by Rob Crittenden, Board member for Haiti Educational Foundation (HEF)

Haiti has seen its share of tragedy: years of foreign intervention that mostly ignored the needs of ordinary Haitians; a devastating earthquake in January, 2010; an unsteady, almost non-existent government which provides no national services and infrastructure; and now a class IV hurricane that targeted western Haiti and washed away food supplies, crops and fruit trees and killed people and farm animals. Thousands are starving and the news cycle has long moved onto other things.

Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have come to the help of Haitians in times of need, and most move on to other areas to help cope with the next disaster. One NGO that has been a part of the fabric of Haiti for 35+ years is Haiti Education Foundation (HEF), whose mission is to create and support elementary (and some post-elementary) schools for the poorest of the poor in the south mountains of Haiti. With no public schools, Haitian families have to pay for private education for their children, a nearly impossible task for this region of mostly subsistence farmers.

My wife, Beth, and I were introduced to HEF in 1998, when two church members at our Roanoke, VA church gave a presentation about their recent trip. I began traveling in Haiti that year and was asked to join the HEF board of directors in 2010, becoming increasingly more active since.

HEF Founders Frances Landers and Father Jean-Wilfrid Albert determined that the best path to self-sufficiency in a poor country like Haiti is education. Frances, a resident of El Dorado, Arkansas, first traveled to Haiti with her ophthalmologist husband, Gardner, who was doing cataract surgery in a PCUSA-supported hospital west of Port-au-Prince. She met the dynamic Episcopalian priest Father Albert who implored her to help him educate the scores of young children, lifelessly wandering with nothing to do. It was the partnership between the fundraiser, Frances, and the visionary, Father Albert, that ultimately built 40 primary schools and six high schools where few, if any, options for education existed in the poorest part of the poorest country in the western hemisphere. It was Frances’ rule, and it stands today, that 100% of all donations go directly to the mission for which it is designated. An anonymous donor has long underwritten all administrative costs so that this rule could be followed.

HEF educates about 7000 children in K-6 primary schools which are scattered throughout the south mountains and along the south coast. Those who test at the top of their class move on to our high schools, and some who score high and can find a sponsor can graduate from a Port-au-Prince university in one of several undergraduate programs.

Most of HEF’s budget goes toward paying teachers, aides and administrators at our schools. Any additional undesignated funds go towards repairing or rebuilding schools, and helping particularly needy students and their families with books, school uniforms and shoes. When disaster strikes, a fund is there to replenish food, seeds and livestock and we’ve recently been sending truckloads of supplies to our remote villages.

Father Albert died in 2005 of pancreatic cancer and Frances died in 2010 at the age of 93. But HEF’s mission goes on. In the years since the passing of our founders, we have paired individual church congregations with specific schools, boosting the connections between our sponsors and our students. Most church sponsors are Presbyterian, a few are Episcopalian and we also encourage sponsorship by individuals and families. In addition to paying for salaries, some sponsors are providing a lunch program, working through our partner, Trinity/Hope, which specifically feeds schoolchildren in faith-based schools in Haiti. Another partner, Living Water for the World, can install a community solar-powered clean water system on the school grounds. And another, HHP (Haiti Health Partnership), operates a clinic in one of our villages. We would love to have more.

We have faith that our mission will continue. We have seen our students grow up with an education and leave the cycle of poverty. Many have returned to their communities as teachers, religious leaders or employees for one of the many NGOs that operate in Haiti. We hope to bring on more regular donors and sponsors, open more schools and rebuild our damaged ones, add more lunch programs, and put in more clean water systems. We would encourage you to visit haitifoundation.org and see what we are doing. I’d love to hear from you: rob@rvwc.com.

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