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17943: (Hermantin)Sun-Sentinel-15-Westminster students raise $3,000 to build school in (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Westminster students raise $3,000 to build school in Haiti

By Karla D. Shores
Education Writer
Posted January 14 2004

They will never lug sloshing buckets of well water for miles.

They will never have to squeeze through throngs of dusty children straining
to hear lessons through slats in a rickety schoolhouse.

But students at the private Westminster Academy prep school in Fort
Lauderdale felt drawn to Haiti after their teacher opened their eyes to the
need for basic resources and schools in the Western Hemisphere's poorest

With extra change plucked from their pockets after lunch, about 300 students
have raised $3,000 to top off construction for a concrete-block schoolhouse
in Pignon, in the island's central plateau region.

But these students are going beyond sending "guilt" money. They're traveling
to Haiti to visit the children at the school they've helped to build.

"It's cool to see how far so little to us can go," said junior Joel Piedt,
of Lighthouse Point. "Just by putting money in a water jug and dumping it
out and filling it up again. It's pretty awesome."

Computer teacher Kirby Williams and a group of 17 students and chaperones
leave Friday for a six-day trip to Pignon and nearby Gaspart, where they'll
deliver gifts, eat Haitian food and sing gospel songs in Creole. They also
plan to paint the school, which will teach about 300.

For five years, Williams has documented the state of Third World countries
for Coral Ridge Presbyterian church, which founded the school. He often
shared pictures of Haiti with his Westminster classes. He decided to begin
the mission after a student raised her hand and asked what she could do.

"Basically I was presenting the need, but I wasn't getting them involved,"
Williams said.

Westminster, which was founded by Coral Ridge Presbyterian, has raised money
for Haiti for about five years, but students had never visited.

Despite the abundance of Haitian people and culture in South Florida, some
students say they will talk to a Haitian for the first time in Pignon.

"I don't think it's going to hit us until we get there," said sophomore
Sheilah Abadines, of Margate. "It's going to be really cool to help them
out. Their lives are so simple. Well, they may not be simple or easy. But
it's a lot different from here."

It cost about $4,500 to build a typical rural school in Haiti, said
Williams. Westminster's high school tuition of about $9,600 for one year
could build two rural schools in Haiti.

Five miles away in Fort Lauderdale's Little Haiti, which is west of Dixie
Highway and south of Oakland Park, another group of students feel the same
duty to help. But their goal of raising thousands of dollars will come
slower. So far, the students have scraped together about $87 to help build a
school in the town of Merger.

Schools are needed in Haiti, where most of the population is illiterate.
Education consists of free government-run schools and those that aren't free
-- religious schools, foreign schools and schools someone looking for a fast
dollar set up on the fly, according to Gerard Latortue, an economist and a
former professor at the University of Haiti in Port-au-Prince who lives in
Boca Raton. Latortue said poor and rural students suffer because they cannot
afford an education and the free schools aren't effective.

"This is a country with more than 70 percent illiteracy," said Latortue. "If
education is not provided by religious schools, usually the quality is very
poor because good Haitian teachers don't want to teach in the country."

In fact, the cash flow from South Florida to Haiti supports many private
schools. "These Haitian people cutting your trees and working in your lawns
are sending their money back to Haiti to pay for their kids' private
schools," said Latortue.

The Westminster students said they don't know what to expect. Some are
afraid Pignon students will see them as spoiled Americans on a self-serving
mission. But, like the Haitian children who plan to continue to raise funds,
these students say upon their return they want to maintain a relationship
with the Haitian communities in South Florida.

"If we go overseas, we need to do it here," said Piedt. "Otherwise we're
just doing it to do it. There's a community here we can minister to, too."

Karla Shores can be reached at kshores@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4552.

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