Hanover — For three days after Hurricane Matthew swamped and tore to pieces much of the southwest corner of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola earlier this month, the 15 students of Hanover High School’s Hope for Haiti Club waited and worried.
Finally, an email arrived from the Canadian couple who live in the mountain village of Bois d’Avril, where they’re monitoring the development of the school compound for which the club has been raising money since early 2015.
While Matthew killed hundreds of Haitians on Oct. 4 and left tens of thousands homeless, Bois d’Avril’s 200 residents and the school’s first classroom building had weathered the storm, Deb Currelly, one of the Canadian residents, reported on Oct. 7. With some of the $10,000 the club has already sent to the village, local builders had installed hurricane- and earthquake-proofing materials that held the tin roof steady and the doors and windows tight.
The storm had, however, left in doubt the plans of club members Kristin Reed and Andrea Gilardi, both seniors, to visit the village with Reed’s mother Catherine Reed and Hanover High French teacher Jean Vigneault, the club’s faculty advisor, next month.
“We are looking forward to seeing you all soon,” Currelly wrote to Catherine Reed. “We will be tidied up before you get here, unless Matthew has a sister who decides to visit us in the interim.”
In addition to helping Bois d’Avril residents, including the school’s 60 students, paint that first classroom building and view the progress toward a complex of eight buildings, the Hanover students aim to build on the relationship between their schools, which began with a quilt-making project that the club initiated in the wake of an earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands in January 2010.
The effort continued with club members raising money to send sewing machines to the village using online crowd-sourcing, bake sales, car washes and parking cars behind the high school during Dartmouth football games — including this afternoon’s against Towson.
“A couple of years ago we asked the Currellys what else they needed in the village,” Kristin Reed said. “That’s when they raised the possibility of building a school.”
The first stage of construction included the installation of a cistern under the first school building, providing the school with a reliable supply of water. The club plans to continue raising money to build seven more classroom buildings to house grades 1 to 12, as well as a school office with an upstairs apartment. Future commitments could include supplying books and other educational materials.
“We don’t look at this as a short-term commitment or service project,” Vigneault said this week. “We want to foster a long-term commitment with this village, with this community. It’s not like we’re just giving; we’re working together with them.”
That includes providing work for residents of the relatively isolated village more than a mile above the Caribbean, six miles as the crow flies from the capital city Port au Prince.
“All of the construction on the school is being done by men in the village,” Kristin Reed said on Wednesday. “They’re getting stable paychecks for the first time in their lives.”
Even before the storm, the club had run into potential roadblocks to visiting Bois d’Avril over the last 16 months. A trip planned for last winter fell through when “the Zika virus was going around,” Gilardi said this week.
Since then, the Hanover delegation has been undergoing vaccinations for cholera as well as Zika. And by the time they head to Bois d’Avril, Catherine Reed said this week, health officials expect that the mosquitoes that carry Zika will have retreated for the winter. The trip is planned for Nov. 18-23.
“The girls have worked so hard that I want them to be able to go,” Catherine Reed said this week. “We are aware of the risks and are planning and acting accordingly. I am going to slather the girls and myself in mosquito repellent for the entire week.”
In a follow-up email to Catherine Reed this week, Deb Currelly described the villagers, mostly subsistence farmers, as people who “aren’t poor in that they own land and have skills. There are several with high school educations and they are business savvy. They have a little money but are extremely careful with their spending. … Those who are educated are aware of health standards and world events. That is why we are convinced that education for all is the real necessity.”
That imperative struck a chord with Gilardi when she joined Hope for Haiti as a freshman. She has long admired Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who won a Nobel Peace Prize for continuing to advocate for the education of girls after Taliban gunmen shot her on her school bus and left her for dead.
“She’s been an inspiration to me,” Gilardi said. “I’ve always wanted to help people.”
She began helping, her mother Christina Dahlqvist recalled this week, when as little girls, Andrea and her sister Mia “visited and sang to senior citizens in a nursing home as part of their church’s children’s activities.
“She saw poverty when I took her to visit Lima, Peru at ages 6 and 12,” Dahlqvist continued in an email. “She would question why children were in the streets so late at night without parent supervision, selling goodies, asking for money, cleaning cars or just begging for money. She has seen the strong contrast between poverty and wealth which is often found in developing third-world countries. She has observed first-hand how blessed we are here and how unfortunate are others. I guess she wants to share a bit of what she has, even if that little bit is just her big smile or one cupcake at a time.”
In addition to selling cupcakes for Bois d’Avril, Gilardi often winds up educating others as well as herself about Haiti.
“The last time we were parking cars before a Dartmouth game,” Gilardi recalled, “a few people asked where the money was going, and when they heard it was Haiti, they were, like, ‘No: I want my money back.’ ”
Kristin Reed said that she also encounters skepticism.
“There are sometimes people who ask why we don’t do something for people here in our own country first,” Reed said. “We try to explain that we’re trying to create a sense of community around the school there, so that they can help themselves in the long run.
“When we visited last year, I was so happy to see how excited people were about the school. They want it for their children and their children’s children, and they won’t settle for anything less.”
The club members, in turn, have been inspiring some adults in their own country.
“The girls have been working so well on this, showing a lot of independence and initiative,” Vigneault said. “I’ve watched them develop their leadership qualities and skills.
“They found their voices.”
The Hope for Haiti Club will hold a bake sale at Dan and Whit’s in Norwich this morning at 11, and will be parking cars behind Hanover High School for $15 each before Dartmouth’s home football games this afternoon and on Oct. 29 and Nov. 12. Donors also can contribute by visiting the club’s page on GoFundMe or with a check, payable to Hanover High School Hope for Haiti, either dropped off in person at the school or snail-mailed to Hanover High School, 41 Lebanon St., Hanover, N.H. 03755.
David Corriveau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3304.