Today was the first official day of school at St. Andres. We began the morning with assembly. The children were packed into the courtyard where the morning ceremonies took place. They just enrolled 200 new students this year bringing the total to 900+. We are trying to get a head count over the next few days as this will certainly impact the food program. Trying to work out the math, that would be 18,000 meals a month for 9 months. Today there was no hot lunch program, it starts tomorrow. I took the opportunity to see how many children brought lunch. In the 3- 5 year old range, it seemed to be about 75% of the kids. The others went without. We also met older students who travel from villages far out from Hinche. They stay with family or acquaintances for the week to study then return home for provisions on the weekends. The money and provisions sent, rarely is enough. This is why the Stop Hunger Now food program is so important. How can children learn if they haven’t eaten all day?
There are 17 classrooms at St. Andre’s, which makes the average class size 53. And let me tell you, the rooms are small, dark and hot. Additionally, there is so much noise from other classes that it is difficult to hear the teachers. The children are provided a very thin notebook per class and some pencils. These were distributed today. There are text books available in the secondary school if the student can afford them. Most of the learning is rote memorization or note taking. The teachers work very hard and the students seem very committed to learn.
I think I am trying to fill this blog entry with facts and figures to protect myself from my overwhelming emotions. It isn’t working. I spent a few rushed weeks before this trip creating this website. I used photos from other parishioner’s trips. The children looked so bright, happy and well kept. The truth is the children are bright, happy and well kept. But they are also in dire need of access to the most basic care and nutrition. After having several children from the 3 year old class on my lap for about an hour, I identified several children with signs of malnutrition. There were distended bellies under those well pressed smocks. One child seemed to have a possible tumor or herniated umbilicus. One had opaque pupils and several had slightly reddish tint to their hair, signifying vitamin deficiencies. I spoke with Pere Noe about a vitamin program with Vitamin Angels we are hoping to apply for. He said it would be very welcome. It will be on the top of my to do list when I get home.
We got to know an English teacher today called Evens. He is very bright, hardworking and has a good command of English. He was an accounting student at the University in Port au Prince. That was until his father passed away and he could no longer afford school. He teaches at the Catholic school as well and he runs an adult learner English business two nights a week. He says that most of his students can’t afford to pay. He teaches them anyway. He invited us to his evening class to help his students with English. So we went and it was a very cool experience. The students seemed happy to have us there. The majority of the students were young adults who want to learn English for job opportunities. They call English “the commercial language”. Lisa asked about 8 of the students what jobs they had; only one had work, as a book keeper.
On a personal note, Katie is struggling with the heat and I think the sensory overload. She is going to be ok, but she misses her home and friends very much. She is quite a trouper and I am so proud of her. If she would just stop asking me to buy food for the starving stray dogs, of which there are at least 3 every block...