MONTREAL, MARCH 29, 2011 – Throughout April, teachers across the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) will encourage students to participate in a pen pal program, connecting with their peers at the Société de providence unie pour le développement de Pétion-ville (SOPUDEP) School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Organized by Travis Ross, a teacher at St. Monica Elementary School in N.D.G. and member of the Montreal-Haiti Solidarity Committee (MHSC), the EMSB is strongly supporting the initiative which will connect hundreds of EMSB students with 480 of their peers at the SOPUDEP school.
In addition to the pen pal program, Ross is also launching “Helping Across Borders,” a fundraising campaign in which he is asking every school to raise money for SOPUDEP throughout April. The suggested donation is two dollars per person, a nominal amount, but equal to the average daily wage in Haiti. 100 percent of the funds raised will go directly to the school to help pay teachers’ salaries, which amounts to less than $500 annually, run the hot food program and pay for school supplies.
“The academic side of this initiative offers the students an authentic opportunity to communicate in a second language as well as exploring how people their age are living in a different country,” said Ross. “The theme of the project is ‘A Day in the Life’. Students in Montreal and Port-au-Prince will be asked to describe what they do during a typical day at school and then have the opportunity to compare and contrast
“My students are really interested in the project. They’re generally curious and motivated to find out about what the experience for their peers is like in Haiti,” he added. “They know all about Haiti because it’s in the news, they’re aware of the January 2010 earthquake and now they’re building a direct connection.”
Founded in 2002 by Rea Dol, SOPUDEP is an institution which provides comprehensive private schooling for the poorest members of the community. Rea has made it her primary goal to improve their lives via education and by working with her people in order to create pride and hope. Currently, the school now has more than 480 students, many of whom receive their only daily meal courtesy of the school’s hot food program. While the school is called “private”, there is no free, public school system in Haiti. Students who attend SOPUDEP are not charged tuition; only those whose parents can afford the two dollar daily fee do so.
“I really would like to build a greater awareness about the realities in Haiti. Canada and Haiti have always had strong relations,” said Ross. “The results of all donations to the school will be posted for people to see on their website to ensure that people know where their money is being spent. SOPUDEP’s needs are like ours, their students can’t learn until they’ve eaten, they have to learn a second language, we share many of the same difficulties.”
Since the earthquake in January 2010, approximately 250,000 people have died and 25% of Haiti’s schools have been reduced to rubble. All Canadian donations for SOPUDEP are given directly to the Sawatzky Family Foundation (SFF). The SFF is a Canadian registered charity created in 2008 for the sole purpose of support and advocacy for SOPUDEP. The Foundation’s focus has been the K-12 school. They provide stable salaries for the teachers and in 2008 they resurrected the school hot lunch program that had ended in 2004 due to loss of funding.
For more information on SOPUDEP, please visit: www.sopudep.org.
For more information on Rea Dol, please watch this documentary: http://video.nytimes.com/video/2010/03/06/world/americas/1247467192053/the-mother-figure-of-morne-lazarre.html