Spirit of Truth School of Drouin an orphan prevention initiative of Help One Now focused on education, proper nutrition and family empowerment, in order to alleviate the pressure of poverty, keep families together, and build stability and opportunity for the future.
In 2010, a devastating earthquake hit the country of Haiti, leaving nearly 300,000 dead and 1.5 million displaced. It is estimated that after the earthquake, the number of orphans in the country rose to over 500,000. The situation grew worse later that year when a deadly outbreak of cholera spread throughout the countryside. Over time, almost 10% of the population became infected and the death toll rose to nearly 9,000.
The hardest hit region was the Artibonite Valley, located near the center of the country. It is home to 90% of Haiti's rice farms as well as the Artibonite river, believed to be the largest agent of cholera's spread. The river acts as the main source of water for the residents of the valley and as the source of irrigation for the thousands of rice fields. The effects were devastating.
However, long before the earthquake and the spread of cholera, Haiti's rice farmers had the deck stacked against them, due in large part to the flood of aid and subsidize rice from western countries. Thousands of tons of "Miami Rice", or imported U.S. rice, are imported each year, continuing to drive down the market for the locally grown Haitian rice. This has left thousands of residents of the valley without a way to support their family, as it has become nearly impossible to compete with the steady flow of subsidized rice. Many families are forced to abandon or send away their children, in hopes that they may receive better care from someone else.
In 2010, Help One Now visited the community of Drouin for the first time. The effects of the outbreak could easily be seen all around, there was a dullness that sat in the air. We met with local leaders and heard their overwhelming stories of tragedy and loss, and we visited a school started by Help One Now local leader, Jean Alix Paul. During class, a little girl in the back fainted and fell to the floor. After talking with her, we discovered that her parents were only able to feed her and her siblings one meal every other day...just enough to keep them alive. She had also not been drinking enough water, out of fear of contracting cholera. She was so dehydrated and malnourished that her body could not even sit through a day at school. But she assured us that she had to continue, saying, "I have to go to school, it is my only hope."
Hearing those words, we knew we had to do something. We met with Jean Alix and asked what we could do, he replied "we must sponsor these kids, they have nothing." At the time, we only sponsored "true" orphans, and these kids had families. Jean Alix told us to come back in a year, and then they would be orphans. Extreme poverty was pushing these families to the brink of collapse. This completed shifted our thinking. We can't simply care for the orphaned, we have to care for vulnerable children and families as well, so that they never become orphans.
This was the birth of our "orphan prevention" program. Each day, kids can now come to school, where they have access to clean water, a snack and a hot lunch. Our sponsorship program is community based, so no kids are left without care. All 300 of them are cared for at once, even those who do not yet have sponsors. Over time, sponsorship funds have helped to expand the school facilities and empower local rice farmers as well.
Through relationship with Jean Alix Paul and the local leaders in Drouin, we hope that the investment in the daily basic needs of the children and families will create waves and provide opportunities for growth and development in the community.
Through proper nutrition, education, and leadership these children will have the opportunity to grow and transition into adulthood, and one day become leaders and culture shapers who will enact change in their community.
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