Dear friends and partners in the mission of EAPE,

Rather than my regular monthly letter, I'm sending you this wonderful letter from David Diggs, who serves with Beyond Borders, our ministry in Haiti. I think it is a terrific snap shot of the kinds of things EAPE does for people in need. I just know that if you read it, you'll want to support our work more than ever!


Tony Campolo

Tony Campolo

Making a Model of Meno By David Diggs, Co-Director, Beyond Borders

The sweat pours down my face as I make my way up the rocky path to the mountain community of Meno. Behind me Rosemene Cherie walks effortlessly. I encourage her to pass ahead, but she's in no hurry. She's going to the same place I'm going, to the newly refurbished elementary school up the mountain.

Samson Joseph, my Haitian colleague who manages our new relationship with this school, is walking just ahead of me. When Rosemene is just out of earshot he explains to me in a whisper that Rosemene is one of the poorer parents whose children are now attending the school free of charge with help from Beyond Borders.

He also explains that her investment in "sweat equity" has more than made up for any tuition could owe. She was among the many parents who helped with the construction work at the school. In the tropical heat of August and September she carried on her head load after load of construction material from where the road stops at the base of the mountain up this same path to the school.

Rosemene tells me she has seven children, and that her two youngest are now attending the school. "Where are the others?" I ask.

She explains that one boy is already too old to start school. Another child died about the same time her husband died, several years ago. The other three children she had to send to kay moun—literally to "someone's house"—which is a euphemism for sending a child away to live with (and work for) another family.

Parents like Rosemene hope that in exchange for their child's help with chores, the receiving family will send the child to school and love him or her as their own. But according to Ellen Lord of the Cincinnati Post, getting a servant child "involves an almost ritual deception. The potential owner travels - or has someone go for them - to the countryside. It is important to act rich - to be in Sunday dresses and suits, carrying radios - which are a status symbol in the poor rural areas. The poor rural parents…are promised the child will be educated, fed and cared for."

Instead of education and care, however, most servant children are badly exploited. Their days are filled with unending toil. They are forced to rise and begin work before all others in the house, and their work ends only after all others have gone to bed. Many of these children are treated no better than slaves.

"Where did you send them?" I ask Rosemene. She explains that she sent one child to Port-au-Prince, another to Jacmel, and one to Tombe Gateau, a small town on the ridge on the other side of the valley. "How old are they?" I ask.

"I don't know," she answers. "Someone would have to look at their papers." Rosemene is illiterate, like most other Haitian adults who endure extreme poverty.

"Do you get to see them?" I ask.

"No, I don't easily see them," she responds. As with many of the poorest parents who send their children away, the cost of public transportation to visit a child in servitude is only one of many obstacles. Even if money can be found for transport, finding the child in an unfamiliar city is often very difficult. And while a reunion can provide some momentary joy, it can also be a very painful and humiliating experience for both parties, with the child desperately wanting to return home with the parent, but the parent again feeling forced to leave the child behind.

As I struggle up the mountain, the physical investment this woman is making in the community school becomes more and more impressive. She weighs less than half what I do, and she probably doesn't eat every day. Yet this mother of seven has made dozens of trips up the mountain, carrying 94-pound bags of cement and five-gallon buckets loaded with either gravel or water – on her head!

Like the other parents and community members, she won't be paid for her work. She works, she says, because she knows that a good school is what her children need to "make something of themselves for tomorrow." As another mother tells me later that morning, "We need a good school in Meno so we can stop loosing our children to servitude."

As we continue up the mountain, our footpath converges with others, and we join a growing parade of jubilant children all going to the same place. How many children, I wonder to myself, have walked this same path in the other direction, not heading up for school and a more hopeful future, but heading down to live in a distant city, with strangers who will exploit and even enslave them?"

Eventually we round a bend where I first see the top of the church that temporarily houses three of the classes and then the brightly painted school that the community has been refurbishing. The students are already beginning to organize themselves in lines by class. They sing the Haitian national anthem as two children raise the flag and then file in to start their day.

About a dozen parents, the school administrator, and a couple of community leaders gather chairs and arrange them in a circle under the shade of two almond trees. This is the school board. They invite us to sit and talk with them about how things are going.

Samson has met with this group dozens of times already, and they take turns thanking us for the help Beyond Borders is providing. They explain how discouraged they had become, because last year they were unable to pay their teachers, the school building was falling apart, and the poorest parents could no longer afford to send their children. Now, because Beyond Borders is providing full scholarships for the poorest children and a five-to-one tuition match for others, every family can send their children to school. New teachers have been hired and enrollment has nearly doubled. We are helping the board improve the quality of schooling, too, providing building materials, books, and teacher training. All this, they explain, has given the community tremendous hope and energy. Their joy and commitment is palpable.

Samson hints at even more encouraging news without going into detail. The board for Limyè Lavi (Beyond Borders' partner organization in Haiti) has just approved a proposal to fund two literacy centers for over-aged children in Meno starting in January. This will give unschooled children like Rosemene's oldest son the chance to catch up to the grade level of students their age. Places will be reserved in these new centers for children who have already been sent into servitude. This will encourage parents like Rosemene to go and retrieve their children from servitude, in order to give them a brighter future.

We don't have time at this meeting to speak of longer-term goals, but everyone shares our hope that Meno will become a model that other communities can copy. The basic needs of families will be met and parents will gain the skills needed to improve their lives. They will no longer feel forced to send their children into servitude. Improving and expanding the school is central, of course, but other investments will be required as well. Community members will continue to get training in participatory leadership. Illiterate adults like Rosemene will get access to literacy training and basic education in children's rights, parenting, health, family planning, and sustainable agriculture. We will also help local leaders develop partnerships with other organizations that will further invest in the agricultural capacity, economic development, and infrastructure of Meno.

Our visit ends with a blessing and many best wishes for my speedy return. On our way back down the mountain I feel incredibly thankful. I remember that Jesus told of his Father sending him away to us to be our servant. He became love incarnate, a child of hope who, though we tortured him with our violence and hatred, nevertheless freed us from our slavery. I say a prayer asking that God would use Beyond Borders to help free the people of Meno, too, so that the promise and hope of each child will bloom in the rich soil of that high and beautiful place.


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