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SOPUDEP School: An Update, and Appeal for Support
Video report on SOPUDEP School from April 2012
Watch this video report by filmmaker David Chavennes of Britain:
AN UPDATE FROM THE SOPUDEP SCHOOL AND ORGANIZATION IN HAITI
(See this report attached as a pdf at the end of this page)
May 8, 2011
Dear friend of SOPUDEP,
It’s the beginning of May. With the end of the school year soon approaching, this is an occasion to provide an update on the situation with the SOPUDEP School and organization in Haiti, including its goals for the next school year.
Institution Mixte de SOPUDEP
This is SOPUDEP's premier and largest school, teaching children from kindergarten to grade twelve. It is located in Petion-Ville, a relatively affluent, outlying district of Port au Prince with neighbourhood pockets of dire poverty. Current enrolment is 564 students. All are from poorer families.
The school is unique in that those parents who cannot pay any or part of the school fees that are standard in Haitian education are not required to do so. Ever since the school signed a ten year lease on its building in 2002, has it stirred up dust in the community. It borders a wealthier neighborhood and has made some more prestigious residents uncomfortable. Some local political figures in the community have tried illegally to evict the school on a number of occasions.
During the earthquake, the school suffered structural damage to the second floor and to a new addition. Nonetheless, the building was used as a makeshift hospital and shelter following the earthquake. The damage as well as post-traumatic fears of enclosed spaces on the part of students and teachers required moving classes outdoors. They are held under tarps in the courtyard of the school.
The lease runs out in 2012; it is unlikely that it can be renewed. Two years ago, a couple from California bought SOPUDEP a piece of land down the hill, closer to central Port-au-Prince. Those donors are now working feverishly to secure funds to build a new school building. World Hands Alliance, a group out of New Mexico, has created a new building design and plan. Projected costs at completion of the new school will be around $1,000,000. Building is cheaper in Haiti than in Canada, but costs are nonetheless substantial.
Going forward, there are many, many basic teaching needs that must be met, notably teacher salaries, Ministry of Education-approved textbooks, and simple items such as paper and pens. The school also provides over 700 people with a hot lunch, five days per week. For most, this will be their only regular meal. The average person in the neighbourhood will only eat two to three times per week.
The problem of malnutrition, or even starvation, in Haiti has worsened following the earthquake because of the loss of jobs and homes. This makes the hot lunch program all the more important. The Sawatzky Family Foundation covered the cost of the lunch program up until mid 2010. Funding has now been assumed by a non-profit organization from Colorado called Feed Them With Music. The program per month costs app. $250 in salaries and $3,000 in food and transport.
Institution Mixte MOJUB PV and Les Petis Amis de SOPUDEP
SOPUDEP is supporting two other community schools in much poorer areas of Port-au-Prince: Institution Mixte MOJUB PV (Youth Movement United for Bobin) with 150 students and 9 teachers, located in Peguy-Ville in the neighbourhood of Bobin; and Les Petis Amis du SOPUDEP in Boucan La Pli with 65 students, 6 teachers and directed by Jores Lafleur. These schools follow the SOPUDEP mandate of free and accessible education.
Last year, the Sawatzky Family Foundation agreed to finance Les Petis Amis de SOPUDEP for the 2010/2011 school year. This was the only way to ensure that the school could remain open for the community.
Institution Mixte MOJUB currently has no international funding for the morning staff that teach the children. Those parents who can afford to pay teacher salaries do so; those who cannot pay are able to send their children for the time being. This is not a stable funding situation. Meanwhile, an international donor is paying for the afternoon staff (adult class) for the 2010/2011 year.
In order for these schools to achieve their goal of providing free and accessible education, the teachers must be paid.
Micro credit program for women
A micro-credit program was begun by SOPUDEP following the January 12, 2010 earthquake and has been very successful. It operates out of SOPUDEP’s original Adult Literacy program at the Institution Mixte MOJUB PV school. It has put over 150 women and men to work since March 2010.
Education in post-earthquake Haiti
Post earthquake, the communities where SOPUDEP's programs reside have been turned upside-down. The neighborhood of Bobin is nothing but sprawling makeshift camps where life is very hard. Parents that once were able to scrape together money from selling goods on the street have been left with nothing and no way to leave the camps. This is the specific reason SOPUDEP started its micro-credit program.
