Today we are here to tell you all about what we have experienced in this first quarter of the school year, which has been long and varied.
We have already told you how, on August 14, a strong earthquake devastated the south and southwest of the country. The consequences of that tragedy are still continuing: villages and towns in ruins, bridges and roads impassable and gangs taking advantage of the disaster to rob and kidnap. Helping these areas is still very difficult, but we have already seen how Maria del Valle and Pablo, who we discuss below, were able to set up a week of mobile clinics with the Daughters of Charity. They are looking forward to another one in the near future.
But let's touch on each mission field to explain everything more clearly.
The Health Center is going well. Sick people come from the area and from far away. The influx multiplied during the time when the country ran out of gasoline, and was therefore without electricity and with a shortage of transportation. Many hospitals and health centers had to close their doors. Our center was able to remain open, thanks to our solar panels.
In mid-September, Pablo Escobar, a Chilean Jesuit brother came to join our community. He is a doctor and works in the Health Center providing consultation and follow-up to malnourished children because we are developing a beautiful nutrition program sponsored by the organization Milk for Haiti (with funds from the Chilean state). Malnourished children are treated until they are seven years old. With this same institution, we are developing another project, in which 21 people are trained so that they in turn can train the mothers to breastfeed their children well.
In addition to these two programs, we continue with the project that we have been developing for a couple of years with Manos Unidas, which allows us to have a general practitioner, a midwife, a laboratory technician, a social worker and a physiotherapist who works in a well-equipped physiotherapy room.
Also within this project is the establishment of mobile clinics, which so far has been done in remote places in the surrounding mountains, in collaboration with the Carmelites of Charity. Due to the insecurity of the situation that we now live in, the orientation of the clinics has been changed and one has been carried out in our Fe y Alegria school and will be replicated in other schools in the area. In these clinics, we are seeing new children, which is increasing the number of children assisted in the nutrition program. When this project with Manos Unidas ends, we plan to implement another project to provide eye care and possibly ENT services.
There is a job position at the Center that we need a person we can trust to fill: dispensing the prescriptions prescribed by the doctors and handling the money. This is something very sensitive that we can't entrust to anyone at the moment. Bibiane did it very well when she was with us and now, part of this activity is covered by Josefa, but it is not enough. For this reason, María del Valle has to do it and she combines this with the ultrasound scans without being able to consult, which is really her thing. The person we seek does not need to be a pharmacist, because the variety of medicines we have is very limited and when in doubt, the person can ask the prescribing doctor. The important thing is the warm welcome of the people and honesty with money. Would anyone like to come for a few months?
There have been many changes at the College. This year Marta is the director and, in the agreement we signed with Fe y Alegría, we were able to ask two people to leave the staff, the pedagogical coordinator and the social promoter, who were preventing us from developing a pedagogical project coherent with our educational philosophy, with that of Fe y Alegría and with the needs of the people.
The school environment has changed completely. A pedagogical coordinator was hired, a young man who had already worked at the school, who has completed his studies in Educational Sciences, and who works enthusiastically with a psychologist and a teacher who are developing a project to improve education, thanks to a project of the Solidarity Fund of the Mother House. Along with Marta, they form the Management Team. They are helped in the secretariat and administration by Adrien, a former monitor of Timoun Tèt Ansanm, the project of education in values that we developed for many years in Verrettes. Despite all these improvements, the school is full of challenges.
For several years, this school has been the one with the lowest school performance among the 16 that Fe y Alegría has in Haiti and finally this year we were able to make an initial evaluation in order to begin dealing with the problem. The result was as expected: the students in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades of primary school do not know how to read or write and numbers are foreign to them. The work in pre-school is even more discouraging. We have discussed this with teachers and parents and a path for improvement has been mapped out.
The school has the infrastructure to be able to improve in quality: two didactic rooms full of material, a library and computer room where they receive training from the five-year old preschool, as well as a beautiful dining room where they eat every day. Parents are collaborating in the improvement process and usually have meetings every month.
At the beginning of October we had a big party to celebrate the anniversary of the foundation of the school, with games, dances, and songs. We concluded the festivities with performances and a good meal with the whole school community. In addition to the parents, the director of FyA Haiti, Paul-Fils sj and Barbara, the expatriate of Entreculturas who helps us so much in the National Office, came. At the party we could see the improvement in the atmosphere. Paul-Fils told us that it looks like another school.
It is painful to see how more and more parents are leaving for other countries to look for a better life. They leave their children here and they become sad, unmotivated and undisciplined children because they feel abandoned. It is a very difficult task to give them the support they need.
