Tremesse is not as much a village as it is a catchment area on the side of a mountain, a bumpy hour outside of Cap Haiten, Haiti's northern capital. It is estimated that between 4000-5000 people live in this lush, humid corner of Haiti. There is no village center, pathways lead off into the jungle at every angle. There is no pavement in Tremesse, no electricity, no plumbing, no stores and until recently no real school.
For anyone who has never visited a place like Haiti, it's almost impossible to understand how difficult life is. Click here to see a slide show tour of life in Tremesse created by a recent visitor.
How It All Began... The Tent School
A year ago, when we first visited Tremesse, the children were going to school each day under a makeshift
tent made of sticks, leaky tarps and old rice bags sewn together. School had to stop whenever the rains
came. Desperate to get even the most basic education for their children, the villagers found volunteers
to teach the kids. Despite the lack of any school building or books, more and more children squeezed
under the tent each day. For over four years, the School Committee had been searching for a partner that
could help them. When we saw the Tent School [photos to the right], we couldn’t say no.
At the beginning of 2009, we received a document from a friend of ours, Dr. Raymond Ford, who runs a
medical clinic and a school in Haiti. Dr. Ford told us that it was written by a group of Haitians that had
been passing it around for several years to anyone who would read it. Their proposal was a plea for
help—help to educate the children of Tremesse, kids who otherwise sat around all day with empty
bellies and minds eager to learn. After hearing about the conditions in Tremesse, we arranged a visit
before even translating the document.
Jan, a board member, describes her first visit:
“It was a long fifty-minute drive from Cap Haitien to the school. We finally saw it, at the end of a l ong muddy dirt road at the base of the mountains. It was the poorest school I have every seen – worse than any I’ve seen anywhere in Haiti or in India. It was just some poles holding up a leaky tarp. All of the children were sitting at benches with long rough planks for tables. There were four large blackboards under the tarp. That was all. There were no papers, or pencils, or slates, or books. All the work was taught and done on the blackboards. The children go to school from 8:00 until 1:00 afternoon, and they do not get any water or food, and there isn’t even an outhouse.
When we arrived, the students began singing songs, and after, with our driver Bernard translating, two men stepped forward and gave us their names: Floreal Michelet and Destin Francius. Then one man named Jonas Metelus, who seemed to be the leader, asked us a question.
He said, “What hope can you give us?” I said that their proposal hadn’t been translated into English before I had left for Haiti. He said, “After you read our proposal, what hope can you give us?” I said that we would all talk about what we could do as soon as we read it. Jonas said, “After you talk about it, what hope can you give us?” I looked pleadingly at my friend Jane and she said that we could do something but she didn’t know exactly what.
I could tell that I was missing something and by this time it was 3:00 and the kids were still sitting there and hadn’t eaten. I said that we wanted to take some pictures of the outside of the school and so I did and the kids still sat there. Then they said that the kids wanted to sing two more songs for us. The second one was about Jesus. I whispered to Jane that we needed to sing something for them and suggested, “Jesus loves the little children.” So we sang the song loudly. The kids clapped and cheered wildly. Bernard turned to us and said that “that” was the “hope” that they wanted to hear. We were absolutely blown away.
A PROMISE TO THE CHILDREN
On Jan’s first visit to Tremesse, all she could promise was a little bit of hope. But over the next few months, as all of us made that same trip, we knew we had to do more. And so we did: we partnered with the Village Committee to help them educate their children. Over the next year we were able to find enough funding to purchase land, and then to put in a well— still the only source of clean water in the Tremesse. Next we put in a septic system and latrines for the future school to keep that well clean—vital in a country where water-borne diseases are a killer. And then, as funds starting running low, we put in a temporary school that at least had a solid roof that didn’t leak.
Just after that tin-roof structure was finished, we stood inside it in front of the children and promised them that concrete walls and real classrooms were next. As always, we didn’t know how we’d get the funds, but we were partners with the kids and the Committee, so we knew we had to find a way. A year later, and we had found enough funding to build six classrooms, which will be finished by the end of the summer. We still need books, and desks, and a thousand other things, but with a little faith and help from donors, we’ll get there. See how you can help.