An education oasis built in Haiti’s remote hillside.

BY WANDA O’BRIEN

 

Moseline is a stand-out Grade 5 student. For her grades, yes, but more so for her determination. She’s 19-years-old.

She’s been pulled in and out of school for years due to her family’s financial situation.

Yet despite taunts of “grandma,” she’s stuck with it.

Sitting under the shade of a mango tree on her school campus in Haiti, Moseline strips the necessity of an education down to its bare bones: “If you don’t have an education, it’s like you don’t exist,” she tells me. “School is the biggest wealth someone can have.”

Moseline and her eight siblings are growing up in Manac, a community resting in the upper regions of Haiti’s inner hills. There is no road access. No market. No health centre. But there is a school.

To get to this school, the teachers hike. Three hours, one way, up and down through dirt pathways, turned rocky ledge, turned green-grass plateau. Three hours! One way! The dedicated educators march in late Sunday or early Monday morning, stay at accommodations by the school, and trek out Friday once school activities have wrapped for the week.

When I first heard that WE Villages had re-built such a remote school I wondered about this journey into the mountains, how teachers would get there, and I wondered who the school served.

To get answers, I followed in the teachers’ footsteps.

As dawn broke on a mid-week morning, my Haitian colleagues and I started up a muddy laneway wide enough for one donkey abreast. Past farmers planting a bean crop at a seven-degree angle and single-file donkeys loaded with bags of charcoal going towards town for market.

After three hours of trudging over eight kilometers, the land levelled, and around a corner brightly painted buildings popped out of the lush countryside. Kids in blue and white button-up shirts raced past each other. Student chatter and teacher voices replaced the soundtrack of wind and birds.

 

To an outsider, it felt like we stumbled on a school in the middle of nowhere. Except it wasn’t nowhere. It is Moseline’s home.

“I should have already graduated from sixth grade,” Moseline says matter-of-factly. She doesn’t lament how far behind she is. She explains she’s in a privileged position to have a school, here, within walking distance from her home. Her mom never went, and her dad went as far as Grade 5. She’s on the cusp of being the most educated member of her family, and she’s not taking it for granted.

When her father, a farmer, couldn’t afford her school fees, she took it upon herself to innovate. With the small money they had, she bought cookies and candies and resold them improvising a make-shift convenience store (a bucket is all that’s needed) until she had enough money to get a uniform made.

Her classroom is a bright purple—the colour was chosen by the students. The one beside it is a loud orange (in line with the noise of the Grade 4 students occupying it). Behind us, a roof is going up on a classroom and concrete stones are being laid for a building next to that. As we hiked in, construction materials for new classrooms were being carried over the hills—the work of the WE Villages team, the moms and dads of Manac, and some hard working donkeys.

Before WE Villages partnered with Manac, all classes were taught in one long, crowded wooden building, explains Grade 4 teacher Presendieu Gilner. Grades were separated by a piece of cloth, and competing lessons drowned each other out. There weren’t enough teachers so parents wouldn’t send their kids to school.

 

“Our kids sit comfortably now, they are not packed inside a classroom,” he shares. “The parents feel more comfortable to send their kids here. They feel a sense of respect and pride to send their kids here.”

The new school has attracted students outside Manac, who come for the first-rate classrooms. More and better qualified teachers have accepted jobs with the school for the same reasons.

Gilner thanks me for braving the muddy pathways to visit them. I laugh dismissively. It seems absurd, almost wrong, to be thanking me. But he stops. Holds our handshake for a beat longer, “Not many people come to visit us. If you share what we’ve told you here, and it helps…” He trails off. Smiles. Holds his arms open, upwards, hopeful.

The possibilities, that feeling that anything is possible, stretches as limitless as the horizon that meets the hills. It is embodied in a 19-year-old who refuses to quit. She, and all her fellow classmates are the reason why a school—that no road leads to—must exist.