Hope House school opened its gates to the community this week as a new academic year began. At the house, this meant an earlier rise than usual, around 5.45am, in order to worship, wash, get dressed and eat breakfast in time for an 8.00am start. At least the school is only a stone’s throw from our front door, located as it is within the same complex as the house and its various outbuildings.
The children trickle through the main gates, many having walked a considerable distance and often unaccompanied. Children who come to Hope House often do so because their families cannot afford any of other school; this being the only one in the area which offers a free education. Furthermore, it offers a free lunch, comprising of rice and beans, fortified with other nutrients, which for many of the children will be their main meal of the day. Addressing malnutrition was not something we had to think about very much working in the leafy environs of West Sussex.
When the bell rings, the children line up quietly in the playground. The flag of Haiti is raised high over the school and the national anthem is sung. As the children move off in single file towards their new classrooms I am struck by the calmness of the place. No doubt, this is partly due to the attendance; just over one third of the enrolled students have turned up! Apparently this is normal in Haiti, where many families appear to have a more relaxed approach to school attendance, particularly at the start of a new school year.
The school comprises of nine classes, most of which are square huts with pitched rooves and tiled floors, containing a blackboard and enough rows of desks to seat 30 kids (although they will regularly squeeze in 40 or more. The windows run across the length of two walls but have no panes in them, thankfully, otherwise the greenhouse effect would probably cook us alive. Instead, if we are lucky, a breeze from the lake will offer up some respite from the merciless heat. Each day the mercury rises above 30 and it is often humid too. It must be difficult for the children to concentrate, particularly as it reaches midday.
A big part of my role here will be to deliver English lessons. Lisa, another teacher from the UK, and myself, are starting almost from scratch as we try to help Yvrose realize her vision of turning Hope House into a centre for language learning. It’s exciting, but will also require patience and planning. I can see that no matter how much I achieve with the kids over the course of a term, it will all be for nought if I can’t encourage the regular staff to sustain it when I’m gone. Therefore, I’ve been really pleased that in the few lessons I’ve done so far, the teachers have sat in and participated.
My assistant, George the Bear, has also hit the ground running, being tossed, hugged and hidden around half the school already. It’s great fun to be doing TEFL again, and this time with the benefit of several years teaching experience. It’s a far cry from my rookie year in Italy where the children were literally running rings around me. I am thankful to all the great teachers I have worked with in the past, notably Sandrinne at Bolney and John in Ivrea, who have shown me how it can be done more successfully!
Back at school and the bell rings for playtime. The older kids, and I mean teenagers really, hang around in the shade of the classrooms, but the younger ones come out to play on the slides and the climbing bars. It’s an impressive piece of kit, as good as anything we had at Bolney, so no wonder the children are enjoying themselves. Meanwhile, I stand by a fan in the staffroom mopping by brow. There is much work to be done, but the children are happy and keen to learn, so there is much room for optimism.