There is not one student who asks for help that is not in desperate need for financial assistance for education.
All of our students live in the Artibonite Valley in Haiti, an agricultural area north of Haiti. Selecting students for scholarship is one of the most difficult challenges we face.
We are now in our seventh year of operation, and we have revised our selection process several times. In our first year, we modeled our application after a standard U.S. school application form, which included personal and family information, inquiry on financial means, a letter of recommendation by a former teacher or principal, a copy of a report card from the last time the student was in school, and an essay about the importance of education for their lives and the future of Haiti. The application form was translated into Creole and distributed to anyone who asked for one. Melet DeRose, our Program Administrator, and our Advisory Board reviewed the applications and assigned, on a scale from 1 to 5, the financial need, academic results, the essay, and letters of recommendation. Those with the highest scores were considered for scholarship. That first year, we had over 350 applications for 35 slots. With our ranking system we eliminated over 200, but we still had a difficult time selecting 35.
The cost of public school in the Artibonite valley is $100 per year.
The cost of private school in the Artibonite valley is $300 per year.
The average family in the Artibonite Valley earns less than $750 per year.
To avoid so many applications, the following year we gave students an application only if they demonstrated by their last report card that they had achieved a certain average in their grades. We also included home visits to assess need more critically, and we became more familiar with the schools that we were supporting. Like many U.S. institutions, we learned that some schools are more academically challenging than other schools – a ‘B’ from one school is not equal to a ‘B’ from another. Our Advisory Board began a process of evaluating the schools to determine which schools were more challenging than others and to take that into consideration in our selection process. We learned that the public schools are much more demanding and difficult because of state standards to which the private schools do not have to adhere. To avoid favoritism in the selection process, we began the practice of assigning each student with a number, so that student selection is as anonymous as possible.
Last year, we have refined our application process even more; students must be invited to apply. Members of our Advisory Board interview principals from many schools in the area to find out which students are in the greatest need; which students have dropped out during the past year; and which academically gifted students have not been seen for several years. With this knowledge, the students are contacted and invited to apply to our program. In addition to the application form and supporting material, we have created an ‘entrance’ exam which ‘levels the playing field’ for everyone. The entrance exam has proven very helpful in the student selection process. This year we selected 30 more students to our program.
Each student who is successful in their grade continues in our scholarship program until they graduate with either the Rheto certificate (12th grade) or Philo certificate (13th grade), which are examinations offered by the state. The Philo year is a mandatory college preparatory year for any student wishing to attend the university. Each student that passes the difficult Philo exam is eligible to continue in the program to achieve a bachelor’s degree in one of the universities in Port-au-Prince. We offer the students two chances to pass these exams. If they cannot, they are eligible to apply for a technical school scholarship.Our Programs
Most of our students come from large families, who earn their living either by small farming or some small trade like sewing or cooking. Many of our students live in a single parent household, or they live with a relative because their parents are deceased. These family incomes are under $1,000 a year and some far less than that. The life for the students is a difficult one. Hunger is a serious problem. Our students may eat a small breakfast in the morning (piece of bread) and then a larger meal (rice, beans and tomatoes) when they return from school in the afternoon, and only these two meals. Some do not even have that much food, and may go a day on bread and water alone. This deeply affects the success rate of our students, and to combat severe hunger we have initiated a ‘student emergency’ fund, which helps students with food and emergency medical expenses. Students also find it very challenging to do their homework at night because there is no electricity in their houses. Many students study under the street lights (if there are any) or by kerosene lamp or candles. Solar lights would be a great boon for our students. We have considered opening a student study center next to our office.
Prevention of Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases
After several of our students became pregnant, we realized we must by pro-active in our “sexual education” as well. In 2008, we initiated a mandatory sex/health education seminar for all students. This seminar taught the students about sexually transmitted diseases and prevention, birth control and family planning, and personal hygiene for good health. Students, reluctant to attend such a seminar, shared with us later their belief that it was interesting and helpful knowledge, and they thought it was important for the youth in the community.