La Vallee is a village located in the southeastern part of Haiti, accessible by a winding, steep mountainous road approximately four hours from Port Au Prince. It is a rural, agrarian community located about 11 miles from the coastal city of Jacmel. La Vallee is home to over 30,000 people, many of them living on less than one dollar a day. The primary occupation in this community is farming. Due to soil erosion, hurricanes, and limited access to world goods, the region suffers from economic and financial hardship. As in many areas of Haiti, there is no infrastructure to support what many of us takes for granted; thus there are no paved roads, sanitation systems, electricity, or running water.
One of the most important issues facing the parents of La Valle, besides access to clean water and food for their children, is the ability to pay for their children’s education. The village of La Valle is perched on top of one of the many mountain peaks in southeastern Haiti. It is home to a co-ed Catholic School, an all-boys school, and a small private school. Many other primary schools struggling to support their local community dot the mountainside. A typical school day begins with an extremely arduous trek up steep and rocky paths cut sharply against the mountain. Many of these children, as young as 4 or 5, walk in groups to school carrying their uniforms, one small notebook and one pencil. Even in the early morning hours, the heat and humidity are strong, yet none of these children have access to portable water. Many walk between 1 to 2 hours each way, and when they arrive at school, run to the nearest water spigot for a quick drink of water. Lunch consists mainly of rice and beans, yet some schools are too poor to afford to give the children even this small meal. The schools are simple structures with wooden benches, small chalkboards, and outside latrines. Absent are computers, reference materials or the many other teaching aids found in most classrooms in richer nations, yet La Vallee prides itself on achieving close to a 100% passing rate on the state exams by their students. There are very few public schools in Haiti, so most of the schools are privately run. The cost to support a child to attend one year of school ranges from $75 to $250 per year.
The children return home enduring the same long trek and quickly assume the task of collecting water for their families. They typically carry a 5 gallon “paint bucket” back up the steep paths to the local well in order to provide the water that supplies all the requirements of their household; cooking, cleaning, bathing, and irrigation for their small gardens. This water is usually sourced from a well, or a trickle from the side of the mountain and is not filtered or checked for contaminants. Collecting water and attending school become the full-time occupation of many of the children of Haiti, yet they do it without complaint, grateful if they are among the fortunate to attend school.