Hope for the Future

PHOTO COURTESY OF ANTHONY MACHIA

Many of the north country residents interviewed for past issues of this magazine’s annual “Women in Business” edition have shared their secrets of success and offered sound advice to other women aspiring to establish their careers.

They have spoken about the importance of possessing strong communication and leadership skills, along with character traits such as perseverance, fairness, confidence, humility and compassion. 

   They have also credited their success to the many educational and training opportunities that were made available to them, noting a solid educational foundation was important at a young age to help them believe anything was possible.

     While education typically equates to greater success in life for both women and men, the free education that is provided to Americans at the primary and secondary levels is something that can easily be taken for granted.

    For those living in impoverished countries, education is recognized by many as the first step in breaking the cycle of poverty. But it’s often not readily available, particularly to females, because of harsh economic conditions and social barriers.

    One example is the country of Haiti, where it’s estimated nearly 80 percent of people live in poverty, with many struggling to provide basic needs for their children – such as food, shelter and clothing.  

     For many families, there is no money left to pay for schooling. Haiti’s literacy rate is estimated at approximately 60 percent.

     Although primary education is “free” in Haiti, many families are unable to send their children to school because they cannot afford the cost of the textbooks, fees and supplies. If there is any money available, a family would usually send a male child to school.

    As a result, the majority of schools are private, with many being supported by outside relief efforts and religious organizations, along with non-governmental organizations within the country.

     One example is the Ecole Agape (translated as School of Love), a primary school for nearly 200 girls in Lilavois, just outside the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The school provides free education and a daily nutritious meal to children in first through sixth grades, and also operates a preschool.

     More than 90 percent of Ecole Agape students have passed the country’s National Primary School Exam, said a school official. Some have been fortunate to find sponsorships to continue past the sixth grade, and complete their secondary studies.

     Others have even been able to complete college, “and turned out to be nurses or nurses’ aides, preschool and middle school teachers, qualified technicians – very well-educated and responsible women,” said Marie Michele Darbouze, whose family oversees the school.  

     Many of the students who attend Ecole Agape are referred to as “restaveks,” or girls whose parents live in extreme poverty and are unable to care for them. They are sent to live with other families, where they complete daily chores in exchange for food, shelter and clothing.

      But the families who take in these girls can barely afford to send their own children to school, so their opportunity for an education is only made possible through schools such as Ecole Agape.

      This school was founded by the late Myrtha Manigat, who had earned a teaching degree in Haiti, and also worked as a nurse in Canada. She established the school to provide an education to the young girls living in her neighborhood of Lilavois.  

     When Mrs. Manigat’s original school building was destroyed in the country’s disastrous earthquake of 2010, a friend offered her space in a nearby facility to relocate six classes. She then transformed her living room and the front part of her house into classrooms for the preschool students.

     After Mrs. Manigat passed away in October 2015, the school was kept in operation by her two nieces, Mrs. Darbouze and Chantal Coutard. They made a commitment, along with other family members, to continue providing a free education to the poor girls in the Lilavois neighborhood.

     While all children need education, “girls are the most likely to be left behind” in countries such as Haiti, where resources are so limited, said Lawrence P. (Larry) Grasso, a member of the Friends of Ecole Agape, a group based in Ashford, Conn., which supports the school. 

      The only requirement of a family who sends their child to Ecole Agape is to provide her with a uniform. All other expenses, such as teacher salaries and school supplies, are covered.

       “There are no other fees,” Mr. Grasso said. “And the girls receive a nourishing meal, so they are able to pay attention and learn instead of thinking about their hunger.”

      Mr. Grasso noted “when a boy gets a basic education, it greatly expands his potential opportunities and the ability to provide for his family.”

     “When a girl gets a basic education, it also expands her potential to provide for her family, and she will be able to assist in educating her children as well,” he said.

      The Friends of Ecole Agape work with another organization, Outreach to Haiti, based in Norwich, Conn., to support the school. Outreach to Haiti partners with churches, schools and community groups to operate numerous relief efforts throughout the country.

   Mr. Grasso and his wife, Cindy Moeckel, also connected with the Outreach to Haiti organization to support Gloria Theodate, 19, a college student studying for a business degree. She has aspirations of starting her own translating business in Haiti.

    The couple met Miss Theodate on one of their first trips to Haiti, when she was volunteering to help keep children busy coloring pictures while they waited in line to be served a free meal.

     Mr. Grasso said they were immediately impressed with Miss Theodate’s fluent English skills, and when they found out she wanted to attend college, but her family could not afford to send her, they decided to help cover her tuition. 

     “I love the English language,” said Miss Theodate.

     The young woman hopes to see the development of tourism someday in the Port-au-Prince area, which would increase the need for translators to accompany visitors throughout the region, she said.

     While she learned English later in school, she also polished her language skills by listening to some American music and television shows, Miss Theodate said. 

       For now, Miss Theodate is helping support her family with the periodic translating services requested for American visitors connected with the Outreach to Haiti program.

      Her mother is unable to work due to health issues, and her father had worked construction, but was injured when he fell from a ladder. Miss Theodate shares a bedroom with her two other sisters.

      Electricity is available at the home for about three hours a day, but not always at the same time each day. There is no refrigeration, so the family must buy, prepare and cook any perishable foods the same day.

     “I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to attend college,” Miss Theodate said.

     For more information: www.FriendsOfEcoleAgape.org or www.outreachtohaiti.org

By: Norah Machia