Saturday, 5 June 2010

Haiti – Day 2

Today we were taken by Revd Marco Depestre, Secretary of Conference and Superintendent of the Port-au-Prince Circuit, to New College Bird in the centre of the city. The Methodist Church in Britain's World Church Fund has provided emergency funding for this and other schools, including for temporary classrooms and teachers' salaries.

It is close to the Presidential Palace that became an international symbol of the power of the destruction on 12th January.

Some of the classrooms of this Methodist school were also destroyed and we witnessed work being done to remove the debris. The government have provided some temporary classrooms, although a small number of classes still take place under tarpaulin.

Despite the trauma the children and teachers have been through, they were determined to try to re-establish some form of normality as soon as possible and school lessons started again in March.

As we visited, some students were taking exams, others were doing last minute revision, whilst younger children were playing happily in the playground. It was uplifting to see.

Next door to the school is the main Methodist Church in the capital. With only the loss of the bell tower it has survived relatively well.

Sadly the nearby Anglican and Catholic cathedrals which were both destroyed, the Catholic archbishop being killed along with others when the cathedral collapsed.

Elsewhere in the city the Methodist College de Freres has been largely spared serious damage but the playground remains the home for a large number of people living in tents although school life goes on around it.

The Methodist Church in Haiti headquarters is next door and is also the centre used for publishing and printing, including school books used extensively outside Methodist schools. Edzaire Paul, the Director of Methodist school work has also had to step in to manage the printing work too as the former manager was killed.

The 100 Methodist run schools have faced major financial challenges since the earthquake. Previously 70% of costs were met by the Church, often relying on overseas donors, Switzerland in particular, and 30% came from parents. However many parents have now lost their jobs and regular income, and so are unable to pay school fees. This in turn makes it difficult for the Church to pay teachers’ salaries. The Methodist Church in Britain has helped towards this, but a longer term solution needs to be found to enable these schools, many in very poor areas, to continue.

One school that has faced massive challenges is run by St Martin’s Methodist Church. The whole school and church collapsed leaving only one building in which we met the church committee that has set about making plans for the future. No heavy lifting equipment has been available so they have managed to clear one side of the plot by hand over a 3 week period and are now starting to do the same on the other where the church itself once stood.

On the Sunday after the earthquake the congregation gathered to give thanks for the lives that had been spared. They now meet every week under a tarpaulin although earlier in the morning than normal when it is cooler. Likewise the school has tried to open again on the cleared area, but lessons for the 300 children have to be finished by 11 am rather than 1pm to avoid the worst of the heat.

We met Mike Willis who co-ordinates the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission scheme. He expects 75 teams of volunteers from churches around the USA to start coming in a few months time to help with reconstruction projects. We listened to the St Martins members about what they thought a team could do to help them, and they were clearly appreciative that we had come and not forgotten them.

As we left St Martins with heavy rain flooding the road, we realised how easy it will be for infection to spread through the rubbish and rubble strewn streets as well as the camps that have limited sanitation.

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