This story comes to us from Esther Ro, our Creative Content Producer in Haiti. Esther has spent the last three months rolling around the Central Plateau with her trusty camera meeting the teachers, students, and communities that make up our network of schools.
Many of the schools in the Summits network are only accessible by foot and some require hours of hiking from the nearest road. The community school in Morne Mouton is one of these rural schools.
From the moment I landed in the Central Plateau, I couldn’t wait to meet and explore these communities in particular. While some may balk at the idea of building a school so far from village or city centers, they are necessary in order to provide each and every student access to an education. In this way, these rural schools and communities represent a fierce dedication to education as the community leaders and parents that started these schools recognize that education is the first step in creating equitable, healthy, thriving communities, even in the most remote locations.
You can spot Morne Mouton from the city of Mirebalais, where I live, high up in the mountains. But the school itself is a two hour hike from the nearest road - paved or otherwise.
It had rained the previous night and it was a foggy with ominous gray skies the morning we set out to visit the school. I was a little worried that the paths would be muddy and feared that the weather wouldn’t cooperate. I thought, “Should we do this another time, when the clouds aren’t so threatening?” But no one else seemed too concerned, so on we went.
The trails from the start were steep and rocky. Not fifteen minutes into our hike, we met a few local villagers, a woman and three men, who were loading their mules with sacks of sand and lumber. I was stunned to learn that they made the trip over the mountain and back three times each day. We let them pass before moving on.
I wish I could say the views were amazing as we hiked along, but the dense fog made our vertical progress appear futile. About an hour and a half in, we turned a bend and could see the school, a peach-colored structure, perched a few summits over. So close, yet so far. At this point, we hadn’t come across any homes or other people. I wondered how far the students had to walk to get to such a remote location.
Another thirty minutes later, we arrived at our destination: Ecole St. Michael. There was a small stone-and-mortar building adjacent to the school, and I was surprised to see classes held there. Upon walking around to the school, I saw that it was incomplete, desks and benches stacked atop each other in the courtyard alongside piles of metal beams and wooden planks.
Principal Petit Maxo came out to greet us. When I asked about the construction, he explained that rain caused the classrooms to flood because the corrugated tin roofs were in poor condition. A local family had donated 15,000 gourde (~$250) to buy tarps to provide better shelter; staff and teachers came early to school to shake the excess water off before the start of class.
The school was built in 2013, but these renovations had begun just two weeks before. In the meantime, school was being held in the church next door and two classes were meeting at the founder’s home a 15-minute walk away.
Most students walk approximately 45 minutes to get to St. Michael. Although it is a long commute, 2nd grade teacher Dorzin Jeantho says this community is fortunate to have a school here, remembering his childhood days of walking for two hours to receive his primary education.
Being a teacher at St. Michael is not easy. The current shared space is cramped and distracting and there is no clean water or electricity in the building. “Even though the situation is bad, I try to forget about all of that and think only of the community,” said 1st grade teacher Raymond St. Nelson. “My job isn’t just to teach, it’s to serve the community."
Raymond isn’t the only one who is community minded. It is beautifully evident how much all of the teachers here care for not just their students but for their community at large. You can see the joy in their faces as they read to their students and lead them in multiplication tables. All the teachers grew up and continue to reside in the village of Morne Mouton and they take great pride in having returned to their home after completing higher education unlike others who seek more comfortable lives in cities. “Communities cannot develop without schools,” said 3rd grade teacher Bernard Lamitho. “And I love my community, so I teach.”
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