Stories of Change

The finished new school in Cassavon.

A bright future inside the bright blue walls

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew devastated the Grand Anse department of Haiti. Its powerful winds destroyed homes and buildings and wiped out crops and livelihoods. 

As families lost both their source of income and assets in the hurricane, they had limited means to recover from the devastation. The damage was done in a matter of hours. Recovery would take years. 

After Hurricane Matthew, we helped families rebuild their homes. We repaired or rebuilt schools; distributed livestock to families to raise; and put seeds in the hands of hundreds of capable farmers. One of the schools that our team focused on is the public school in Cassavon. It was badly damaged in the storm–so badly, in fact, that students learned under tarps instead of in classrooms. 

The community of Cassavon came together for their school. Countless neighbors pitched in to help our team get supplies to the school site–which is not accessible by car– and build a new, safer school. The school reopened in September 2019. In early 2020 (well before the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Haiti), the moment of celebration came. The official inauguration of the new public school happened on January 30. Students raised the Haitian flag in the courtyard. CWS staff, government officials and community leaders mingled with the families of the community. The bright blue paint gleamed from the new classroom buildings, bathrooms and school office. 

Merenel Simon, who serves on the school’s committee of parents, said, “I am proud of this school. Hats off for the population of Cassavon because whenever I announced there was work to do, the people came. When we live together in a community, it is important to join hands to produce something good. The construction workers didn’t come here to take it easy, either–they came here to work hard. Thank you, construction workers, thank you engineers.”

During the inauguration of the new school, teacher Ernso Louis Charles reflected on the long road to this happy day. “The school building we had before was not constructed well,” he recalls. “During hurricane Matthew we thought it could serve as a shelter, but unfortunately it was among the first buildings that were affected…When the school was destroyed, we had no hope for reconstruction. We used tarps, but whenever it rained the children got wet. When it rained for weeks, the school had to close. Later, we built a shelter on the site where the new school was constructed. We cut tree branches to build the shelter and each community member contributed what they could. This new construction is a pride for me and a pride for the children, because we were in a very bad shape. Some parents chose to take their children out of school because of the bad situation it was in.”

“I did not feel good sending my children to school under those conditions because there were a lot of rocks and dust, but they had to go because there was nowhere else to go,” recalls Louis Charles Lucette, a mother of two students. “When I learned the new school was going to be built, I felt really happy. I helped carry water and sand…When we saw how the foundation and trenches were being dug, how the work was done, we were happy because it was different from how we had seen construction been done before. Now the school construction has been completed and we feel proud. Wherever we go, we are proud and happy of the way we hear people talk about this school, how beautiful it is and such a good quality construction.”

Annesophie Jean Baptiste, a 14-year-old student, spoke to our team at the inauguration. “If a hurricane or other natural disaster were to happen while I am at school, I would not be afraid,” she said. “If I could give advice to children in the community who don’t go to school, I would encourage them to go to school to learn to read and write, to learn something for the future.”

A fourth grade student named Naika Thomas added, “I am happy with this beautiful construction. I am happy for the commune to develop. I like the way the teachers work with me at school. I walk an hour from home to get to school…I thank everyone who gave support and gave us this school.”

Haiti has had more than its share of dark days. Hurricane Matthew was one of its darkest in recent years. But when neighbors stand together, the light days come, too. That day in January was certainly one of the light days, looking forward to a new chapter in a stronger, safer building. 

[Remember the houses that CWS helped rebuild after the storm? Many were for public teachers, including Ernso Louis Charles. When talking about his house, he said, “That helped me to become more motivated. The government has not done anything for me, but Church World Service raised me up. When my house was destroyed, I had no money or possibility to reconstruct it. It was CWS that showed me how construction should be done. CWS respects all construction norms. I therefore know that my house is strong. Whenever there is another hurricane, my house will serve as a shelter for others. CWS does not waste money. It is a good example of an organization that helps in sustainable development.”]