After discovering that children in New Life for Haiti’s (NLH) child sponsorship program were unable to read at their grade level, New Life for Haiti leadership was convinced that they needed to build a new kind of school—one that would serve as a pattern for better education in the Grande-Anse River Valley. In order to make this dream a reality, a fundamental question arose: where should this new school be located?
NLH’s base of operations in Haiti is located in Marfranc, one of the larger villages in the Grand-Anse River Valley. Marfranc is one of several villages that lie along the north banks of the river, all linked together by a winding road.
“This side of the river is the more populous area,” explained Fran Leeman, Director of New Life for Haiti. “Across the river you have smaller villages.”
Most of the smaller villages are located higher-up in the range of mountains that continue to the south of Marfranc. New Life for Haiti already built two schools in those mountains, in Plik and Plen Marie. In searching for a new location, they wanted to find a site for the school that would meet two requirements. 1) They wanted to find a good, flat piece of land that would facilitate the construction of the school. 2) They also wanted it to be in an area that is underserved educationally.
“If it’s near other schools, our Haitian teachers and our school director might have too much communication with the other schools. It might be too easy for them to ‘fly like the other geese’ and default back to the ways that Haitian schools traditionally feel, look, and operate,” said Director Leeman.
During past trips to Haiti, New Life for Haiti teams walked through a broad valley many times on their way to-and-from various projects. They didn’t know what the area was named but became somewhat familiar with its terrain.
“I’ve always been taken by that valley”, confessed Director Leeman. He told Vilex Plaisir, the young Haitian man who serves as the organization’s administrator in Haiti, that he wanted to further explore the area.
The prominent feature of the valley is a small river and its tributary streams. Although it has no proper villages, the valley does have many hills and hollows that are dotted with houses. This means that the area has a decent concentration of people. Upon further exploration of the valley, Leeman and other NLH members have learned its name. It is called Rivye Mawo. The name is taken directly from the Rivye Mawo itself, which is the small river that runs through the valley before joining the Grand-Anse River.
During their first exploration of the land, some locals observed Leeman and Plaisir stopping to size-up the land in various places. When they approached them to ask what they were doing, Director Leeman explained their quest to build a new kind of school. The locals confirmed that they really needed a school in that area. Director Leeman explained the collaborative effort needed. When New Life for Haiti builds a school, they engage the people in the community. The community volunteers to carry rocks from the river, dig the foundation, and then hauls water to mix cement once construction starts. This encourages those in the community to recognize that the school is truly theirs.
Director Fran Leeman meets with people in Rivye Mawo
“They were very passionate about wanting to engage us,” recalled Leeman.
Encouraged by their enthusiasm, he told the small group to spread the world. He asked for everybody in the community who wanted a school to come back the next day for a meeting. At five the following day, close to 100 people gathered for the meeting.
They commented, “We don’t have a school. We have a terrible need.”
They explained that not only did they not have a school, they really had no formal institution within the community. Most of their children didn’t go to school because they couldn’t afford it or they could not cross the river during the rainy season. This made schooling unreliable for students in their area. Director Leeman reiterated to the group their need to invest in the school through time and volunteer labor. He also explained the need to buy the land at a decent price.
“We don’t expect people to give up their land for free, but we do need a good price,” assured Director Leeman.
Land for the model school in Rivye Mawo
With the need expressed and the land decided, the project progressed and continues to be in-process.
“I’m thoroughly convinced that we’ve been divinely taken to the right place—the place with the most need, and therefore the most willingness, on the part of the adult community to really engage,” reflected Director Leeman.
“We’re excited because this is a community that has nothing. Once we have this school launched and running, they will have literally the best school in the whole of the Grande’Anse province. I’m very excited about that and about having a place where teachers, school directors, and pastors can say, ‘This is what great education looks like.’ And if they fall in love with it, then we’ll help them do it in their village too.”
Want to help build the model school? Text HAITI to 41444 to donate!