The harsh reality of SOPUDEP’s financing is that a push from month to month is required to fund the growing needs of SOPUDEP. Detailed financial accounts can be found on the SOPUDEP website. The average monthly cost just to pay the staff (including administrators) at the three schools are as follows:
• Institution Mixte de SOPUDEP, 48 staff: $3,590 (U.S.)
• Institution Mixte MOJUB, 13 staff: $ 732 (U.S.)
• Les Petis Amis du SOPUDEP, 6 staff: $ 495 (U.S.)
To these salary costs must be added land and building rental, school supplies, maintenance, taxes and many other expenses.
An organization like SOPUDEP needs to grow. The urgency to help in Haiti is too great. Director Réa Dol’s passion and energy to help her people are seemingly endless. The more that funding stabilizes, the sooner SOPUDEP can expand into other communities and assist other organizations to achieve a model of accessible grassroots social programming in their neighbourhoods.
Of course, none of this is a substitute in the long run for the establishment of a free, universal public education system in Haiti. Today, only some 50 percent of Haitian children attend school. The directors of SOPUDEP are deeply aware of this human tragedy and are committed to ending it. Regretfully, notwithstanding all of the promises and goodwill expressed by the international community following the earthquake, there is no plan nor funding today in Haiti to realize such a dream. But it will happen. SOPUDEP is a living example of why such a system is needed and what it can and should look like.
Ryan Sawatzky, President
The Sawatzky Family Foundation
PO Box 626, 25 Peter Street North
Canada L3V 6K5
Phone: (705) 345-5593
SOPUDEP School: An Update, and Appeal for Support
December 10, 2010
We are writing to inform you of a vital school project in Haiti and invite you to join in supporting it.
SOPUDEP (Society of Providence United for the Economic Development of Petion-Ville) is a Haitian founded and run social organization located in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It provides accessible education to adults and children and supports women's rights and economic empowerment for the poor. SOPUDEP is determined to improve the life of the poorest members of their community via education, thereby also creating pride and hope.
SOPUDEP's most ambitious project is its K-12 school. It is a comprehensive private school serving the poorest members of the community, those who cannot afford either the public school system or other private schools. Founded in 2002, the school now has more than 480 students, many of whom receive their only daily meal thanks to the school’s hot food program.
The Sawatzky Family Foundation is a Canadian registered charity created in 2008 for the sole purpose of support and advocacy of SOPUDEP. The Foundation’s focus has been the K-12 school. We provide stable salaries for the teachers and have resurrected the school hot lunch program (in 2008) that had ended in 2004 due to loss of funding. In October 2010, the Foundation provided funding for adding a new primary school under the SOPUDEP umbrella, Les Petits Amis de SOPUDEP. It has 100 students and 5 teachers and is directed by Jorel Laflure. The Sawatzky Family Foundation and their work with SOPUDEP was featured in an article by the Toronto Star, A Miracle From Orillia Helps Haitian Students.
Madam Rea Dol is the co-founder and director of SOPUDEP. She is also a community organizer. She directs adult literacy programs, a micro-credit program designed to increase the autonomy of women, an HIV-AIDS prevention and treatment program, a popular federation of organizations for women struggling for economic survival in Haiti’s difficult economy, and more.
Following the January 12 earthquake, there was no sign of international aid in SOPUDEP’s part of Port au Prince. The school came to the community’s rescue. Its building was one of the few left standing in the area; it was transformed into a makeshift hospital and shelter within 24 hours of the earthquake. Rea Dol was able to secure large quantities of food on credit from wholesale vendors. The staff, students and volunteers at SOPUDEP fed thousands of families for a number of months. Her extraordinary work was the subject of a documentary by the New York Times titled The Mother Figure of Morne Lazzare.
It is essential to the strengthening of Haiti that education be brought to the masses and not just kept a guarded resource for the rich. While historical circumstances oblige SOPUDEP to operate as a private school, its directors and teachers hold firmly to the vision of a public school system for the children of Haiti that is free and accessible to all. Today, they are part of the social struggle to realize that dream. Please join them in that work by supporting their project.
