A School in the Clouds

August 16, 2017

When a Haitian community and UNICEF work together to build a new school, the sky's the limit.

UNICEF USA Deputy Director of Public Relations Lauren Davitt travelled to Haiti earlier this year to visit a remarkable school built high on a mountaintop. Here, she reflects on the power and persistence of a Haitian community of parents and teachers who, with the help of UNICEF and partners, are determined to provide their children with the quality education they deserve. 

We set out from Cap-Haïtien on dusty, barely paved roads, heading to the Haitian countryside. With every mile that passes, the roads become more treacherous, and the incline gets steeper. We head up, up, up — impossibly higher on what looks like a trail, and could barely be called a road.

We head up, up, up — impossibly higher on what looks like a trail, and could barely be called a road. 

Our driver, experienced and calm, confirms that the school is up ahead. We brace ourselves for the final stretch of the two-and-a-half-hour journey. For the next several hundred yards, we bounce over boulders, unnervingly close to the cliff's edge. The driver tells us our durable 4x4 can’t go any higher. As we get out to hike the final bit, the school appears on the top of the hill.  

 

In the video above, teacher Joel Matthieu recalls the early days when the National School Beudoret was just a dream. "When we arrived here... there was no school, just a group of people. The parents had to pitch in; they cut wood and bamboo," he says. "We used to sing a song called 'My Beautiful Little School' even before the construction began." 

We arrive at The National School Beudoret in Plaisance, a small town in Haiti’s Nord (North) district. As soon as we see the smiling faces on the dozens of kids running to meet us, the enormity of UNICEF’s education work in Haiti (and in 190 countries around the world) starts to fall into place.

 

Students came running down the mountain, eager to greet the visitors from UNICEF and give them a tour of their school. 

The school's director, Dieulage Saint-Jean, tells us that this is the only school in the surrounding area. The children who attend wouldn't be in school otherwise. These bright, young children who are so eager to engage and connect wouldn't have the chance to pursue their dreams if it wasn't for UNICEF supporting the hardest to reach students — and, in this case, the hardest to reach locations.

Every nut and bolt, every desk and pencil, had to make the same arduous journey we made.

A few parents came to school today to tell us how the whole community lent a hand when it came to building the school. Everyone helped bring supplies up the mountain. Every nut and bolt, every desk and pencil, had to make the same arduous journey we made. It’s a testament to both UNICEF’s logistical expertise, and the importance of having community support.

 

School Director Dieulage Saint-Jean is a classroom teacher as well. Before the school was built, teachers were given a small piece of slate to write on and hold up for their students to see. Now they have big, wall-mounted chalkboards.   

Teacher Joel Matthieu tells us how the school isn't an average school: It was built using innovative building techniques to be both anti-seismic and anti-cyclonic. This meant that when Hurricane Matthew pounded the country last year, the students knew they would have a school to return to, and that it would be safe. The building even served as a temporary refuge for the community after the storm.

These dedicated young scholars travel up to two hours each way just to have a chance to learn.

A number of students tell us how excited they are to come to school every day, and what they want to be when they grow up. A girl sitting next to me wants to be the senator for her local region, so she can ensure that every child has the opportunity to attend school like she does. One little boy wants to be a soccer star; another, a doctor. These dedicated young scholars travel up to two hours each way just to have the chance to learn.

After sitting in on a class learning basic Creole, it’s time to go. Boys are running around the grounds, and girls wave goodbye as we start the long journey back. As the car heads downhill, I think about how despite the number of challenges these families face, this community — and Haiti as a whole — is determined to move forward.

As the bus heads downhill, I think about how despite the number of challenges these families face, this community—and Haiti as a whole—is determined to move forward. 

UNICEF is supporting the next generation while engaging the local community and utilizing the latest innovations to ensure lasting change. Haiti’s future leaders, future doctors and next great soccer stars will have the education they need to fuel their potential in years to come. Please support UNICEF's work to educate children around the world.

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Above: UNICEF Deputy Director of Public Relations Lauren Davitt joined a class of schoolchildren learning basic Creole at the National School Beudoret in Plaisance, Haiti.

 

Photo at top: Students eager to learn travel up to two hours each way to reach Haiti's National School Beudoret high on a hilltop. All photos by Maxence Bradley for UNICEF USA.