Wednesday, Nov. 18, 4:25 p.m.
We're back after a day of painting at the school in Maniche. Today is a national holiday in Haiti, celebrating (I think) the first raising of the Haitian national flag. The flag's design has a good story, by the way. It's half blue and half red, with the national seal in the center. The color choice came from independence itself. The story goes that, to create the first Haitian flag, the victorious blacks and mulattoes took a French tri-color and ripped the white out of it. Such was the history, as well.
Anyway, because it's a national holiday, school was not in session. However, given the number of kids at the school today, you'd never have known it was a vacation day. Many of the students (and a number of parents and teachers, too) took us up on the offer to come and help paint on their holiday. As a result, we “finished” just before lunch – which means we ran out of paint. But the job is done well enough, and the school certainly looks a thousand times better than it did before the paint. Again, the issue of quality standards arose, this time on the drive home. We asked Colbert if he had gone into the school building to see the paint job. He said, “Yes … but the job is not yet done, of course.” This cast a bit of a pall over our sense of accomplishment. Frankly, we'd felt we had a loaves-and-fishes moment with the paint, stretching the blue as far as we possibly could to reach at least a point of conclusion, if not professional standard. In any event, painting was a much more satisfying thing this time (at least we can learn from our mistakes). We organized the throngs of painters better, with one of us stationed in each of the remaining four classrooms and one of us (Sean) acting as quartermaster. This kept our helpers more on task and prevented paint and supplies from wandering all over the schoolyard.
After lunch, we set up the volleyball net we'd brought. I'm sure the students, teachers, and parents got several chuckles watching us try to assemble the net, following instructions that clearly had been translated into English from another language. Between this and our natural inabilities at engineering, we put on a pretty good show. But the net went up, and the kids loved learning how the game was supposed to work. In Haiti, boys play soccer and girls play volleyball – but the girls in Maniche had never seen a volleyball or a net. So Ann and Kathy showed the girls how to play and set the boundary for the boys. By the time we left, the girls were getting good at keeping the boys out of their game. The soccer balls and volleyballs are a huge hit, and we probably should bring a duffel bag full of them each time a group comes here.
This morning, before painting, we had a great conference with Colbert, Msr. Samuel the headmaster, and Msr. Jude the disciplinarian/assistant. We wanted to find out what options the students have for education beyond 6th grade, which is where our school stops. They said Maniche used to have a government-run middle school and high school, but after it failed to pay its teachers for three consecutive years(!), it was forced to close. There's also a Roman Catholic school for 7th through 9th grades, but it's available only to parishioners. So, the answer is, our students currently have nowhere to go for education beyond 6th grade. This gave us a clear sense of where St. Andrew's mission in Maniche needs to head for the future – offering middle-school classes in the afternoon, once the elementary classes have finished with the rooms. It's exciting to think we can be part of opening up the future for these kids. In Haiti, graduating from 6th grade is an important thing, but it won't open any doors to get you out of a sharecropping life (how most of our families support themselves). But if you graduate from 9th grade, you have the opportunity to get into vocational training, learning to be a carpenter, mechanic, mason, etc. That life is still hard but tremendously better than living off the land (or what seems more like living off the rocks). We have the chance to make this possible for our kids in Maniche. I think I hear a calling....
Tonight, Colbert has invited us to come to his home, the rectory in Cayes, for dinner with his wife and brand-new daughter. We'll also be joined by the group that's been working with MN's educational program here this week, which means Colbert and his wife will have about 20 blans descending on their house for dinner. We'll be cozy but certainly well-fed. Hospitality is huge here, so we will continue to feast on this mission to help Haitians overcome poverty and hunger. Whether it's dinner at Colbert's or lobster on the beach, our experience here has certainly been one of privilege and plenty. I'm not sure what to do with that other than to be grateful in all times and in all places, taking nothing for granted especially in our context of ubiquitous availability. Every stale cheeseburger at the drive-through is a rich gift from God.