An Apple for the Teacher

4 Apr

 

Meet Rea Dol

Meet Rea Dol

Rea Dol is an educator and founder of SOPUDEP, the Society for the Provenance of Economic Development of Petion Ville. She runs a school in Morne Lazaire where children attend Grades 1 to 11, supported in large part by a Canadian named Ryan Sawatsky. Here is my Q and A with her, carried out on a Saturday morning last month at the mobile health for women clinic where she was volunteering.

 

How did you get into education?

My Mom, who had nine children, never had the chance when she was a little kid to go to school. So she went to literacy school and eventually became a teacher herself. And I was so happy to see my Mom working as a teacher, even though the pay was really small. When a program started to be a volunteer, I was inspired by my Mom.

When the literacy program started, I was a volunteer, in my classroom there were 35 children. It was difficult because I had the special program for adults.

So I know that in Haiti there are so many NGOs working with children. I sent a letter to them saying, ‘I have 35 children in my class. Could you make maybe just a quick visit to see how those kids could go to school?’ Most didn’t give me any answer. One of the big NGOs said, ‘go into your community, do a survey to see if you find more children.’”

(She did that, and found many more families who could not afford to send their children to school but Plan International, the organization that had suggested she do this in the first place, was not interested in helping.)

But I’m not discouraged because I wanted to do something for the kids. So I went to the mayor of Petion Ville, and one day I was surprised. I saw a car with police, and it was the mayor. He said, oh, you’re doing a good job. If you find a place, I will give you authorization to start a school.’” That how I founded SOPUDEP.

(The place Rea found was a house belonging to a Tonton Macoute named Lionel Wooley who fled Haiti after the fall of Duvalier regime. She started her school 14 years ago with over 300 students, and now has 837. She is also building a new school at in Delmas that is almost ready to open.)

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There are lots of private schools in Haiti, charging as much as $500 a year. Why is yours different from other privately-run schools?

One difference is when the kids come to my school it is like a family. So it’s not only they come to learn. We try to give a good education and training for life to the kids. Any problems the children have, they can come to us, even if it is boyfriend problems.

The parents who can afford to pay for their children, pay $10 a month, but 40 percent of the parents can’t afford to pay, and their kids come to school anyway. For example, this February, if I could have enough from the parents to pay two teachers, I would be so happy. Anyway the kids come to school because I have a partner in Canada who helps me pay the teachers.

After they finish high school we also try to find a way — because most kids in Haiti, when they finish high school, if their parents don’t have any way to send them to university, they are just sitting there doing nothing. But at SOPUDEP, we try with the friends we have outside, to help them go to university.

Why is that needed ?

The reason that is important in Haiti is because most of the parents they are like people who have given up. They don’t think about what will happen to their kids. If you want to go to school, go to school. If you want to study, study. If you want to do something, that’s your choice. So they don’t really care about their kids. Because in Haiti, the misery is a big big challenge. So its part of the job of the teachers at SOPUDEP to try and talk to the kids, even if it just for 15 minutes.

Education in Haiti has different faces, not only the kids come to learn to read, but you must have other accompaniment for the children because they need that.

Do you have to train your teachers to do that?

 It’s a problem when the teachers sometimes don’t accept to do that. They follow the ministry curriculum, they don’t have time. (So) you inspire the teacher to do that.

How do you do that?

Not only the teachers, all the staff , I try to convince them: when you work with children you must be happy every day! The kids make you happy. You have to inspire people, not tell them you must do this, you must do that. You must follow me. No!

(Now some her students are organizing to do volunteer work. They asked her for some advice on how to collect money, and she suggested they start saving whatever money they could, and keep it at the school. Now different classes are competing to try to set up their own programs. “It’s really amazing!” she said. She also gets them to do volunteer work with her. )

We have to change the culture. Its not outside people who are going to make that change for us, even if they are volunteers, even if they have ideas for change, even if they have all the money in the world. Nothing will change if I don’t have any will to change my country. We must start here. That’s why I need the children to start here. That’s why I need the teachers to start here. I need everybody to start here.

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We started very small, I didn’t even US$10 in SOPUDEP bank account. But I have ideas and will and all the determination to create something for young people, for women. So now people know.

Tell me a bit about the education system in Haiti. I know that only about 20 per cent of Haitian children go to public schools that do not charge fees, that many do not attend school at all and that there are many schools nick-named borlettes, or lotteries, because parents have no idea if their child will come out with an education or not.

The system of education we have in Haiti is a mess. We have to change it. There are many schools they call borlette, where someone sees all the kids who don’t go to school, they maybe have a room, so they put a bench and call it a school. The government is supposed to inspect this school, but it doesn’t.

What about rural schools?

 Very few teachers in the rural schools are accredited or have the education to be a teacher. And if they work for a public school, a government school, they can go three months, six or ten, without getting paid. That’s why if today I can come, I will, but tomorrow, if I have something else to do, I just leave.

What about President Martelly’s new National Fund for Education?

 That’s another mess. In SOPUDEP, for example, they take 45 children in each grade. If you have more, they take 45, they don’t care about the rest. So for the 45 students they pay US $90 per year. Just now, this year, they gave the money from last year. And the bank takes off a fee as well.

I think what the government should do is take 45 children, or 90 children, off the street, new students, and give the money for them. Right now it’s not a new group of children who go to school for free. The way they make the program is not good. They are supposed to build more public schools, more high schools, and pay the teachers, not the people who have private schools, who already make a lot of money.

So private schools also have the right to this $90?

 Exactly.

How optimistic are you that things can change in Haiti?

It will take time. But I believe Haiti can change. It is our responsibility to make this change, not the NGOs.

 

 

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