Rotary Comes Through - Again!
The motto of Rotary International is "service above self", and the organization - particularly Rotary of Montgomery County (Virginia) has proven this motto true over and over again. If you have been following Ecole Philadelphia since the beginning, you may remember that the school opened with no books, classrooms made out of tents, and just chalkboards and notepads from which to learn. There was not even drinking water - and in the hot climate of Haiti, that made learning sometimes impossible. Playground equipment, which is present on so many school properties in the USA and in many other countries, was not even on the radar as a dream. And yet, thanks to the consistent generosity of Rotary, Ecole Philadelphia will open the 2021-22 school year with brand new, colorful slides, swings, and merry-go-rounds.
Obviously this is not the first time that Rotary has come through for "Ecole P". Our first school books came about as a result of a large collaborative Rotary grant. Our first well and cistern for drinking water did too. And when the sporadic local electricity became too undependable, Rotary outfitted Ecole P with solar power for the computer lab.
The Rotary Club of Mirebalais has played its part too, verifying the delivery of projects funded by its sister clubs in Virginia, allowing one of the grants to qualify for a district match.
To say that Ecole Philadelphia is thankful for Rotary would be an understatement, and now the joyful sound of children playing is heard on the Ecole P playground will serve as a constant reminder of just how great Service Above Self can be.
December 2020 Update
So sorry to have let the website get so far behind! There is a lot of news to share, and most of it is good!
National Exam Results - We are extremely excited to report that 100% of our sixth grade students passed the national exam! We have had excellent results in the past, but this is the first time that every student passed. This result speaks to the quality of the education that students at Ecole Philadelphia receive.
Fish Farm - The fish are reproducing, with several basins now in production mode. The first harvest is expected in early April 2021. The biggest challenge we are facing currently is the scarcity and cost of fish food, especially the protein aspect of the diet. Fortunately some specific donations have been received that have helped to keep things on track.
Fundraising - Thanks to the generosity of our donors, the 2020-21 teacher salary fund is complete and the funds already in Haiti. We have a nice head start on 2021-22 as well. Since the first cash flows from the fish farm will be reinvested in its expansion, donations will be needed to carry us through until the second harvest at least.
Douglas Day Computer Lab - We typically update or trade out non-working computers when we have a team visit the school. Although we have not been able to make a visit to Haiti since January 2019, all 14 computers remain in operating condition. The computer lab is one of the most popular aspects of our school, and we are very thankful for it.
Playground Equipment - We want to outfit the school with some playground equipment, and have turned to Rotary in the hopes of a grant. Rotary has already provided most of our books, a well and cistern, and the solar power for the computer lab. They have been an enormously valuable supporter of our school. We hope to have word by end of April.
Condition of the Hangar - Unfortunately no report is ever "good news only". The hangar, which is the structure where we hold most of our classes, is again in need of repair. Some of the boards on the back of the building are so rotted that people have torn them off and stolen some of our school furniture. We are raising funds to fix this problem as soon as possible.
This picture shows the poor condition of the back wall of the hangar.
We are thankful for all of you who have made our success possible. We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a truly healthy and prosperous new year!
News Update May 2020
We are excited to announce a new project in cooperation with Rotary Club of Montgomery County (Virginia). Our school needs to replace many books due to a mandate from the Ministry of Education in Haiti, and Rotary will be matching the first $2,000 donated in support of this project, towards a total of $6,000 needed. To donate to this effort, simply click the Donate Now button on any page on our website and mark your donation as being for books. We greatly appreciate the support of Rotary towards this effort!
For more information about Rotary, please visit https://www.facebook.com/Rotary-Club-of-Montgomery-County-124511180990381/.
We are also extremely excited to announce that on May 22, the first fish were released into one of the basins on our fish farm. These fish are called "geniteurs", which literally translates as "parents". In this case, they were mothers carrying eggs, which we hope will become many babies. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to purchasing and launching the farm. It has been a long journey, and we hope the time has come to realize some fruits from this project.
Farm Plumbing Nears Completion
February 21, 2020
After a long interruption in progress due to protests in Haiti, the plumbing on our fish farm is nearing completion. The plumbing allows us to connect to town water, since our stream is insufficient and the flow too irregular to have regular oxygenation for the fish. Hopefully soon, our waters will be teeming with fish! Stay tuned!
For the first time - Water in the fish pond!
August 31, 2019
It's taken a lot longer than we hoped, but we now have water in one of the basins on our fish farm! There is still considerable work to be done before it can be populated with fingerlings, but this is still a major milestone on our fish farming journey.
