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jeudi 1 décembre 2011

Vassar Haiti Project helps village gain new school, clean water

On its 10th anniversary, the Vassar Haiti Project has embarked on a new mission to build a five-room medical clinic for the people of Chermaitre, a small, mountainous village in Haiti lacking plumbing or electricity.
“The clinic will be open twice a month and may see perhaps 70 to 80 patients a day,” said Andrew Meade, project founder and co-chairman.
Construction is t to begin next month, he said, followed by a group trip to the village in March.
The building project follows a decade of charity work in and around the village, which is about 100 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince. The group funds the work through the sale of Haitian art. The group’s works include the construction of a kindergarten through grade six school and a gravity-driven clean-water system at a nearby well.
The Vassar Haiti Project began with the idea to provide one meal a day to students of the village’s one-room school. “They felt that if the students were fed, they would come to school,” said co-chairwoman Lila Meade, who is married to Andrew Meade.
Haiti, where one out of eight children die before they reach age 5, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. With a population of about 9.9 million, life expectancy is 62 years for women and 59 for men.
“The original school in Chermaitre was a one-room structure,” Andrew Meade said. “It had no windows. They had to close the school when it rained because there was no way to stay dry.”
The Meades began purchasing Haitian artwork to sell in the U.S. By doing this, they said, they were able to give Haitian artists a livelihood while raising funds to set up a food program at the school.
For the first few years, most of the art sales went to pay for the food program. As sales grew, they began to pay for teachers’ salaries and school supplies. Artwork included paintings and iron sculpture, often made from recycled oil drums.
In 2005, construction began on a seven-room school.
“It was built one room at a time,” he said.
Andrew Meade, who is director of international services at Vassar, said the original volunteer team consisted of friends and family, including daughters Lily and Kristen.
A handful of Vassar students soon joined the group.
After years of canceled trips due to hurricanes and political strife, a crew of nine Vassar Haiti Project volunteers arrived in Haiti in 2007.
“We flew in to Cap-Haitien,” Andrew Meade said. “From there it was a four-hour drive to Gros Morne, the nearest city to Chermaitre, and another 90 minutes from there, in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.”
When the road ended, the group began the 90-minute uphill trek to Chermaitre.
“We rounded a corner and about 150 school kids and teachers were singing welcome in Haitian Creole,” he said.
While in Haiti, the group purchased art from the local market in Cap-Haitien and walked among the unfinished rooms of the new school in Chermaitre.
In 2008, they made another visit. By that time, the school was serving about 200 students.
“There were a lot of tears and a lot of pride,” Andrew Meade said.
Devastating quake
Then came the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in January 2010, causing an estimated 230,000 deaths, according to the U.S Department of State. With the earthquake’s epicenter less than 20 miles west of Port-au-Prince, more than half a million people fled to other areas of Haiti.
“We did not see any structural damage in Chermaitre,” Andrew Meade said. “However, the population temporarily increased by 25 percent in the year following the earthquake due to refugees. Attendance at the school went up to 340 students during this time.”
Basic needs
Those intimate with Haiti say the earthquake made an already desperate situation worse. Poughkeepsie resident Sabrina Jaar Marzouka, a native of Port-au-Prince, worked for a time as the assistant director for Haiti’s Center for Development and Health.
“The vast majority of Haitians were not having their basic needs met before the earthquake, and after it happened, things got worse,” she said.
Massive death, injury and destruction of infrastructure exacerbated problems in the country, including the lack of clean water and sanitation, poverty and hunger, she said.
“You have to meet basic needs,” she said. “You can’t teach a child how to read and write without food in their stomachs.”
Marzouka, now Dutchess County Department of Health assistant commissioner, said the project’s small-steps approach made sense in a country where the need is so great. “They go there to assess basic needs and get a sense of what’s going on right on the ground,” she said.
A subsequent outbreak of cholera that followed the quake spurred the group to embark on a new initiative to bring clean water to Chermaitre.
“Now a series of cisterns and PVC piping brings water to a well right by the school,” Andrew Meade said.
The group has since focused on four primary initiatives in Haiti: improving access to education, health care and clean water, and aiding in reforestation efforts through the planting of fruit and lumber trees. The organization has helped to plant 5,000 apricot, oak, cedar, lemon and mango trees. In March, volunteers will observe schools and a hospital in Cap-Haitien, work in a nearby medical clinic for a day and once again make the steep hike to Chermaitre.
Meade said the project, which has almost 100 volunteers, offers its members a profound learning experience.
“They’re exposed to the idea that it is possible for one human being to make a difference – that sometimes it just takes one idea to create fundamental, positive change in the world,” he said.
Andrew Meade, who is director of international services at Vassar, said the original volunteer team consisted of friends and family, including daughters Lily and Kristen.
A handful of Vassar students soon joined the group.
After years of canceled trips due to hurricanes and political strife, a crew of nine Vassar Haiti Project volunteers arrived in Haiti in 2007.
“We flew in to Cap-Haitien,” Andrew Meade said. “From there it was a four-hour drive to Gros Morne, the nearest city to Chermaitre, and another 90 minutes from there, in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.”
When the road ended, the group began the 90-minute uphill trek to Chermaitre.
“We rounded a corner and about 150 school kids and teachers were singing welcome in Haitian Creole,” he said.
While in Haiti, the group purchased art from the local market in Cap-Haitien and walked among the unfinished rooms of the new school in Chermaitre.
In 2008, they made another visit. By that time, the school was serving about 200 students.
“There were a lot of tears and a lot of pride,” Andrew Meade said.
Massive death, injury and destruction of infrastructure exacerbated problems in the country, including the lack of clean water and sanitation, poverty and hunger, she said.
“You have to meet basic needs,” she said. “You can’t teach a child how to read and write without food in their stomachs.”
Marzouka, now Dutchess County Department of Health assistant commissioner, said the project’s small-steps approach made sense in a country where the need is so great. “They go there to assess basic needs and get a sense of what’s going on right on the ground,” she said.
A subsequent outbreak of cholera that followed the quake spurred the group to embark on a new initiative to bring clean water to Chermaitre.
“Now a series of cisterns and PVC piping brings water to a well right by the school,” Andrew Meade said.
The group has since focused on four primary initiatives in Haiti: improving access to education, health care and clean water, and aiding in reforestation efforts through the planting of fruit and lumber trees. The organization has helped to plant 5,000 apricot, oak, cedar, lemon and mango trees. In March, volunteers will observe schools and a hospital in Cap-Haitien, work in a nearby medical clinic for a day and once again make the steep hike to Chermaitre.
Meade said the project, which has almost 100 volunteers, offers its members a profound learning experience.
“They’re exposed to the idea that it is possible for one human being to make a difference – that sometimes it just takes one idea to create fundamental, positive change in the world,” he said.
http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/article/20111201/NEWS01/312010016/Vassar-Haiti-Project-helps-village-gain-new-school-clean-water?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CPoughkeepsieJournal.com

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