Robinson School aims to prepare mindful and compassionate students: young men and women who are aware of the world that lies beyond their cloistered campus, their homes, neighborhoods and Puerto Rico. Our students are genuinely interested in what happens globally, as well as locally. Firsthand experience is the most effective way for children to develop both leadership skills and a caring spirit.
As part of that mission, Robinson organized a trip during the summer of 2015 to Ouanaminthe, Haiti—just over the border with the Dominican Republic—to visit College Espoir Chretien. Pronounced “Wanament” or Juana Méndez in Spanish, the town is the largest in northeast Haiti with a population of nearly 100,000 inhabitants. The team that traveled to Haiti included two Robinson students, teachers and administrator: Carla Lugo (11th grade) and Maya Schuelie (10th grade), Elba Rodríguez (Spiritual Life teacher), Sandra Rosenbaum (Upper School Division Head) and Dan Hildebrand (former Head of School).
The small, unfinished Haitian school teaches more than 1,000 students from Pre-K to senior year, and even offers an evening program for adults. Their administration and faculty are committed professionals who, despite incredible hardships and privations, come to work faithfully every day because they believe in the power of education and its potential to empower new generations who will, in turn, develop future solutions for their families, community and country.
Elba Rodriguez, who established the alliance with the school and organized the trip, stated that “the purpose of this pioneering visit is to learn about Haiti firsthand and establish relationships by visiting with the school and its community.” Robinson students Carla Lugo (Class of 2017) and Maya Schuelie (Class of 2018) attended classes, observed the needs of the school, and visited some students’ homes to better understand their lives and circumstances. They recorded their experiences and impressions in a travel journal.
Carla Lugo jumped at the chance to participate, “I didn’t think twice before raising my hand because I knew that this was my great opportunity to help others.” In fact, she ditched her plans to attend a summer camp in Boston in favor of the Haiti trip! She responded to the resistance she met from friends and family who were concerned that Haiti is a dangerous place by saying, “Haiti is the third poorest country on Earth, and it is located just 45 minutes away from us. I can’t turn my back on them; I can’t pretend they don’t exist.” The students packed their English-Creole dictionary, met with the team and planned travel logistics, and collected materials to donate to the school.
They landed in Santiago, Dominican Republic, and took a 5-hour bus ride to Dajabón, a city near the border between Haiti and Dominican Republic and site of the Parsley Massacre in 1937. From there, they rode to the border in the back of a pickup truck and crossed the gated bridge over Massacre River into Haiti. “As soon as you walked in, you could notice a great difference between Haiti and the Dominican Republic,” remembered Carla. “To see the conditions in which people have to live is devastating,” added Maya, “I learned how to appreciate our many blessings.”
After an exhausting first day of travel, the team arrived at where they would be staying. “By nighttime, we had made friends, and Maya and I got to draw with some children,” recalled Carla. On the second day, Carla and Maya visited the school and the community clinic. At the school, they took 2 morning classes: French History and Physics. Carla struck up a conversation with David, a 25-year-old student in 8th grade, about his plans to become a doctor.
The commitment of both the students and teachers they met impressed both students. Maya said, “You can see the desire they have to learn and how they hard they work for a better life.” Carla observed, “In Haiti, attending school is optional, yet all of these kids and adults wake up every morning to go to school because they have the desire to finish their education. Many students have to walk up to 2 hours just to get to school because they live far away.” They were also impressed by the difficult learning environment. “The teachers had no desks or even chairs to sit on. Students were crowded together on long benches. The classrooms had puddles of water on the floor due to the rain, and there wasn’t a good ventilation system, which made the classrooms hot.” There is no indoor plumbing; the bathroom is a hole in the ground used by both girls and boys. The school has approximately 4 teachers and 1,000 students. Therefore, the faculty divide classes into shifts, and the school stays open until 10pm. Many teachers work at other schools as well, so they are not available at all times and must travel long distances daily.
Despite these conditions, Maya and Carla made friends in the community. Maya met a boy who asked her for a hairbrush. She thought it was for him, but instead he sat with her and began braiding her hair. She was also befriended by a 14-year-old girl who called her “sister” because they were both the same age. These friendships made an impact on our students. As Maya recalled, the people she met “taught me to never give up, to always be caring no matter the situation, and that everyone is your family, so treat them that way.”
Meanwhile, the Robinson adults met with the school’s administration and faculty to discuss the school’s most immediate needs and long-term goals. The most immediate need of the school is infrastructure. But with their usual perseverance, the school community has already taken matters into their own hands by designing and building sturdy wooden desks to replace the classroom benches. The team began developing a strategic plan for the school and brainstorming ways for Robinson to help. For example, they worked long hours collecting documentation to help them structure their scholarship program. [PICTURE OF DESKS] Robinson believes that a rich spiritual life is just as important as academic and athletic achievement. Robinson students reach out to those in need, understand how much there is to learn from those who do so much with so little, and connect with the wider world.
According to Rosangélica Acevedo, our school Chaplain, Robinson School is committed to “creating a hunger and a thirst for service to others” and “developing our students to act as community service providers wherever they go.” This sense of service and action is crucial to learning and success. [maybe put the next section in a text box? – DH quote, reworked] Action is learning by experiencing and doing. Through responsible action, students develop the kind of attributes that are essential for success in future academic pursuits and life beyond the classroom. Engagement and action are two of the most effective educational tools in cultivating a passion for lifelong learning and producing responsible global citizens.
This trip planted the seed for a budding friendship between our schools and communities. Robinson is proud and grateful for the true sense of community our students and alumni feel. This intercultural collaboration allows us to expand this to our neighbors in Haiti, learn from their determination and, hopefully, help them solve some of the issues they face.
Congratulations to all involved! And thank you for helping Robinson shine!