Our thanks to everyone who helped make this day possible!
January 2019 Visit is the Best Ever!
Our visits to Haiti just keep getting better and better. After an outstanding visit in 2017, the 2019 version surpassed, even if only because more people got to experience Haiti. The following is Steve Skripak's trip report. It cannot do justice to all the good things that were experienced on this visit....
In the early morning hours of January 5, fourteen people, who mostly had not met or barely knew each other, embarked on a journey that would not only unite them but also forge friendships and provide experiences that will undoubtedly prove to be life changing.
Sadly, before the trip could even begin, our member Amber Chase contracted pneumonia and had to withdraw. We hope she will be able to join us next year. She nevertheless played an important role in the composition of the group.
Coming from northern Virginia by way of Richmond airport were Virginia Tech students Genna Coan and Lauren Buellesbach – ironically it was Amber who recruited them to the group. It was the first visit to Haiti for both of these young women.
From Fredericksburg came the mother and son team of Debbie and Lyle Kindig. Debbie’s objective was to introduce Lyle to Haiti, with this being her ninth visit to the country. For Lyle, a senior at Virginia Tech, it was his first visit to the country.
Pulaski, Virginia sent two of its own in Peter Huber, a retired county administrator, and Emma-Kate Greene, a senior at Radford High School. It was also their first visit, and Pete’s participation on the trip greatly reduced any anxiety felt by Emma-Kate’s parents.
Coming for the second time was Steve Bodtke from Blacksburg. He enjoyed his first experience in Haiti so much that he brought his lovely wife Mikie and her two daughters Lili and Belle. Lili is a junior at Blacksburg High while Belle is a seventh grader at Blacksburg Middle School.
Joining the group were Kathline Langenfeld and Lexi Rubin, Virginia Tech students who met through Young Life, and Diane Naff, a veteran school teacher from Blacksburg whose membership in the group would prove to be indispensable. Rounding out the team was six-time Haiti veteran Steve Skripak, the theoretical group leader.
The ten coming from Blacksburg caravanned to Greensboro airport to save on airfare, which required a 4:15am departure from Blue Ridge Church. At the airport, Diane quickly established herself as “Mom”, and we all know that Moms are the quickest thinkers. Diane’s Delta credit card allowed us to check seven bags free, leaving funds to allow us to do other things useful for the school.
The full group connected in Atlanta and made some quick introductions before boarding a thankfully uneventful flight to Port au Prince. Then the chaos of a Haitian arrival began! Uniformed agents began grabbing bags, insisting we would only get through customs with their help. Surrendering to the inevitable, we exited the airport down $44 in tips and cart rental fees. We did clear customs without incident, and then stepped out into the bright Haitian sunshine. We were quickly marked as a money-making opportunity by men hanging around outside the airport who also wanted to help with our bags. By then, though, our hosts had arrived with plenty of help. Unfortunately being told in three languages that we did not want help and would not pay them did not dissuade these guys from keeping a hand on the cart like a kid would do in a supermarket. They walked away angry with only a $2 tip to split between them, given mostly just to avoid further incident.
Three vehicles caravanned to Cange where we settled into our rooms and were soon treated to one of the many excellent Haitian dinners we would enjoy. The group continued to get acquainted with each other and our new hosts. Our first big experience was on Sunday, a two-hour-plus church service with almost no English spoken. Of course, group prayer and praise music can be appreciated without understanding words. Late in the service, Steve S was called on to give a message in French. It has been said “never let them see you sweat”, but the nerves and heat made this impossible for Steve. Also, right before leaving Virginia, he had used Google Translate to provide an English translation for the team. He should have proofread it. “Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a day” somehow became “Teach a man to sin….”. Needless to say, there was some explaining needed after the service!
During the rest of the week, the group would split up for the day, with part of the team going to the fish farm to build a storage depot while the others went to Ecole Philadelphia to do crafts, English lessons, Bible stories, and other activities with the children. The “slime-making” activity brought by Lili and Belle proved to be one of the most popular!
There were just too many great things that happened on this visit to go into detail about every one, so this report will just hit some of the many highlights.
One huge success was Diane and the younger women organizing and delivering the crafts. Children left with a variety of fun objects like jellyfish and stained glass crosses which used tissue paper in place of the glass. Diane’s experience as a school teacher was just so vital to all of this working out so well. Our translator Camesuze Neptune was also a big blessing to us in being able to communicate with the students and by just being our friend.
