A school grows in Haiti on Detroit sweat, love

by | Nov 7, 2011 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The children nudged forward, like racehorses at the post. Some wore purple shirts, some wore blue.

“Are you ready?” someone yelled.

“YES!” they screamed back.

Usually, kids are dying to get out of school. These kids were dying to get in. A ceremonious ribbon was cut. Not a real ribbon. Pink duct tape. It’s Haiti. Close enough.

Snip! The kids raced through the doors.

And a small rainbow spread over the future.

By the time you read this, my body will be back in America, but part of me will remain here, behind the walls of the Have Faith Haiti Mission, off the crumbled, potholed roads of Delmas 33.

We first came here 20 months ago, after the earthquake that killed several hundred thousand people and knocked this island nation to its knees. One visit led to another. Eventually, we took over daily operations of this orphanage/mission (originally called the Caring and Sharing Mission, founded by Detroit pastor John Hearn), and we vowed a top priority would be a school.

Why? Because in Haiti, you pay for school or you don’t go. And throughout the impoverished tented camps of Port-au-Prince, you see homeless kids sitting in the mud, learning nothing.

Some of those kids are now in our mission.

And we need to do better by them.

Detroiters make it happen

Using local volunteers, we formed the Detroit Muscle Crew and began building a three-room schoolhouse from the ground up – mixing cement in the yard, doing the rods, the masonry, the electrical, the lights.

It took many months and numerous visits. But finally, this past week, we lined the walls with donated blackboards, and we screwed together donated desks and chairs.

And with the snip of a scissors, class was in session. That means a 3-year-old girl named Melissa, whose father was killed in the earthquake, got to recite the ABC’s. And a 7-year-old named Nahoum, who has been here for years, finally walked to a chalkboard and proudly read his name.

It means a Haitian teacher named Roger – who arrived at the mission, looked around and said, “I want to work here; whatever you can pay me, I will take” – now fronts a classroom each morning and opens the world of the English language, so that one day, the kids might have a better life.

And that’s really it. The whole point of these insane efforts – going to foreign countries, getting knee deep, elbow dirty. It’s to give a better life to innocent kids who will never have it as good as we do.

It’s what makes you go. And go back.

A chance to help the cause

Part of my role in operating this mission is to interview adults who want to give over their children. It is the most heartbreaking thing I have ever experienced. Single mothers or fathers, aunts or uncles, will cry and plead, saying they have no other way to feed or take care of the little ones. If there is no room, or if their conditions are not yet dire enough to meet the criteria for our limited beds, they always say, “Then could you please just teach them?”

They offer to ride an hour each day in a jam-packed bus, just to give their children a chance at an education.

How do you say no?

But to say yes, this school needs funding. Michiganders who adopted this tiny piece of Haiti have been so generous, it is difficult to even raise the subject. But if, in this upcoming season of Thanksgiving, part of your thanks is giving, donations could be taken through www.havefaithhaiti.org, or Have Faith Haiti Mission/DRMM, 150 Stimson St., Detroit 48201.

When kids can’t wait to get into school, the least we can do is hold open the door. 

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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