To learn more about SOPUDEP's work and the latest updates, visit www.sopudep.org. Video media on SOPUDEP, including the New York Times documentary and a 2010, post-quake update can be viewed at www.sopudep.org/video. Rea Dol will be in Toronto and Montreal on a speaking tour in January, 2011. She will speak via teleconference to interested teachers and educators in other Canadian cities. Follow the website for details.
Ryan Sawatzky, President
Sawatzky Family Foundation
PO Box 626, 25 Peter Street N.
Orillia, Ontario, Canada, L3V 6K5
In Haiti, Schools Key to Recovery
By RENE BRUEMMER, The Gazette (Montreal), March 5, 2011
Can education lift Haiti out of its mire? Rea Dol thinks so. Her mother, an uneducated woman of limited resources, raised seven children and sent them all to school. Now Dol runs a school of her own with nearly 500 underprivileged students, many of whom don't pay tuition, a rarity in Haiti. She has created a hot lunch program that feeds 700 children daily, a tutoring and housing centre for street kids, and a micro-credit program that gives small loans to dozens of mothers so they can start their own businesses.
"Education, for us, is the basis of all development," said Dol over the phone from Port-au-Prince, the happy clatter of children reverberating in the background in the learning centre she built nine years ago. The school survived the earthquake when all but three of 300 neighbouring houses collapsed. But they teach outside under tents now, because the children are still scared to go indoors.
"In developed countries, education is a right," she said. "Here in Haiti, it is a privilege. But not many have the opportunity to have that privilege."
That education can elevate an individual and a society by improving wages, creating a better understanding of basic health care and imparting a sense of self-worth is well documented. But in Haiti, a country where 70 per cent of the population live on less than $2 a day, more than 80 per cent of elementary school students must pay to go to class. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere has the second highest rate of private school education in the world. Some parents give up more than half their annual income in the hopes of providing a better life for their children.
Limited access to education ensures the downtrodden majority remains down and the privileged minority retains privilege.
Not surprisingly, Haiti has one of the lowest enrolment rates in the world, with roughly 75 per cent of children attending primary school, a number that falls to 24 per cent in rural areas, and to 22 per cent overall in high school. Of the children who make it in, only one in three will get as far as Grade 6. Only four in 100 will graduate from high school.
Improving Haiti's education system is seen as crucial to its redevelopment in the wake of last year's earthquake that killed more than 250,000 and left almost 20 per cent of its population homeless. Michaelle Jean, former governor-general of Canada and now a UN special envoy for Haiti, made a direct plea to the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti two weeks ago to add the overhaul of education to its list of main priorities.
But with a fractured system of roughly 18,000 schools, the vast majority of which operate with no government oversight and provide an abysmal quality of education and one-quarter of which were damaged or destroyed in the earthquake, the question of how to overhaul the system, and how much difference it would actually make to the reconstruction of Haiti, remains deeply problematic.
In both developing and developed countries, better educated workers earn more on average than less well educated ones, notes Princeton economics and public affairs professor Anne Case in her essay The Primacy of Education. Studies have found that each additional year of education can add 10 per cent to a worker's wages. The increase is even higher in poor countries.
The problem is figuring out whether higher earnings are linked directly to education, or to numerous other factors at work: Do educated children find better employment because they come from wealthier families that can afford to send their children to school, and then have the connections to help them find work? Are children who graduate those who were born with greater ability, and thus would have likely earned more, whether or not they went to school? Regardless of the reasons, "broad-based education of good quality is among the most powerful instruments known to reduce poverty and inequality" and "strengthens nations' economic wealth by laying the foundation for sustained economic growth," the World Bank asserts.
The benefits of higher levels of education to health are clear, particularly for women. Reproductive health improves. Child mortality improves because families are better educated about immunization and nutrition. Fertility rates drop, which eases financial strains. Education is "perhaps the single most effective preventive weapon against HIV/AIDS," the World Bank reports, teaching prevention and because educated women have more options and are less prone to depend on sex or men for their livelihoods. Educated mothers send their kids to school.
Education gives people, especially women, the confidence to let their voices be heard, notes Franque Grimard, associate director of the Institute for the Study of International Development at McGill University. "Women who are educated are more likely to become participant in consensual situations, such as showing up at a village meeting and getting their points across," he said.
