Over a year ago, representatives of the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) approached Haiti Outreach Country Director Neil Van Dine about a USAID grant they received for providing water and sanitation in schools. There are very few schools in Haiti with both their own water well and latrines that are managed – kept clean and having the appropriate supplies like soap, toilet paper, tampons etc. As a result, as girls reach puberty, they often miss as much as a week of school every month and get behind and even drop out of school. PADF wanted us to apply for part of this grant to see how we could use our community development experience to organize the parents, students, school administrators, and the Haiti Ministry of Education, to create a sustainably managed WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) program for schools that could be replicated.
In keeping with our community engagement model, we began by engaging the regional Ministry of Education officials, to see if there was interest in such a program and a request for us to follow through with engaging schools in Pignon. To make it sustainable, part of this program would have to be the raising of school tuition a little bit so there would be money for the supplies and to pay someone to keep the facilities clean.
Out of the 12 schools the Ministry contacted, only 3 expressed enough interest for us to proceed with creating such a program. When we had them elect a management committee for the school and write up a budget to figure out how much money each student would need to pay extra to have this service, only 1 of those 3 schools followed through. They determined it would cost the equivalent of an extra $4.50 annual fee per student for having that program operate for their school, which the management committee agreed they wanted.
While this may seem very routine to us in the U.S. to have these paid services, this was quite a transformational process for these parents and, in particular, the students to have a voice in a matter affecting their daily lives and their school in Haiti in this way. Students had the courage to stand up and speak as leaders and to create a future for their school, a rare opportunity. The parents and students took their WASH budget for this program to the school administrators, which in turn took that request to the regional Ministry of Education, as everything in Haiti has central control nationwide, even for something this “small”.
All parties agreed to implement this program starting this fall when school opens. As it turns out, the school where this was organized was the first public high school that Haiti Outreach built back in 2003, right in the center of the town of Pignon. If successful, this opens the door for other dreams the students and parents voiced that they have for their school, including flush toilets and a computer lab, both of which were brought up during the discussions.
We look forward to monitoring their progress this fall as they proceed to implement this program. We hope it will be successful and lead to other schools requesting a program like this for their schools, as well as engaging with this school to determine if their other dreams could be made a reality!