We interviewed the founders of La Vallee Alliance who are making a world of a difference for 4,600 families in the town of La Vallee, Haiti. Ann Basaroni and Kim Burnett started their mission with this mantra: a little bit goes a long way. Read to hear how two women got around to raising $80,000 in their free time to transform the lives of an entire community in Haiti.
[i]Interview by Amy Chen[/i][i]
[b]Please tell us about La Vallee and its overall mission.[/b][b]
[/b] The mission of La Vallee Alliance is to partner with the community of La Vallee de Jacmel, Haiti, to provide a quality education for their children.
La Vallee de Jacmel is a mountainous area 56 miles southeast of Port-au-Prince. It consists of a collection of 13 tiny village communities and is home to approximately 5000 families and 8100 school-aged children. There are 62 impoverished schools scattered along the mountainsides.
There is no public school system in Haiti, and private school tuition is approximately $150 per child per year. A typical family survives on less than $500 per year. As a result, more than a quarter of the children in the region are unable to attend school regularly because their families cannot afford the tuition.
The earthquake in 2010 severely affected the area. Most schools and homes in La Vallee were damaged or destroyed. In addition, the population increased by 30 percent as refugees from Port-au-Prince moved to the rural community to escape the chaos.
We strive to improve the quality of education by working closely with a team of community leaders in La Vallee to provide the following:
· Classroom construction and repair
· Teacher training and salary support
· School kitchen construction
· Classroom materials
· Student tuition support
[b] [/b][b]What is your personal connection to Haiti? [/b]
Our close friends Antonica and Theodore Payen, are community leaders in La Vallee. Antonica is the former nanny of two of our founders, and the couple returned from the U.S. to La Vallee in 2006. They had lived and worked in northern Virginia beginning in 1995, and hold dual citizenship in Haiti and the United States. After growing up with our children in Virginia, their oldest daughter, Doris, was tragically killed in a car accident on the Washington, D.C. beltway in 2006. The Payens decided to return to La Vallee to assist their hometown community in honor of Doris. They have been working with the local cooperative development bank and other community leaders to improve education, medical care, and job opportunities for the rural community.
We founded La Vallee Alliance with the Payens shortly after the devastating earthquake of January, 2010. Our initial efforts centered on rebuilding schools and shelters to return children to school as soon as possible. Our current work also focuses on improving access to education and improving the quality of education through teacher training, salary support, and provision of books and supplies.
[b]Do you have any interesting or exciting updates about the schools and shelters that you have built?[/b][b]
[/b] We recently returned from a trip to La Vallee and were excited to see the progress that has been made. In particular, we visited St. Therese de Lavial School, where Givology donors helped us to build a school kitchen and provide funds for propane gas needed to fuel the stove. The kitchen provides daily hot meals for 220 students throughout the school year. Students and teachers eagerly showed us their improved learning environment, including new classrooms now under construction and new teaching materials such as maps of Haiti, geometry instruments and chalkboards. (Attached are pictures of the students in the kitchen and in the classrooms).
We are also excited to share several new projects we hope to fund in the 2012-13 school year. The first is a new school building for the 180 students of Ecole Moderne, a K-6th grade school in the area. The school has lost the lease on its tiny building, and principal Marie Paulette has begun construction of a new building on the mountainside south of town. In June 2012, our service trip volunteers sanded and painted these four new classrooms, built desks, benches and blackboards, and delivered school supplies for students at Ecole Moderne. (attached are pictures of our volunteers working and visiting with students—in orange checked shirts-- with principal Paulette).
Paulette is a member of the Advisory Council to La Vallee Alliance and a teacher trainer for Save the Children. For the 2012-13 school year, she hopes to pilot a new early education program at Ecole Nouvelle that will provide free schooling for 40 first graders for the coming year. The goal is to enroll students who otherwise would not be able to attend school because their families cannot afford tuition. We hope to assist in this effort to broaden access to education for the region’s poorest children by funding the teachers’ salaries, books and supplies for these two classrooms.
Our second new project is to fund an interscholastic competition for the region’s schools. In spring of 2012, Father Guy Domond, another member of our Advisory Council, started the Genie Interscholaire Competition among 24 local schools. Aided by the Haitian government’s provision of a school bus for the area in January, Father Guy and other principals of local schools started a Friday afternoon academic and soccer competition. This “It’s Academic” style competition is held in the sanctuary of the large church at the top of the mountain, and students are bussed in from schools located far down the mountainsides to participate. In addition to inspiring students, this program builds community through a radio broadcast of the weekly competition. Families throughout the region eagerly tune in to Radio St. Jean to witness their children’s academic successes.
We were lucky to attend the semi-finals of the academic and soccer competitions on our trip in June. La Vallee Alliance provided trophies, academic participation medals, and soccer medals for the top students. Father Guy estimates the cost of funding the program for the next school year to be $12,000. These funds will provide for weekly radio broadcasts, gasoline needed for the school bus, continued weekly academic and athletic competitions, and trophies and medals for participants. In addition, these funds will allow for the expansion of the program to include more schools and to operate throughout the summer months. (Attached are pictures of principals receiving trophies and medals from our volunteers, students in the academic competition, fans watching the competition, and soccer teams in match form.)
[b]What would you attribute to your organization’s success in bringing shelter, supplies, education, and hope to this part of the world when so many others have not done so as successfully?[/b][b]
[/b] We are fortunate to have a strong partnership with our Advisory Council in La Vallee. As leaders of the local community and long-time educators in Haiti, they know what works and what doesn’t, and how to structure programs to meet local needs in the most efficient and least costly way. We listen closely to their advice, and follow their decisions on priorities for education development. Our goal is to help them develop the institutions that will work in their community, not to impose our methods on them. In addition, we are an all-volunteer organization, and 95% of our funds go directly to programs in La Vallee. Thus, we are able to bypass layers of bureaucracy and expense that stymie other organizations.
[b]What are three challenges that La Vallee still faces today?[/b][b]
[/b] While we have witnessed remarkable progress since the earthquake in 2010, much work remains to be done to meet the goal of quality education for all students in La Vallee. First, many of the schools in the region still need construction and renovation. Second, hundreds of students remain unable to attend school because their families cannot afford tuition. Third, sustainable job development is desperately needed to provide the income stability necessary for long-term economic independence. Beyond these educational needs, the community requires major infrastructure improvements, especially roads, electricity, water, and access to computer technology. Meeting these basic needs is critical for the area to thrive in the 21st century.
[b]Where do you see the direction of La Vallee heading in the next few years?[/b][b]
[/b] We are hopeful that the progress we have witnessed will continue. Each time we return to La Vallee, we see the impact of our efforts as well as the efforts of the local community, the Haitian government, and a few large NGO’s working in the region. There is a new community library, which we hope to help stock with books in Creole and French, computers, and solar power. There is a new community center built by a large NGO to provide shelter in the event of another natural disaster. Parents continue to place a high value on education, and La Vallee students perform well on national education tests. The community works hard and is proud of its successes in rebounding from the devastation caused by the earthquake. We have witnessed the energy and resilience of the students, parents and community leaders in La Vallee. We are optimistic about the future for the community.
[i]For more information about La Vallee Alliance, [url=http://www.lahaiti.org]click here[/url].[/i][i]
[/i] [i]For more information about La Vallee Alliance’s parternership with Givology, [url=http://givology.org/~srilvallee/]click here.[/url][/i]
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