Unfortunately, being aware of the benefits does not mean having the ability to partake.
"Education, really, is an investment in the future, but some of these households can't think five years down the road," Grimard said. "They have to think of 'how do I get food on the table today, or next year.' Most of them understand it's better in the long run, but they may not be willing to think of the long run because they can't."
Children are often needed to work in the fields. If the education offered makes little immediate difference, is of poor quality and is prohibitively expensive or unavailable, the children will not go. This is the case in Haiti. Like the farmer who would like to send his children to school but can't afford it, Haiti has always wanted to educate its offspring but lacked the means or wherewithal to do so. The country's first constitution, written the year after the world's first and only successful slave revolt gained its residents independence from France in 1804, stated: "Education shall be free. Primary education shall be compulsory. State education shall be free at every level."
One hundred years after that proclamation, the state had only built 350 schools that served the children of the political elite, enough for 10 per cent of the eligible population, writes World Bank education specialist Jamil Salmi.
To fill part of the gap, religious organizations built and staffed schools. Later, non-denominational, for-profit schools started to spring up, with the result that today the public system provides free education for only 20 per cent of students, and competition to get into those schools is fierce.
Of the 20 poorest countries in the world, Haiti is the only one with more than 50 per cent of children enrolled in the private sector. In Canada, only about five per cent of elementary schoolchildren go to private schools.
"It should be emphasized that the Haitian private education system has grown by default, one could almost say by despair, rather than by deliberate intention of the state," Salmi wrote.
The result is a system where the quality of education a child receives is directly linked to the level of tuition its families can afford, which leads to "tragic social and human implications," Salmi wrote.
For those who don't have the money for the better private schools, where annual tuitions start at $250 and go much higher in a country with an average annual income of around $750 -the quality of education is poor. Only one-third of teachers in public school are graduates of teacher training colleges, according to Salmi's report published in 2000. In private schools, the rates were only 20 per cent. The average private school teacher has only a Grade 9 education and makes about $60 a month, making it difficult to attract and retain qualified teachers.
At Rea Dol's SOPUDEP school (Society of Providence United for the Economic Development of Petionville), which charges only $10 a month in tuition and lets half the students come for free, she can only afford to pay her university-educated teachers $500 a year, which works out to $2.50 a day, half the Haitian minimum wage. The government recently gave the school a $2,600 grant to help pay its 48 teachers and administrators for five months, under a program designed to keep teachers, who hadn't been paid during the four-month post earthquake shutdown, from fleeing. That works out to $10 per teacher a month. The Sawatzky Family Foundation of Orillia, Ont., had paid for salaries and the school's meal program for two years, until funds ran out.
The average child in Haiti receives five years of poor education, with the result that more than half the population can't read. The average Canadian receives 12 years of education that must meet provincial standards.
In the case of Haiti, the key to providing universal education may lie in collaboration and using the international goodwill that grew in the wake of the earthquake to help fund free education.
"An education system requires a system, said international development expert Grimard. "It requires funding, organizations, it requires raising money from individuals to get education up and running."
As with many of Haiti's woes, a lack of resources and administration lie at the root of its educational morass.
In Quebec, property owners pay school taxes, whether or not they have children in school, to support the system. Haiti's lack of formal employment and thus taxation revenue make this impossible. What the country does have is a plethora of non-governmental organizations and private interests filling in where the government can't. Most are well-intentioned, but the lack of cohesion means nearly 800,000 children out of a total student population of between 3 and 3.5 million are left out of the system.
There has been "a profound failure of collective action in the education sector" between the government of Haiti and international organizations during the last 25 years, said Marcelo Cabrol, chief of education at the International Development Bank (IDB), in an interview with Brendan McNulty, a private-sector development consultant. Grimard refers to the collection of NGOs as an example of "one thousand points of light" that are failing on a national basis because of their inability to come together with a common focus.
Others say the international community and NGOs have not worked because of basic self-centredness.
"I don't think these organizations really want to co-ordinate with one another," said Jacky Lamarque, rector of Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince and director of the Presidential Commission on Education, in an interview with McNulty. "There are NGOs more concerned with spending their budgets than producing results. ... There is a great mirage here. Lots of people are donating to Haiti, but those resources often don't reach Haiti. The beneficiary is often the donor (the NGO). They are spending money to elevate themselves."
