By Jenny Jenkins
What to do when you don’t have all the ingredients for a cake? A good cook will improvise, find substitutions, and will perhaps even have a bit of fun doing so. In life, it is sometimes fun to improvise on projects and play the part of the innovative chef but other times, like when building a house, improvisation is considerably less fun. When it comes to building, we want the appropriate parts to ensure that a house is safe and sturdy.
In Haiti, having the all necessary items for any project or effort is a challenge and most Haitians have found a way to “dagaje”, a Kreyol word meaning “make do.” Oftentimes, their ingenuity is inspiring but what about when you are building a mind in school? What does one do when they don’t have all the materials for school, some things can be improvised but what about textbooks?
For many Haitian students, school books are a luxury. One that is quite frankly, often out of reach. Parents work hard just to provide the cost of tuition and uniforms and hope their child can find books to borrow a copy or share with a classmate. One professor talked about writing the information on the board for students without books to stay and copy after class. Can you even imagine?
In the mountains of Grand Goave, there are many small schools that work hard to provide an education with little or no resources. Parents struggle to pay tuition, uniform, and books. For many just paying for one part of a three-part punch is almost impossible and many children don’t get the opportunity to attend. In conversations with three schools on the mountain near the Magandou health center under construction, administrators expressed the dire need and challenges faced daily by the schools and students.
I’ve recently begun asking how our ministry might best to come alongside them without becoming a sponsorship program. Such programs are difficult to manage and maintain. We are not looking to simply become a benefactor or funder of the school itself but would want to come alongside the families themselves and empower them. We want to encourage parents with dignity to educate their children about going hungry.
With all this in mind, this year we launched the school book voucher program. For each child whose tuition was fully paid for the year, the program would provide a voucher to cover the cost of most if not all of the books that students would need for the year. This program works with both the school and the families, building relationships and helping provide much-needed materials to their students.
At first, the administrators expressed concern that parents wouldn’t be able to find the funds and few would participate and they wouldn’t make the walk to a common gathering place to pick up the vouchers. With a significant amount of pushback, this solution seemed doomed from the start. However, with prayer and encouragement, the project moved forward and is making a change in the lives of this community!
Each school was given the incentive to encourage parents to participate in the program and if they could achieve a 50% participation from parents then some projects such as chalkboards or desks would be funded. The administrators and staff could discuss and decide on the project up to a determined amount.
And so it began.
Arrangements were made with booksellers in the communities. Vouchers were designed and printed and dates were set for parents to bring their paid tuition receipts. To say all were overwhelmed by the response would be an understatement! For one school we didn’t have enough vouchers on hand and had to return a second day. The top school had 65% of their parents pay their child’s tuition in full, the second 54%, and the third 45%.
One administrator said this was the first time he had the funds this early to cover teachers’ salaries and necessary materials…and all from parents! They were amazed to see how the parents responded. Some parents walked 4 hours down a mountain to pick up their vouchers and then to the booksellers to redeem it for the books! Having the books to learn is an important piece to them. All 450 students received their books for the year and this is just the beginning of this program.
Jenny Jenkins is a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving through medical and relational ministries in Grand Goâve, Haiti, where she felt the call to live and minister full-time in 2008 and began working on the relief effort in the aftermath of the earthquake in 2010. You can support her ministry here.