they’re afraid the other students may not like them being there without a uniform.”
But because of the earthquake-ravaged economy and the resulting influx of impoverished refugees from Port-au-Prince to Haute St. Marc and the Mary Austin School, Principal Eugene expects tuition payments to drop below 30 percent for the 2010-11 school year. A donation of $50 can completely fulfill the needs of one student’s tuition, uniform and school supplies for the entire year.
And because many students can’t pay tuition, the school teachers are also suffering.
“The teachers at the Mary Austin school make less than $50 a month — and they’ve had the same salary for three years. Sometimes, they don’t get paid at all,” Sadler said, noting Principal Eugene said that while money is essential to keep students coming back, the teachers need higher wages — or, at the very least, deserve to be paid every month.
Finishing the roof of the school is the third priority of the mission committee, but it will require a special elastomeric latex roof coating to increase its durability. It will cost $4,000 to purchase and ship the necessary roofing supplies to Haiti.
Financial donations (in the form of check with a memo denoting the purpose of the donation, such as “Haiti school construction”) should be sent to Harold Hanson’s 501c3 nonprofit, Missionary Enterprises, Inc.:
Missionary Enterprises, Inc.
11403 Oakmont Court
Fort Myers, FL
“Missionary Enterprises, Inc. is a Christian 501c3 that we have developed a strong relationship with,” Pastor Livermon said. “Harold Hanson is a close friend of SCC Missions and I have nothing but great things to say about his ministry, efforts and integrity.”
Though a lot of these urgent needs require money to be met, there are other ways islanders can help Haitians if their budget won’t allow for monetary donations.
Pastor Livermon and the SCC will be partnering with Kids Against Hunger of Naples to organize a food packaging event on Saturday, Oct. 16, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the SCC campus, 1740 Periwinkle Way.
Each meal, which costs only 15 cents, will include rice, beans, soy protein, 21 vitamins and six dried vegetables. With enough help, in just two hours, Livermon said, it will be possible to produce more than 50,000 packaged meals (which equals about $7,500). Livermon is still working to raise money for the food components of the packages.
“We invite the whole community to our Oct. 16 event. That is a very practical way that folks can give both resources and time and we view this as a great way to connect with the community and serve our Haitian brothers and sisters. The food will be split between the hungry in Fort Myers through Community Cooperative Ministries Incorporated’s backpack program and Haute St. Marc,” Pastor Livermon said.
For more information about Missionary Enterprises, Inc., contact Harold Hanson at email email@example.com.
To learn more about upcoming missions or how you can donate money for the food packaging program on Oct. 16, contact Pastor Brad Livermon at 472-2684 or firstname.lastname@example.org.