AN UPDATE FROM THE SOPUDEP SCHOOL AND ORGANIZATION IN HAITI

SOPUDEP students, photo Darren Ell.jpg

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.

Sincerely,

Ryan Sawatzky,
President, The Sawatzky Family Foundation
PO Box 626, 25 Peter Street North
Orillia ON    Canada L3V 6K5
Phone: (705) 345-5593    E-mail: sawatzkyfamilyfoundation@gmail.com       Website:  http://www.sopudep.org/