Dear Haiti Friends,

I was privileged to be along on the first couple of trips St. Stephen’s, Austin, TX made to its new partner school, St. Etienne in Salmadere, Haiti.  That partnership is now 20 years old, and almost unbelievable change has come to Salmadere over that time — a school building where there was only a thatched roof, a well, an agricultural project for families through Zanmi Agrikol, cooperation with other partners for a micro-lending community bank and a clinic, and more!  St. Stephen’s, like so many of our partners, is sad at the inability to travel for the past few years and worried about the well-being of friends there, but determined to keep the partnership alive and healthy.  They are celebrating their 20th anniversary with a variety of events and projects — a book of pictures from the beginning, an archive of materials about the partnership in the library, events connected to their alumni reunion weekend, and more.  A flyer is attached listing some of these, in case it might give you ideas about ways to celebrate your own partnerships, now or in the future. Many thanks to Victoria Woodruff for passing the information along and for her work to help shepherd parts of the celebration, along with many other friends of Haiti at St. Stephen’s, in her words, “…to tell and preserve the story…”

I’m also privileged to hear from students with whom I’ve traveled, sometimes many years later, when our paths cross in unexpected ways.  They always talk about their Haiti trips as formative experiences that shaped the way they now live their lives as adults.  Many still have long-distance friendships with people they met in Haiti.  We can never underestimate the value for children and young adults of first-hand experience outside of their comfort zones, meeting people whose lives and culture are very different from theirs, forcing them in a good way to see the whole world and not just a little corner of it.  That outlook and attitude creates thoughtful adults.  Goodness knows we need as many of those as we can get.

Salmadere just before sunrise, 2006.

I’m not sure whether this is a picture of the original St. Etienne or a similar school elsewhere (it’s from the large box of unmarked photos from before digital cameras!), but it’s how so many rural schools in Haiti start — handmade by subsistence farmer parents hoping for a teacher to teach their children to read.