(NOTE: Anyone seeking post-earthquake news on Fr Luc and the kids – they are fine! – please visit here for the latest information. 1/18/10)
Information and Inspiration from Sheepfold School, Haiti
So, I’ve known of Sheepfold School & Orphanage since back when I was in school in Miami and have been in touch with Br Luc a few times directly since then. But Ive realized the last few months – I dont know too much actually about the place or the people there other than the basics. I wanted to change this. So, I wrote to Fr Luc recently- emailed him in fact – and asked a lot of questions about the school – I wanted to know more so I could share more with other people. He gave me a lot of interesting information and also, not surprisingly, left me feeling inspired and humbled. Here are the basic facts about this wonderful place in this very poor country.
This year, the school is educating 326 kids. I read lately that only about 53% of Haitians can read, so this access to a basic education is a big and important thing. Education is so vitally important to anyone’s progress, right? And we can be a concrete part of helping Sheepfold do what it does for 326 kids.
There are fourteen classrooms at the school- that’s bigger than I imagined it. There are also 47 teachers. By the looks of their cool names, like Pierre Beauplan and Francois Audinelle, it seems most are Haitian. Fr Luc noted that all of the teachers been certified by the Department of National Education. (Sheepfold don’t play. )
I found these photos taken by visitors from Br Luc’s religious order on Facebook of all places. These photos were more than I had ever seen of the school. You can see the kids also have access to computers. It looks like they’re those “One Laptop Per Child” super-durable inexpensive computers.
Another important feature- the students get one meal a day from the school. This consists of rice, beans, and vegetables. So along with education, the school is feeding the kids too, in a place where hunger is an ongoing pervasive problem.
Another cool thing about the school is, education is provided for kids over 18. And let’s face it, even if we’re over 18, we’re often still kids. There is a vocational component to Sheepfold where students over 19 can study. They study to be mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, tailors, and computer specialists. Work skills in a country with an 80% unemployment rate- very important! I know there is also a bakery where they make bread for the school and neighborhood, I need to ask Fr Luc. more about that, and farming training.
Recently, Sheepfold added a small seminary- five men are studying for the priesthood. I’ m not sure if they’re going to enter Br. Luc’s order or not, but he seemed pleased with this in his email.
I asked Fr. Luc what he would like to fix or expand at the school and he said they need a library and the school could use some paint.
This is what’s amazing about this place, to me, Sheepfold isn’t only a school or only an orphanage – but both.
Currently, there are 78 young boys and 113 boys age eighteen (and I think older, like the age of the vocational school.) Any of you reading this who have sons – try to picture that many boys to manage. Fr Luc says he is aided by other religious- priests and nuns – at the orphanage. Fr Luc says the boys come to stay at the orphanage because they don’t have family or because their parents can’t care for them. (There are hundreds of thousands of orphans in Haiti.). I asked what he might like to fix or expand at the orphanage and he said said he’d like to buy some mattresses for the boys.
I asked him what he wanted us to know about the boys at the orphanage and he said that the are intelligent in school, interesting and “the hope for the country.”
I hope I have painted a picture of a very amazing place helping children as talented and precious as any – I would never want to paint a picture of gloom and doom, negativity, “neediness” or something like that.
At the same time, it would be a mistake for me not to make it clear that life in Haiti is “very hard” – as Fr Luc put it in last year’s Christmas list. In the correspondence I have had with him over the last month, he invited me to come to Haiti to see the poverty first hand and how, in his words, people live “like a dog or a pig.” He said in his last email that the recession is has made life even more difficult. He says as long as the politics don’t change the “poverty and misery” continue in his country.
A LESSON FOR ME
Let me finish with one thing that struck me most of all in Fr Luc’s email. I asked if they ever just didnt have enough to go around- food, water. And his response was that “Divine Providence always gives us what we need, just as He does for the birds of the air.”
It took me a moment, but I realized he was citing The Gospel of Matthew:
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
This really made me stop and think. I can’t even imagine some of the things Br. Luc sees on a daily basis, his frustrations, his responsibilities, his challenges. But here he was reminding me- who’s seen none of that- that we have to have faith that we need to do our part– our drop in the bucket- and then trust that the Lord will provide. And that is maybe Sheepfold in a nutshell to me- a place of faith, hope, and love – in action.
And I think about the word “valuable” — these kids who, by no fault of their own, are in this position of great disadvantage – they are VALUABLE . They are valuable to their community – as Br Luc says- they’re the hope of their country. They’re valuable to each other and to the adults who care for them. And to those of us of religious faith, these kids are valuable to God. And as an off shoot, they must be valuable to us as their brothers and sisters (or maybe aunties and uncles.) They deserve to have lives that reflect that worth.
“Birds of the air”. It made me think of one of my favorite Nina Simone songs- Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” (click for lyrics). Here’s Nina on youtube. Or if you prefer newer school, there’s this one.
I hope over the next few weeks, you’ll consider adding a drop to this bucket (except you people who donated to my walk in the fall; your money’s no good here!)