And last Thursday was one of them. On that day we fulfilled a dream . . . and a promise. Two years ago, we decided that we wanted to build one or more schools in Northern Haiti to help the children. Thursday, we dedicated the first of those schools.
This is supposed to be a blog about ALLURE OF THE SEAS and I get great satisfaction from being involved in such a complicated and successful project. But I also get a great sense of satisfaction and fulfillment from the small project of developing a school for Haiti’s children and their parents. And since this is my blog, I get to share some of my joy.
In the early days of the project, preparations were moving along but too slowly for my taste. Then, almost exactly a year ago today, it got a boost when President Clinton visited Labadee with us as part of his efforts to help Haiti’s moribund economy. President Clinton and his Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) not only applauded the economic contribution our facility provided Haiti, but also encouraged our plan for the school. The pace picked up until disaster struck in the form of a horrific earthquake. Our efforts shifted to immediate relief including delivering over 3,000 pallets of relief supplies.
But the future beckoned and over the long term, Haiti’s future belongs to its children. The construction had to get started. We assigned the construction task to John Weis who heads our private destinations and shore programs; and the education program to Maryse Kedar who heads up our relations with Haiti. Maryse’s ProDev foundation has been devoted to education in Haiti since 1996 and established 21 tent schools in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.
Which brings us to Thursday. Thursday, we dedicated the school. Thursday, we fulfilled a dream and a promise. Thursday, we cried and we laughed.
Thursday, about 100 representatives from the community, the government, and the people involved with the project gathered with the children on the school grounds. The setting is magnificent; simply breathtaking. The school is located on a mountain ridge overlooking the deep, blue waters of Haiti’s rugged coastline. The image is like a picture postcard of a beautiful Caribbean resort. And the campus itself complements the view. The campus is divided into six buildings that include 12 classrooms, a computer lab, administrative offices, etc.
The buildings are designed to be sympathetic to the local architecture while providing natural cross ventilation and efficient classroom spaces. The buildings fan out from the center courtyard to provide a sense of intimacy while preserving the privacy each class needs. It also had to meet the needs of small children during the day and adults later on. Providing food and water to the students also needed to be factored in.
Certainly, Haiti needs more such private investment. Only 9% of the Haitian budget goes to education, which is a small percentage of a very small budget. As a result, only 12% of non-public elementary schools and 5% of secondary schools get any government subsidies, and only 8% of students who start first grade complete schooling without interruption.
But the stars of Thursday’s event were the children. We had speeches, of course, and everyone listened politely while the dignitaries expressed the important sentiments and thanked those who had worked so hard to make this happen. But the kids absolutely stole the show. With little opportunity to prepare, they sang their own welcome. Two hundred and thirty young voices really brought home to all of us why this was so important. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house (actually courtyard).
Making this happen took a lot of effort by a lot of people. John Weis and Maryse Kedar took the lead throughout and my appreciation of all they did is immeasurable. The buildings themselves were built by InnoVida who prefabricated the panels in Miami then transported them to Haiti onboard our ships. Fifty Haitian workers erected the structures in only 5 weeks. I must also express our appreciation to President Clinton and his CGI who encouraged us from the beginning and whose support was an important element in our success. His personal commitment to Haiti is noteworthy and laudable
I have attached some pictures of the event and the campus. It is worth noting that all the parents are asked to pay tuition. We wanted them to have a tangible part of the project and while the amount is small — $5 per month — it is important.
Some days are special.