Four Years Post Quake, a School Rebuilds

Jennifer Lang, Director of Program Communications
The picturesque views from Haiti’s St. Francois de Sales school also carry the heavy weight of destruction from four years ago; located high above the capital city of Port au Prince, the community of Riviere Froide was hit immensely hard by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake. The entire school building collapsed, and the mountainous road was largely blocked due to rockslides leaving injured teachers and students trapped under the rubble and unable to receive medical care. 150 children were lost that day alone.

Founder & Chair JoAnne Kuehner with School Director Sister Gisele. Inauguration Mass JoAnne spreading warmth to
Founder & Chair JoAnne Kuehner with School Director Sister Gisele. Inauguration Mass. JoAnne spreading warmth to
an earthquake victim

Since January 12, 2010, the community has been re-building under the leadership of School Director Sister Gisele Chaperon. Classes for the school’s 1,300 students were held under tents and books were stored in a metal container. At the suggestion of Founder, JoAnne Kuehner, Hope for Haiti has supported the Order of the Little Sisters of St. Therese for more than ten years and offered to help.  The school was included in our Education Program, which provides support to pay teachers, buy books, and guarantee that no child is turned away for a family’s inability to pay school fees. The small local health clinic received donations of birthing kits, gloves, and other essential supplies to help provide care when patients could not afford to pay for services.

Thanks to the generous financial support of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Charity Foundation (UFCW), Hope for Haiti was able to commit to outfitting a computer lab and library at the newly constructed school.  In a true collaborative effort, Hope for Haiti worked closely with the German charitable organization Kindernothilfe (KNH) and the Haitian construction firm GRETCO. The community chose to protect the flat site of the former school as a memorial to the lost children, not all of whose bodies were successfully recovered. As such, the new school is constructed into the sloping mountain. Remarks JoAnne, “The structure of the new school is extraordinary! I’ve never seen a school like that in Haiti. Painted orange, green, and white, it is a very uplifting place.”

Members of Hope for Haiti Students reciting an original poem
Members of Hope for Haiti
and UFCW touring the school.
Students reciting an original poem
during the inauguration ceremony.

Finally, on the fourth anniversary of the earthquake, the new school was inaugurated in a ceremony defined both by somber remembrance and hope for the future. Representatives of both Hope for Haiti and the UFCW were able to meet with community members and hear their stories. The young woman pictured in the attached photo lost both her brother and her leg during the earthquake. Both siblings had been teachers, but the inauguration ceremony was the first time she returned to the site. The young man pictured wrote a poem for the ceremony detailing his harrowing experience, recited in front of a banner displaying the names of the deceased.

The new school is a beacon for the next generation. For the first time, there are kindergarteners enrolling at the school who did not experience the destruction first-hand.  Hope for Haiti worked to construct and equip new state-of-the-art facilities, including a library and computer lab. In addition to accommodating a growing student body, Sister Gisele has plans to use the new facilities to offer vocational training to members of the Riviere Froide community.

Back today in Naples, Florida, the ceremony’s hospitality and emotion have not left JoAnne’s mind or her heart. “When I was visiting the school, I thought, ‘wow, this is beautiful! I felt right at home. The whole experience was very impressive to me. Seeing that progress was completely overwhelming. It was absolutely fabulous!”  Thank you to the UFCW for making the resources of a library and computer lab available for these students and generations to come!