For over 200 years, the majority of Haiti’s education system has been left to the private sector due to a lack of Government financial resources. Although the Haitian Constitution states everyone has the right to education, going to school in Haiti has become a privilege of the rich with tuition costs being well out of reach for most of the population. Only 40% of children will ever set foot inside a school and a mere 4% will graduate.
SOPUDEP’s approach to education is unique in Haiti: no child is turned away for lack of funds. Some parents are able to pay and are willing to do so, but it is not mandatory. Proof of this is the 150 Street Kids that attend the afternoon session five-days a week.
Institution Mixte de SOPUDEP is a school that goes from Kindergarten to Grade Twelve. In 2001 they were awarded a two-story burnt out mansion to use as a school, and in 2002 they opened their doors with initial enrolment at 140 students. In 2014, enrolment reached 837 students with 73 staff. In addition to quality academics, they also provide Vocational Training programs in tailoring, carpentry, electronics, among other professions. It is also not unusual for some of SOPUDEP’s students to rank high on Haiti’s National Exam on an annual basis.
Director Madam Réa Dol’s mission is to expose her students to a well rounded education. Some of this education does come from books, but to her, experiential education is just as important. Her students learn that, in order to prosper as a society, they must practice equality and be active participants in the country’s healing. Students help care for the elderly, take lunches to other schools, or participate in a variety of SOPUDEP’s other community outreach programs.
SOPUDEP’s students understand that their school is special. It is why so many of SOPUDEP’s graduates express their desire to pursue careers in areas that will help give back to their community and strengthen their country. As SOPUDEP’s students step out into the world, roots of peace, equality, and prosperity will grow for future generations.
Photo’s by SOPUDEP
The backbone to SOPUDEP’s ability to teach effectively and for their students to learn has always been that their dedicated teachers receive steady pay and that there be a regular meal for their students.
When you look at the numbers, it is easy to see why their Hot Lunch Program holds so much weight. Currently, 59% of the population (6 million people) can barely afford to eat two times a day and 11% (1.14 million) suffer from chronic hunger, unable to provide one regular meal. In the past ten years, food insecurity has increased exponentially with the steady stream of imported food imposed on the population. These imports in turn get increasingly more expensive, and finding alternative avenues becomes harder because it has further eroded Haiti’s already underfunded agriculture industry. Now, malnutrition affects over 30% of children under the age of five and 50% of pregnant women, while 70% of children in Haiti are anemic and suffer from iodine deficiency.
SOPUDEP observed that many of their students fall into a chronic poverty level with little access to a regular meal. This becomes a very difficult situation when it impairs the ability of their students to learn. Headaches, nausea, and blackouts increase and grade levels fall for these students. As the Haitian proverb goes, “It is impossible to learn while the mind is on the stomach”.
In 2008, The Sawatzky Family Foundation reinitiated this Hot Lunch program and by 2010, major funding to this program was being provided by Feed Them With Music (FTWM), a food security based charity out of Minnesota, run by Paul Frantzich.
Today, when the program is at optimal funding, around 900 people are fed a day. This of course includes students and teachers, but also other members of the community who cannot provide for themselves – including the elderly. The Hot Lunch Program is a critical component to SOPUDEP’s success in providing quality education and increasingly, a vital necessity to the overall health of their students and staff as regular meals become harder to afford with a worsening economy. With this program, hunger related health issues fade and the children can again focus on their studies.