On Friday, December 22, the students of Grace Emmanuel School gathered together for what many consider to be the best day of the school year: the annual Christmas party.
Last year, the school year hadn’t even begun by Christmas, and the party was not able to take place. Students instead received a gift of cash—mostly distributed over cell phone networks—for their families as a Christmas gift.
To gift or not to gift
With school reopened in a new location this year, planning for the party began as normal in November. JiHM’s supporters once again stepped up to fund Christmas gifts for each student.
When the local leadership team met to decide on a plan for gifts, it took some time to reach a consensus. Some believed the gift money should again go to the students’ families as cash to help meet practical needs.
Roger, JiHM’s operations director, had a different opinion. Along with his work for JiHM, Roger also works with Samaritan’s Purse to help lead the Operation Christmas Child effort in the Caribbean region. He knows first-hand the joy that a gift can bring a child.
“Kids feel abandoned in times like this,” he said. “The kids need to be remembered. Because of the attacks, the kids have been scattered and life has been upside-down. To not have something like a Christmas party, to not receive a gift, will just be another way to say to them, ‘No one remembers you.’ We need to intentionally say, ‘Someone remembered you and brought you a gift.’ That will bring joy and laughter. Let’s make this their moment.”
Eventually everyone was in agreement, and the planning got underway.
The most stressful shopping trip
Purchasing 350 gifts for students ranging in age from 3 to early 20s has always required a massive coordination effort, but this year even more so with the heightened level of insecurity.
“We spent three days purchasing gifts. Those were very stressful days of my life,” shared Maudeline, GES secretary. “I was very scared. Roger had anticipated how I would feel and provided a contact from Port-au-Prince to handle the transportation and manage the gift money. I thank God for that. He made it possible. I was just there to help choose the gifts from many different stores in Petionville and Delmas. There were some gifts that I wasn’t as satisfied with, but we couldn’t just run to stores in other areas because of the great insecurity in Haiti.”
With the help of Roger’s connections, the Christmas party team managed to safely receive the cash, do the shopping, and transport the boxes of gifts back to the school by early December.
Gift purchasing wasn’t the only item of preparation for the party. Staff built a stage for student performances and the awards ceremony, purchased food to serve 400 meals of chicken and rice, and prepared report cards that would be given to parents on that day. Students who wished to perform were busy preparing dance routines and memorizing poetry.
Finally, on a beautiful December morning, hundreds of sharply-dressed kids with their parents began to arrive at the school.
The party kicked off at 9am with the raising of the Haitian flag. The students stood in line by class as their parents looked on.
After singing the national anthem, the students dispersed to their classrooms with their parents for the distribution of report cards.
Gifts were also distributed in each classroom, all wrapped beautifully in holiday gift bags. (See many more photos at the end of this article.)
After report cards and gifts, it was time for the soccer championship. The grade levels had been playing off since the beginning of December, and only the 10th grade class and the seniors (13th grade) remained. The 10th graders came out victorious, 5-1. Both teams had some help from players who joined in from other grade levels.
Once the soccer match ended, students gathered around the stage to watch their peers perform dances, songs and poetry pieces that they had prepared. Awards were given for the best performances and the most valuable players from the soccer tournament.
After the show wrapped up, every student enjoyed a meal of chicken and rice and then returned home with kè kontan — a happy heart.
“I felt very relaxed all day because there was a beautiful atmosphere at the school,” said Katchouska, a 5th grader. “My favorite part was when the students were dancing. They had beautiful choreography. I also really liked the meal they gave us with the juice.”
Will Armstrong, an 11th grader, said, “I was really happy when the kids were singing Christmas songs and reciting beautiful poems. I also really liked the soccer championship, even though my class wasn’t the champion.”
Thank you for making this day of joy possible at Grace Emmanuel School!