Rea Dol started her career as an educator teaching people in their fifties, sixties and seventies to read. She had no intention of opening a primary school, but so many disadvantaged people asked her to educate their children that she started looking around for one of Haiti's many NGOs to start a school.
None would, she said. She had to start it herself.
Last March, the IDB presented the government with a suggested redesign of the system based on the National Education Plan designed by Haiti's Ministry of Education in 2007, to bring together several hundred actors in a coalition where "everyone could take ownership of just one part or action, whether that is working on the new curriculum or retraining teachers," Cabrol said.
In May 2010, the Haitian government gave the IDB a mandate to work with Haiti's Ministry of Education and National Education Commission to help institute a major reform of the education system.
The five-year, $4.2-billion plan calls for private schools to become publicly funded so children can go to school without paying tuition. The government would cover the salaries of teachers and administrators participating in the new system.
To participate, schools will have to undergo a certification process to verify the number of children and staff at the school, and will receive money to upgrade facilities and buy education materials. To remain certified, schools will have to meet increasingly stringent standards, the IDB noted, including the adoption of a national curriculum, teacher training and facility improvement programs. The plan will also finance building of new schools, and the use of schools to provide services like nutrition and health care.
The plan proposes to have all children enrolled in free education up to Grade 6 by 2015, and Grade 9 by 2020.
The proposal was accepted by the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission in August. To qualify, schools must be structurally sound, offer free tuition, and must adopt the new national curriculum, which will include annual student testing and two years of mandatory training for teachers, said Sabine Rieble-Aubourg, one of the lead planners for the IDB's Haitian education plan. The plan is to weed out lesser schools and consolidate many over time, eliminating waste. The average private school has only 100 students.
The plan is admittedly optimistic, Rieble-Aubourg admits, but results have been good thus far, given the short period of time to reconstruct schools and create collaboration among several hundred organizations. Education is held in high regard in Haiti, she notes, which ensures political support.
"The plan gives us objectives, and we should at least try to set the bar as high as we can. ... A lot of talent is really being wasted because children are not getting an opportunity, and that should not be. There are so many scientists and doctors and teachers out there that are just waiting to be taught."
It could take at least five years to see improved buildings and better trained teachers, and 10 years before test scores start rising, IDB officials said. And Grimard noted that improved education alone is not a guarantee of improved living standards. Sri Lanka completed a successful education overhaul that saw its literacy rate climb to nearly 100 per cent in the early 1980s, but its failure to adapt open-market policies, and its descent into civil war, meant education had little initial effect on wages. Education reforms in Pakistan led to "well-educated housewives" 15 years ago, as social norms prevented women from entering the labour force.
Ultimately, said school owner Dol, it will be up to Haitians to take control and make education their priority for the betterment of all. "People can help us, but if we don't work to change the situation, nothing will change," she said.
The power of schools goes beyond education, she noted. In the wake of the earthquake, with one of the few buildings left standing in her neighbourhood, Dol organized a food centre and health clinic there to feed and heal thousands of Haitians. Her school lost 31 students and two teachers to the earthquake, but it was still able to provide sustenance. Now she gives extra materials to help other fledgling schools, as well as supporting the tutoring services, hot lunch program and micro-finance initiatives at her school.
After dropping to 350 students because many had to move to faraway tent camps, enrolment is back up to 450.
Most importantly, she said, they are changing attitudes. "One of our recent graduates was planning to go into finance," she said. "But after seeing all we had done for the people after the earthquake, he said he wanted to study psychology, so he could help his fellow Haitians.
"That's how it starts."
Public Education In Haiti: An Appeal For International Support and Solidarity
The following is an appeal from The Sawatzky Family Foundation to teachers, their trade unions and other interested readers in Canada on behalf of an education institution in Haiti that is empowering children and the community in which they live. We hope that a channel of solidarity can be established between you and your counterparts in Haiti serving these children.
SOPUDEP (Society of Providence United for the Development of Pétion-Ville) is a school and community project located in Pétion-Ville, on the outskirts of Port au Prince, the capital city of Haiti. There are 650 children enrolled in the 2009/10 school year. The staff numbers 47, all of whom are Haitian. Public education in Haiti is in a state of ongoing crisis because of chronic poverty and few resources at the disposal of the national government. Less than half the country’s children attend school. For these reasons, SOPUDEP depends on international support for its survival.
