Hunger and Heartbreak in Haiti: Fighting to bring hope to families

It has now been almost 3 months since Grace Emmanuel School was required to close its doors in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Combined with the extended closure caused by political unrest this fall, GES has had approximately 70 days of instruction this year—50 days short of the 120 days required in Haiti to validate a school year.

With cases still increasing, Haiti has extended its state of emergency through July. The Ministry of Education is considering different options for completing this school year once that is lifted, potentially not starting a new school year until November or December.

As we wait and pray for the day GES students can return to school, we continue to look for ways to bring the support of Grace Emmanuel School to their homes.

Scindie visited Yves Malie, 5th grade, and Kimberly, 7th grade, at the end of May. Their dad normally sends $80-100 each month from Chile, but he has been unemployed the last few months because of that country’s lockdown. Their mom shared that they only have been eating 3–4 times each week.

Food Assistance

Because school lunch is the most reliable meal for many GES students, hunger is always an impact of school closures. Within the first few weeks of this closure, JiHM began hosting monthly food distributions to give away rice, flour, and beans—an expense made possible by your sponsorship support.

After the first two distributions, GES counselor, Scindie Saint Fleur, began visiting students to find out if this was adequate help for them. 

She talked to parents whose working hours and wages had been reduced because of COVID-19 closures. Those who sell in the market (the most common source of employment in Haiti) complained of the difficulty in providing for the daily needs of their family due to the high cost of living, a trend that has been getting worse over the past two years. Students who normally get by on the help of neighbors or extended family are receiving less and less assistance. 

After visiting 46 students in the past month, Scindie estimates half of them need more assistance than the monthly distribution. These families are eating three to four times a week. One grandma said she just doesn’t eat so that her grandson can.

JiHM is now carrying out a plan to reach these families with approximately $100 worth of groceries each month. Many of you have already responded to this need, giving over $15,000—enough to provide 50 families with this extra assistance for three months. UPDATE 6-29-20: The current need is met. Thank you for responding so quickly and generously. Praise God! We will reach out again this fall if need continues.

Educational Support

Over the last couple of weeks, kindergarten and primary school teachers have launched a trial attempt to take lessons to their students by visiting as many as possible every week. 

This is no easy feat. Each teacher has between 20 to 30 students to reach. Their homes may be as close as a brief walk from the school or as far as a 15-mile tap-tap ride, followed by a walk or motorcycle ride up a mountain. Some homes are deep into banana groves, others are right off the main highway. Without clearly defined addresses, finding the right location can involve several conversations with neighbors who may only know the child by a nickname that the teacher may not know. To further complicate the matter, many kids are shuffled around to the homes of other family members when school isn’t in session, so even if the teacher reaches the right home, there is a good chance the student will not be present. Would you pray for the safety of our teachers and the success of this visitation program?

For students in 7th grade and above, teachers have been assembling lesson packets. Students can come to the mission on a specified date to pick them up, and then work on their own at home. Some of the classes have formed groups on WhatsApp, a messaging app, to stay in contact, but several students don’t have access to this technology. While some students meet with nearby classmates, others say they’ve found it impossible to focus on studying right now with the mounting issues facing their families. Continue to pray for opportunities for these students to learn.

Fetchina, Louidiana, and Rosena are sisters who all attend Grace Emmanuel School.

Missing Friends

Some benefits that the school provides are impossible to recreate during a pandemic, particularly the joy of coming to a safe space to be with friends every day.

“My friends live too far away,” said Betina, 11th grade, who complained of the loneliness caused by the school closures. “I don’t have any news from them, and I miss them terribly.”

Other students like Rosena, 7th grade, are thankful to live near their school friends. “I spend time with Neroudy and Clerfda. We often study together, too.”

Please continue to pray for your students during this unprecedented time in their lives.

Caption for featured photo: Lanithe says she can’t remember the last time she cooked for her children, Elisnor, 7th grade, and Jesula, 10th grade. She sends them to their dad’s house for a daily meal.

Scindie St Fleur served as a counselor at the Lighthouse Children’s Home and Grace Emmanuel School from 2014-2020. She currently works as a psychologist at LifeSong for Orphans, where, in addition to providing mental health services, she oversees an academy program that teaches children with motor, physical, cognitive, and behavioral disabilities.

Kristi Bucher has served as Communications Manager for Jesus in Haiti Ministries since 2014. She currently lives in Minnesota with her husband, Nathan, and two kids. Kristi and Nathan lived in Haiti from 2012–2014.