New Trier rebuilds Haitian school
Maurice Bonhomme (left) and Jean Cayemitte with a student from St. Joseph School in Petit-Goave, Haiti. The school, founded by Bonhomme's father in 1952, was devastated by earthquakes in 2010. | Photos provided.
Updated: November 5, 2012 6:03AM
WINNETKA — What started as a rehab project funded by the New Trier community turned into a complete rebuild of a school in Haiti following an unthinkable natural disaster.
In 2009, New Trier support staff members and native Hatians Maurice Bonhomme and Jean Cayemitte approached New Trier Service Learning Coordinator Carolyn Muir about helping out a school in their home country.
St. Joseph School in Petit-Goave, Haiti, was founded in 1952 by Bonhomme’s father. Bonhomme and his sister kept the school running after his father’s death, but over the years it had fallen into disrepair.
“That’s my father’s school,” Bonhomme said. “That’s where I went to grammar school. It was always my main concern because there are not too many schools back home. We always believed education is a key of life.”
A 2009 visit by New Trier staff to St. Joseph School sealed the deal, sparking a fundraising effort to refurbish the school.
“The children were amazing and eager to learn,” Muir said. “They all wanted to be teachers, doctors, lawyers or the president. They didn’t really have the opportunity to do that without a sufficient school.”
The school had no electricity or plumbing. There were cracks in the walls and ceilings, and one part of the building had collapsed. The New Trier representatives helped paint the school’s front gate before heading back to the United States to plan their efforts.
However, the January 2012 eathquake in Haiti changed those plans, and the community, completely.
“The school was flattened,” Muir said. “Many people down there were living in tents when we went back. We launched a website that January and sent out a letter to the community saying we’d like to help rebuild the school and raise $100,000 to do that.”
By the end of the 2010-11 school year, the New Trier community met their initial fundraising goal. Final costs ended up being close to $150,000, and the remaining amount was raised the following school year.
“We used some of the funds for relief,” Muir said of $14,000 used to send shipping containers full of tents and supplies to the area.
In spring 2011 New Trier partnered with a Haitian architect and selected a final design for the building. Construction began last October.
The new school will have new desks, blackboards and supplies, and will be able to house 350 students.
“Everybody down there is excited because that’s a new building, and we got new stuff (for the school),” Bonhomme said. “I was there in August and I couldn’t believe what it looked like. It’s an amazing, beautiful building.”
The school opened its doors Oct. 2 and Bonhomme plans to visit the completed building over winter break.~.