“Hard pressed on every side, but not crushed.” These words instantly spring to mind when you read the uplifting news from the four Branch Lutheran Schools of Haiti where students are safely gaining an education during the Covid-19 crisis. God continues to pour his blessings on these precious students!
Even before the pandemic reached Haiti, there were difficulties. National Pastor Rona Abraham writes, “The educational need in Haiti has been one of the most urgent needs in the country. Forty percent of the children in the population do not have access to education. Private schools are very expensive and public schools are not enough. It is possible to have 100 students in a primary school classroom, in high school, 200 students. In this way (only) the most active is educated.”
“Thursday, March 19, 2020 they have found the first case of Covid-19,” Pastor Rona says. “The president made the decision to close all public and private activities. For my part, I spoke with the Academic Director and the principals to continue with the program at home with the tasks of the students.”
School and Orphanage Director Luxon Boursiquot writes from Carrefour, “Many schools cannot maintain and risk losing the year because the students cannot pay their tuition so that the school can meet its commitments financial to the teachers. We say thank you to God because, thanks to Branch Schools sponsors, we are sure we can pay our teachers and, in fact, they are still there to help our children, thank you to each donor.”
Like children in the United States, students at Branch Schools must now learn outside a classroom. Boursiquot explains, “Teachers have all the teaching materials with them - all the activities to be carried out from the first day of class until the closure of all school activities in the country. Thanks to this program, the inspection section of the Ministry of Education, the school administration can monitor in real time the progress or not of a classroom or a teacher or a school compared to another school. In this Covid-19 period, the task becomes more complicated because, during normal times, they prepare the lessons in a notebook predisposed to this but now, after this handwritten preparation (to teach in the classroom), they are obliged to type them so that the children can see the topics treated with all possible ease.”
Children living in the three orphanages receive their schoolwork there. The other students receive and return assignments on Monday mornings. “Each weekend,” explains Boursiquot, “the teachers come to bring a copy of the electronic file or his preparations which are validated by our Inspector, Mr. Jean, and the director of the school. The file is printed and the copies mimeographed. Every Monday, parents happily parade to collect the copies for their respective children. Before receiving the copies, the parent must submit the homework inserted in the copy of the previous week. This copy will be corrected in the next weekend and will find the child on Monday through his parents.” The graded lessons are returned to the children “continually, because we say that good or bad grades will stimulate children and help them make more effort.”
Branch Schools’ students will take final exams in person. “We will arrange to have them come in groups of five if things do not get better in the coming days. All the children have to undergo tests and a final test to be entitled to a higher class because each year, at the end of the school year, we must send a list of children by class with the marks obtained and the final mention of decision. The final exam will be done in the classroom under the indirect control of state officials because they will have to (approve) the children’s pass mark and update their databases.”
In Haiti, the school year typically ends in June but, this year, they will end in late July or early August. “With the new situation,” Boursiquot writes, “there will be several changes. The closing date will be extended, the programming will also decrease. (As of) April 24, the state followed us by setting up a program similar to ours, however, with shortcomings because the country has no electricity.”
“Haiti is a country that lives in turbulence,” Boursiquot explains. “There is inequality, black misery, despair, exploitation, merit is a function of class, of social rank. We have had already a friendship with the general closure of activities! One month after the opening of classes in September 2019, there were violent political demonstrations that led everyone to stay at home. The children were forced not to come to school. The Lutheran directors had a meeting to see the best method not to lose the school year. In three days, we had a meeting with all the teachers to present the plan we had for the operation of our schools.” With an emergency plan and funding in place, more than 950 students at Branch Schools were able to continue learning this year.
“Hard pressed on every side, but not crushed.” During this difficult time, we sincerely thank God for blessing the schools with growth and sustainability, for inspiring the directors and teachers to persevere, and for moving the hearts of friends like you to help raise the gospel torch in Haiti!
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6
Around the globe, people are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. For those who have been ordered to shelter in place, there is no gathering for worship. There are shortages of food and basic hygiene products. Children are unable to go to school. Many adults are unable to work and fearful about how they will survive financially. The health care system is strained to its limits. These experiences are new and, until recently, unthinkable for people in developed countries. But, for most of us, the experience is temporary.
In Haiti, the unthinkable is everyday life – food shortages, businesses closed by a crisis, economic turmoil, lack of health care, limited education. As Covid-19 covers the island, the pain will only deepen. Instead of food shortages, the threat of starvation. Instead of limited health care, no access to health care. Instead of offering church online as American pastors can, several Haitian pastors were arrested March 22 for offering church services in person.
“Bad news for us.” The message came from one of our orphanage directors in Haiti. “Corona virus come. School will close tomorrow. Only 50 beds for all the country. No foods no cleaning products. Many problems. God knows.” Yes. God knows - and promises to help.
“For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” Isaiah 41:13.
One of the ways God will help in Haiti is through his people - ordinary people like you and me who are blessed to know that Jesus Christ gave his life to redeem us. He will help through those who understand the urgency of sharing this message with as many people as possible. That’s why, even in troubled times, we think of Branch Lutheran Schools of Haiti with joy. More than 950 children are learning the gospel, reading it for themselves, and sharing it with others. The schools are growing rapidly and God continues to provide exciting opportunities. With your support, we added a middle school in 2019 and we’re preparing to open four vocational training centers this year so orphans reaching the age of 18 and adults from the community can learn marketable skills and receive spiritual support.
We know God will bring Branch Schools through this current crisis. Because of seeds planted and systems in place, students and teachers are already better equipped to endure. Please continue to support this vital work.
We pray God will keep you safe as you work through the challenge of Covid-19 in your own life. Our friends in Haiti pray for you also. There, even school children understand crisis – they have known little else. Praise God that through your love, prayers, and gifts, they, too, have hope of a better tomorrow on earth and eternity in heaven!
Lee Petersen, Chairman of the Board of Directors, and all your friends at Branch Schools