It is a huge challenge to find well-trained teachers for the school. Currently we have very few teachers who have gone through regular school, and some have not finished high school. This is the profile that can be found in Balan and for the moment, this is what we have. We could have a well-trained teaching staff, but for security reasons, not even those who live in neighboring villages can come every day. We need to build, above the elementary school, a dormitory with a bathroom for boys and one for girls and a room to serve as a kitchen and work place. It would not be expensive because the roof of the primary school is prepared for it. In this way, the teaching staff could live here from Monday to Friday.
In addition, the school needs to have some economic activity that will allow it to earn income to help pay the salaries of the teachers and other staff. We are trying to develop beekeeping (every year a couple of swarms come to settle in our house - the Rotary club of Getxo has given us a hand in the past, and now they are trying to give us another one). We also need to build another cistern to collect more rainwater, not only for drinking but also to be able to grow the vegetables we need for the students' meals every week. Now Marta prepares a few sachets of juice and a few sachets of vanilla milk shake every day and sells them iced at recess time. This is how she is able to pay for the condiments each week.
This year, the food problem is very serious. The Sacred Heart School of Palma has been helping us for several years to supplement what the World Food Programme (WFP) has given us, but this year WFP has not given us anything since June so we have to buy rice, corn, beans, oil and some sausages and cans of fish every week so that they have a minimum of protein. We have complained to the WFP, but they don't listen to us.
However, we are not without hope and we are encouraged by the small achievements that are being made. We are looking forward to the arrival of Rosita Vasquez from the province of Peru in February, God willing, to join us in this exciting adventure.
Matilde's work in Fe y Alegría continues to be valuable but difficult, due to the insecurity of the country. At the end of August she was supposed to go to Jean-Rabel (Northwest) to have a week of training with the six schools of Fe y Alegría there, but the plane that usually makes these trips had suspended flights to dedicate itself to take aid and passengers to the South, which had suffered from the earthquake. Road travel was impossible for safety reasons.
On the night of October 4, there was a huge fire in the National Office premises and the entire office of the Jesuit Migrant Service (SJM) and 50% of Fe y Alegria went up in smoke. The pedagogy department, which is Matilde's department, lost everything: computers, files, external memories with backup copies...so now she is starting from scratch.
However, she was able to resume the training workshop at Jean-Rabel at the end of October. This workshop was a great experience. There Matilde is developing a project with the Spanish Agency for Development Cooperation (AECID) to revitalize the preschool and to promote the study of Kreyòl in preschool and primary school. For the preschool, the expected final product will be the creation of about twenty short videos, a couple of minutes long, of new pedagogical practices, very simple and with basic or recycled material. The videos will be uploaded to the Fe y Alegría and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) networks, for the use and learning of any Haitian teacher who wants to consult them. With regard to the development of Kreyòl in primary school, we will be publishing books in Kreyòl consisting of proverbs, cooking recipes and medicinal remedies collected in the area and collections of short texts and stories written by the students. We hope that they will be interesting enough to enrich the libraries of our centers and to sell them in bookstores.
In order to revive the preschool, we have spent the past school year holding five training seminars with the teachers and above all training a group of five of them with whom we have been able to produce a series of 41 practices of active pedagogy to be developed in the classroom, which will cover the curriculum of the three-, four- and five-year old classes. The work has been so good that in the seminar held at the end of October, these five teachers have been able to train their colleagues. This also ensures that we have a team that can continue to maintain the good level of preschool in the FyA schools, not only in Jean-Rabel but in other places as well and in any other preschool in the area. The book project is going slower, but there is still time.
In January Matilde will go to the two M&A schools in Jacmel to train teachers to develop the same project as in Jean-Rabel. In February she will go with the three psychologists working in FyA to the school that FyA has in Desormeaux, in the earthquake zone, to work with teachers, students and families on the post-traumatic recovery process. FyA has already made several trips to bring food and hygiene supplies and when Matilde goes, they will also bring plenty of school supplies because parents cannot afford to buy anything this year.
Balan is an oasis of peace in the middle of this troubled country. We try to go out as much as we can and always inform ourselves about the security situation in the places where we have to go. Fe y Alegria is looking into the possibility of getting fiber optics so that Matilde can go to the office as little as possible and attend meetings by videoconference. This would be a great relief that would benefit the community, the school, the health center and some schools in the area that seem to be interested.
These days Josefa is on vacation, and the doctors in Puerto Rico and Marta are trying to solve all the problems that come up so that she can go on vacation as well. The country has not been hard hit by COVID. There are cases but it is not comparable to what we know about other places.
All we have to do now is to say goodbye. This time of waiting for Christmas has a lot to do with what we live here on a daily basis. We believe that a world of justice and peace is possible and we look forward to it by working every day to achieve it.
We dream of an immense Bethlehem where each person, with his or her gifts and limits, can discover the Presence of the Child, poor and helpless like any newborn, who comes every day to share our lives and is capable of transforming them.
A big hug and Merry Christmas.
Matilde Moreno rscj
On behalf of the Community of Balan, Haiti
December 3, 2021