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A SPECIAL SECTION:  Haiti, Since the January 12, 2010 Earthquake
Posted November 22, 2011

ABC-7.com WZVN News for Fort Myers, Cape Coral & Naples, FloridaAssignment Haiti: Following the Heroes of Hope

Groundbreaking on new, $4 million school underway

Rivière Froide, Carrefour, Haiti: "Welcome! Welcome!" a smiling Sr. Marie Gisele Chaperon says through her hugs and kisses.

The St. Francois de Sales secondary school director greets Hope for Haiti's traveling party on a hot October day.

It's 4 p.m.

School is still in session.

Nuns and teachers at the congregational school work well into the evening hours to instruct hundreds of students.  The school enrolls 350 restavek children, described by advocacy groups as "child slaves." They live as informal indentured servants, working for their impoverished families throughout the day.

Because students attend school late, they were in class at 4:53 p.m. January 12, 2010, when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti.  Their school flattened.  By the time the dust settled, 150 students died.

"It was completely all rubble and nothing left of it," Hope for Haiti CEO Tiffany Kuehner said.

Students were holding classes in temporary structures built by Kinder Not Kilfe (KNH), a German organization.  A representative from KNH was on site during the earthquake showing Sr. Gisele the designs.

"The whole complex was done being constructed. All the classes were done being constructed. They were beautiful classes," Sr. Gisele, the school's director since 1995, said. "That's [when] the earthquake came and then the building fell."

Today, an estimated 1,230 are enrolled at St. Francois de Sales.  A UNICEF tent hosts pre-kindergarten and first grade classes.  KNH provides teacher support and built temporary post-earthquake structures.  Hope for Haiti's imprint is in the form of a temporary library housed inside an old shipping container. Four other non-profit and government agencies have a role in supporting St. Francois de Sales.

After the hugs and kisses, Sr. Gisele points Hope for Haiti board members down the mountainside.

Construction workers have begun to clear ground on a new $3.95 million, 30,000-square-foot school, funded by KNH.  Hope for Haiti has committed $100,000 to outfitting the library and computer center for the school

"I can't wait. I'm so excited. Ground is getting broken," Tiffany Kuehner said. "There is hope after devastation. There is something their children can aspire to and this building is going to show that."

Building could not come soon enough. The school has faced security problems after the earthquake because of its lack of an enclosure.

According to Hope for Haiti Program Manager Paula Prince, the school "has had problems with disciplining unruly students and losing school supplies and furniture to theft."

"I'm surprised things aren't as far as they're supposed to be. People are still in the street. People are still in the startup camps," Hope for Haiti Board Member Dr. Gilbert Saint John said. "While the earthquake destroyed life, it also destroyed equipment, tools, and organization. Basically, it's an area that's starting from scratch."

The 34 teachers are using the resources they have to support their students. In the 2010-11 school year, all final "Philo" level students passed their state exams.

"With this type of education, they can go anywhere in the world and shine and change your life for the better," Dr. Gilbert Saint John said.

The construction of the school provides renewed hope to Sr. Gisele.

"I can start over," she said. "I have my life. I can start over."

Published Monday, November 21 by ABC7 News, in Fort Myers, Florida.

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