Halton's helping hands for Haiti

By 
  • December 11, 2008
{mosimage}BURLINGTON, Ont. - The children at St. Mark’s Catholic Elementary School learned a lesson about social justice and Christian love recently. It was that they should share from their abundance with their much poorer fellow students in Haiti.

The school was one of 49 in the Halton Catholic District School Board that are being introduced this fall to Helping Hands from Halton Catholic: the Solidarity-Haiti Project.

“It ties into social justice principles and the values and virtues program we’ve been teaching the kids,” said Larry Clifford, superintendent of school effectiveness for the Halton board.

“It’s putting words into action.”

The action is raising money to help build schools in some of the most rural and impoverished parts of an island nation already known as one of the poorest spots in the world. Through partnership with Solidarity Haiti, a nongovernmental organization based in Gatineau, Que., schools in the Halton board hope to help more children in Haiti have safe, comfortable buildings in which to learn.

The importance of this project was driven home in late November by the news that the roofs of two old schools in Haiti had collapsed, killing 90 people. By contrast, the schools built with aid from Solidarity Haiti are generally one storey and solidly built, according to Lee Anne Burke, a teacher at St. Mark’s and one of the members of the board committee organizing the project.

The goal is to raise $49,000 in this school year, enough to build a seven-room school, Clifford told The Catholic Register.

The seeds for this project were planted about four years ago when Burke, then a Grade 6 teacher at St. Bernadette’s in Oakville, learned about Solidarity Haiti from the late Fintan Kilbride, a former missionary, high school teacher and well-known Catholic social justice advocate. Her school took on the task of raising money for Haiti; in its first year more than $16,000 was donated.

During the same period another Oakville school, Mother Teresa school, also raised enough to build a school in Haiti.

“We have a responsibility to use what we have to help those in need,” Burke said during her presentation to the Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8 students at St. Mark’s. “We are called to Christian action.”

When Clifford began thinking about a project that would unify the entire board — students, teachers, parents, administrators and trustees — behind a good cause, Solidarity Haiti became the top choice. After considering three potential partners, the board decided that this particular group had a proven track record, a great mission and deserved its support.

Solidarity Haiti has built almost 100 classrooms since 2000. It is also involved in other projects in Haiti to help the people become self-sufficient. It works with local Catholic dioceses and other organizations to foster such things as housing co-operatives, healthier drinking water, agriculture, beekeeping, medicine and helping street youth.

In October, the committee members took to the road, visiting schools across the board to present the project and get them started on raising money. The fund-raising projects are diverse: car washes, book sales, silent auctions, read-a-thons, walk-a-thons, even paying principals and teachers to do silly things like shaving their heads.

John Susi, the principal at St. Mark’s, said his school’s fund-raising goal is $1,000. During Advent, he asked students to pray for children in Haiti and think about what they could do to help raise the money.

So far, said Clifford, the response from the schools “has been overwhelming.”

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