The school had its beginning in the year 2000 as part of a national literacy campaign funded under then-Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Its first community initiative was a literacy and economic education program designed for adults between 30 and 60 years of age. Within weeks of starting the literacy program, children were showing up at SOPUDEP with their parents and grandparents in hopes of gleaning some basic reading and math skills. SOPUDEP’s staff decided it would be best if the children had a proper education program of their own.
The adult literacy program was being run out of 37 different locations throughout the community. The project’s directors decided that a single location would be better for the children. The mayor of Pétion-Ville offered the use of an empty mansion for the establishment of SOPUDEP’s stand-alone school. Initial enrollment was 160 children.
In February 2004, the government of President Aristide was forcibly removed from power. All government funding for SOPUDEP ceased, forcing the demise of a hot lunch program that provided many of the children and staff with their only meal of the day. Facing threats of attacks on the school from unelected government officials and their militia groups, many staff members went into hiding, fearing for their lives. Following international support from journalists, human rights activistsand solidarity groups, the threats ceased and no harm was inflicted on students or staff.
Since 2004, SODUDEP School has survived thanks to the dedication of passionate, hard working teachers and an administration that has often worked for months without compensation. The average teacher salary is only $500 (U.S.) per year. The total salary budget for 47 staff in the 2008/09 school year was $26,957 (U.S.). There are few textbooks; no electricity or running water; poor protection inside the school from windand rain; and most classrooms have dilapidated chalkboards and rough desks made from planks of wood.
Despite these obstacles, the school offers education from pre-school through to grade 12. Students learn reading, writing, arithmetic and other subjects. SOPUDEP prides itself on providing free education to the poorest children in the community, children who would otherwise have little or no opportunity for any kind of education.
The great majority of schools in Haiti are operated by foreign charities or other private institutions. The public education system reaches only ten percent of school children. Unlike SOPUDEP, public and private schools charge fees that are out of reach for most Haitian families. While the cost of living is close to that in Canada, the average Haitian takes home between 75¢ and $2 US a day.
The expansion of SOPDUEP’s enrollment was made possible by the Sawatzky Family Foundation, a registered charity in Canada. It was created in 2008 with the specific goal of providing financial aid, sustainability, and growth for SOPUDEP School. Our support began following our irst meeting with school Founder and Director, Réa Dol in early 2008. A little girl, 10 years old and too weak to stand or talk, came into the room where we were meeting and sat beside us on a little bench as the janitor went to get juice and cookies from a vendor. Réa explained to us that this was a regular occurrence because the children’s families can’t afford to eat on a regular basis. For the remainder of the 2008/2009 school year (five months), we resurrected the hot lunch program five days a week. Since then, we have been doing our best to support the hot lunch program and, more importantly, teacher salaries.
SOPUDEP and the Sawatzky Family Foundation believe in public education in Haiti. Currently, the country’s national government can finance only a small portion of the country’s education, health care, social security and food needs. Decades of economic crisis and political instability have created a situation where most of Haiti’s social services are operated by foreign charities and non-governmental organizations. This is not a sustainable model for the future of education in Haiti.
SOPUDEP is recognized as a public school by Haiti’s Ministry of Education and adheres to its instructional mandates. But it no longer enjoys full government funding as before 2004. The Foundation’s objective is to provide assistance to SOPUDEP until the day when Haiti will have a fully functioning public education system. It is our hope that it will serve as a model of how schools can run in a true public education system. The number one priority of school administrators today is to ensure salaries for teachers. Any support that you or your organization can provide to SOPUDEP will express support not only for teachers and the SOPUDEP School but also for the future of public education in Haiti.
On SOPUDEP’s behalf, we urge you to consider financial contributions as well as other partnering initiatives such as visits, becoming partnering organizations, or creating shared education projects. We invite you to meet with us in order to learn more about the school. Thank you!
Ryan Sawatsky, President
For more detailed information on the school and budget breakdowns, please visit www.sopudep.org For questions or comments, or for more information: E mail: sawatzkyfamilyfoundation(at)gmail.com Phone: 705-345-5593