Google+ WTN Haiti Partnership: October 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

Notes from D.C. Conference on Future of St. Vincent's


Last weekend, a group gathered in Washington, D.C. for a conference organized by Margaret McLaughlin of the Friends of St. Vincent's. Susan, Sienna, and Sherye traveled from Memphis to participate. Pere Sadoni joined as well and gave us an update on the school. Below is a summary of Dr. Nelson's notes, with details on several critical elements of life at the school.

SCHOOL LOCATION/RELOCATION
The Haitian government told Pere Sadoni (not sure when) that they would be taking over the school property, hereafter referred to as SITE 2, which is where the medical clinic and dorms and admin offices are currently located. The school and these services would therefore need to relocate. SITE 1 nearby remains the property of St. Vincent's School; it has the newly renovated prosthetics (brace shop) and PT facility, and for at least the next 2-3 years it is expected to contain all medical activities. This includes Dr. Beauvoir (orthopedist), Dr. Ferdinand (pediatrician), Dr. Kado (family doctor), and Dr. Marius (eyedoctor). These are the Haitian medical staff at St. Vincent's. Our medical clinics will run at SITE 1 for the foreseeable future.

Pere Sadoni was told he must vacate SITE 2 by the end of June 2014. Through some influential contacts with the government thru Tom Landry, the eviction was delayed until the end of August. Pere Sadoni met with the Prime Minister and also the Secretary of State for Financial Affairs on several occasions over the summer. Despite these meetings he was told to vacate and advised to "take out everything of value" before the bulldozers showed up. Therefore, Pere Sadoni took out every door and window and ceiling fan and hand railing, putting all of this in storage. The buildings around the school are apparently in rubble as the bulldozers have razed the surrounding buildings, including the wall that surrounded the school. Therefore security is now a concern as well. The medical clinic is no longer standing. 

Pere Sadoni looked at several places for rent, but the cost ranged from $10,000 US per year to $20,000 per month. After several meetings as noted above, and AFTER Pere Sadoni gutted the property, he was then told he could "stay thru September 2015." Meanwhile, one of the teachers reported to Pere Sadoni they could not stay in their classroom anymore. Apparently when the wall came down, people started throwing garbage behind one of the buildings. The smell was horrible and drew flies. This class of ten students is now meeting in a storage closet.

On a bright note, Sadoni reported that last spring, 100 students passed their State Exams. 16 moved onto the 6th grade and 13 moved onto 9th grade. This year school began Oct 6 with 197 children. By the end of week one they had 220 and expect 300 by the first of November. Pere Sadoni went to each classroom and had a small service and blessed each child one by one, he says to tell them they are loved by God and each one must try to do their best this year.

Pere Sadoni explained why he wants to build a secondary school for the deaf children who are doing so well and have advanced to 6th grade. They don't have a good option in Haiti to continue their education, because the only other school for the deaf in Haiti does not teach (or even allow) sign language. There was some input from others at the conference that this might be changing soon; however, the deaf kids currently have no place to finish their education and qualify for University. I thought to myself, now there's a man of faith. His current school is in rubble and he has a vision for educating the deaf students thru high school! More on that later...

WATER FILTRATION SYSTEM
One of the pipes for this system was stolen, but it has been replaced and the system is in working order. Clean water for students and staff. There is now a new concrete wall around the cistern and pipes for security (as I said the outside wall came down)

FOOD
Many organizations that have supported St V in the past are either no longer doing this or have reduced their contribution to rice only. The school still has to buy beans, oil, etc. Pere Sadoni named at least six different orgs he has been in contact with. Specific figures were not discussed, however I assume they have not changed from the $6000 per month required last school year to feed the children.

DORM
Pere Sadoni lowered the dorm's age limit to 14 years. Older children can no longer board at the school (this does not apply to the orphans, about 28 total orphans). They have 23 new boarders, for a total of 51 residents.

SALARIES FOR STAFF AND TEACHERS
Haiti has new minimum wage laws. 225 Gdes (approx $4 US) for one day, 8 hours. If you fire an employee, they go to the Dept of Social Affairs and report what you were paying them. You must make up the deficit for the last 4-5 years between what you were paying them and what the law requires. Then an investigator comes to make sure your institution can pay min wage for each employee. If not, they shut you down.

Currently St. V teachers make less than min wage (<$100 per month). There are 51 teachers. Each classroom has two teachers including one teacher for the deaf or blind students. Plus there are all the cooks, cleaners, other support staff. Much discussion at the conference about budgets, deficits, and how to bring St. V into compliance with the law.

WHAT HAPPENS SEPT 2015?
There is land available in Santo, near the airport, which we hope to purchase using part of the generous donation by Dr. Mary White from Manhattan. Currently negotiations involve Bishop Duracin and the Episcopal Church Central Office in New York. This is 7-8 acres of FLAT land, with a 3500 sq ft house all on one level. Could be turned into dorms. Ideal site, per Tom Landry, who is an architect

IF this land is purchased by First Quarter 2015, construction can begin but realistically not ready for school to open in Sept 2015. Maybe the residents could be moved into the existing house?
Temporary classrooms can be built on SITE 1 for about $50,000 US. There is apparently transportation provided by Haitian gov't for other disabled kids to go to school in Montfort (the other deaf school I mentioned) so this may be option for our students as well, since the new land is near Montfort. Also discussion about shared services between the two schools.

At the end of his presentation, Pere Sadoni thanked all of us for our work to support St. Vincent's. He said we are following God's commission to "support the weak". And we are doing just that. He reminded us that Sister Joan's original goal was "no integration without education". And that 4.6% of handicapped persons in Haiti don't get regular meals

SMALL GROUPS
After his presentation we broke into 3 small groups including 
I. Medical/prosthetics shop/PT/OT/hearing testing/speech therapy. 
II. education III. admin/ budget.

Each small group discussed assets/needs/solutions

I. In brief, the Medical Group agreed to a goal of establishing a COMMON MEDICAL RECORD to be used by all involved with the care of the students, including PT/OT, hearing evals, other disabilities, and general medical care. There is already a National Database in Haiti for persons with disabilities, and a secretary at St. V who can access these records online and print out forms for each provider to use. We hope to expand this. Team Canada visits St. V twice/year, tests the kids for hearing and provides hearing aids. Their next trip is mid October and will overlap with the CBU nurses and Dr. Trzynka in first week of November. Next steps toward communication and collaboration can begin, and creation of a common medical record.

II. Education Group discussed teacher training (now required by Haitian gov't) and food production at the school thru technology provided by 100 Gardens. Check out their website. They farm tilapia and use the effluent to grow vegetables. Very efficient. Opportunities for curriculum development, business models, trade skills, etc. not to mention feeding the kids and possibly turning a profit.
Plans are to install two portable towers at current St. V site as a test project!

III. Admin/Budget Group discussed budget to meet all salary demands incl new min wage laws, and short term/long term plans for current St. V and new St. V. The current operating budget is approx $14,000 per month. Needs to be $18,000 per month to increase wages as discussed.

Tom Landry gave a passionate description of the NEW ST. VINCENT'S:

New St. V property has vision of sustainable farming, a guesthouse which attracts outside visitors as well as St. V visitors/volunteers. Medical center for treatment of handicapped, with training site for physical therapy and other health profession students. Brace shop serving greater Port-au-Prince area. Educational center with training site for teachers. "A MODEL FOR THE CARIBBEAN" Tom said.

Overall an intense meeting with lots of passion.

Susan Nelson
Medical Director
West Tennessee Haiti Partnership