By: Robyn C. Spencer
The first people I saw when my flight touched down in Port-au-Prince Haiti for the Caribbean Studies Association conference were student leaders from Cornell University. As we sweltered in the tap-tap eagerly looking through narrowly carved windows and skylights, I learned that they had organized a service trip to support the Déléard School, a k -6 school in the mountains of Petionville, Haiti. I first learned about the trip on the CSA website. I passed the call for donations on to my colleagues and my 10-year-old daughter and I collected pencils, toothbrushes, a few books in French and English that we could find and some lovingly used Black dolls to pass on to the children. I soon realized that the spirit of service and community development was deeply woven into the fabric of the conference under the leadership of Dr. Carole Boyce-Davies. There was daily tabling where one could drop off donations and attendees were given envelopes for donations at the CSA banquet.
We were committed to actually seeing the school and my colleague Natanya Duncan was able to help me and my daughter secure transportation to Déléard School to make our donations personally. The drive to the school was grueling due to a lack of infrastructure. There were endless yawning ditches, harrowing narrow roads and an endless supply of rocks and dust as the terrain switched from lush to acrid. We feared many times that our hired driver would surrender to the terrain but driven by our determination, we finally arrived.
Déléard school consisted of a few humble structures. But rather than a feeling of deprivation, we were overwhelmed by the spirit of the teachers reciting lessons out loud and the vigor of the students chanting their letters and math facts in unison in a familiar call of response. The smiles, gratitude and curiosity of the children and their teachers was heartwarming. I knew this was a moment that my daughter would never forget. It was so beautiful to see each and every child receive a backpack of supplies with the CSA logo etched proudly on the back. The fundraising and organization that went behind this effort was embodied in the many suitcases the students tirelessly unpacked. They even had educational materials for the teachers. And I daresay that the dolls my daughter donated provided additional joy.
It was a wonderful afternoon and we left with a sense of accomplishment but also a sense of ongoing need and continuing purpose. The school and children were tidy and their days unfolded in an orderly fashion. But I had noted too many feet in ill-fitting shoes and wondered at how education could multiply in the face of additional classroom resources. On the way back down the mountain, we gave the teachers rides, silently marveling at the daily commute they made to serve their students. What we witnessed is the typical reality of rural education in the Caribbean. But CSA has provided members with an opportunity to improve the circumstances of children in this one school in a way that is both respectful of community needs and connected to local partners. I applaud them for their efforts and am committed to continuing my support.