Another big success was getting the Douglas Day computer lab fully operational. Prior to the visit, the school had only been able to use some of the capabilities of the laptops because a key launch file had been either deleted or not loaded on to the original computers. Fortunately the file was on all of the five new computers we brought with us, and by copying it to the other computers, we gained access to more than a thousand books in Creole and the entire Kahn Academy platform. The older students started coming into the lab on their breaks to use Wikipedia to search for things that are interesting to them, and during one break, we found Claude, one of the instructors, watching a Kahn Academy video about the mathematics of energy. As the faculty explore these new capabilities, use of the lab is likely to increase exponentially.
The depot construction was another key success, although not without challenges. Our block vendor did not deliver on time, and that caused us to get behind. It also resulted in some changes to work assignments, since there was not enough to do on the farm for everyone who had planned to work there. When the block finally was delivered, though, the team pulled together to move it from the delivery point to where it was needed, a distance of about 100 yards. The women easily matched the strength and determination of the men. Most impressive was 90-pound Mikie carrying cinder blocks on both shoulders. They probably weighed only slightly less than she does! About 75% of the block was laid before we left, and our Haitian brothers will finish the rest. Steve B and Boss Fanfan have developed such a tight working relationship that should they work together again, they will probably be able to build a building without even using words…..
Steve S was also able to meet with the pond agronomist who has been helping us plan and launch our farm effort. We should have a complete start-up plan in place by the end of January. We hope to start with half of our fourteen basins if funds allow. The basins can contain between ten and eighteen thousand fish each, so we will be putting a whole lot of fish into a desperately needy market.
Although not directly related to our group, one thing that bears mentioning is our outstanding new academic director Wilson Pierre. A young man of 28 with a beautiful one-year-old daughter, Wilson radiates enthusiasm and professionalism. He is a great addition to what is already considered the best school in the Bayas area.
Our last evening was spent singing praise songs in both Creole and English. It started with one young man of about 8 with a pink child-sized guitar coming to sing a few songs for us. He is the nephew of our hosts Pradel and Emmanier, and the cousin of our host Davidson. Really the word “host” is too impersonal – they are really our brothers in Christ. Pradel then did a song for us, and things kind of built spontaneously from there, with no one really wanting the experience to end. At times, things got so emotional that tears flowed freely. While our time together had to end for this visit, just about everyone in the group has expressed a strong desire to come back.
Although this report is already long, your writer Steve S feels like he is leaving out 99% of the good things that happened on this trip. The group was cohesive, enthusiastic, and productive. It was trip that was richly blessed by the Lord. We only look forward to more opportunities to serve that are as rewarding and fulfilling as this one.
Visit photos can be found on the In Pictures tab.....if you open the top one, you can scroll through larger images of the entire batch!
Farm Investment to Fund School for Future
A few months ago, the administrators of our school began to develop a plan that would make the school self-supporting in five years’ time, since a donor-based funding model may be difficult to sustain in the long run. After evaluating a number of ideas, the school has made an offer to purchase a 3.18 acre plot of land already equipped with 13 basins for fish farming and with room to expand into other forms of agriculture as time and funds allow.
While the business plan is still being finalized, the financial projections indicate that farm profits will support the full financial needs of the school within two years, including both the teacher salaries and an annual construction project for the build-out of our physical space.
The upfront costs of this undertaking are daunting by comparison to what we have accomplished in the past. We will need at least $40,000 to become operational as a fish farm, which includes $22,000 for the land and survey, as well as other startup expenses. At the time of the offer to purchase, we have $13,000 available, so we have a long way to go, but we do have an offer to match the first $10,000 donated to support this project. Please consult our progress trak graphs to keep up with the latest on funding this effort.
Once operational, the farm will not only provide funds to support the school, but it will also feed people in an area of the country where no one can take his or her next meal for granted. This farm is truly the future for our school, and we would welcome your partnership in making it possible.
Solar Now Powers Computer Lab!
Thanks to three Virginia Rotary Clubs Blacksburg, Montgomery County, and Christiansburg-Blacksburg, our computer lab is now solar-powered! When the computer lab project was first identified as a need, power to the school was more or less reliable, but by the time the lab was ready for operation, the reliability was no longer there. In order to ensure that the children could continue to learn despite frequent power interruptions, a better solution was needed. One resource Haiti has in abundance is sunshine, making solar the logical choice to solve this problem. A collaborative effort across three clubs from the same area of the state ensured that this need would be met. Rotary has also be instrumental in providing books to our school on multiple occasions. Our sincere thanks to the members of all three organizations for their faithful support of education in Haiti.