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Faith: St. Thomas helps put roof on school in Haiti

The children who attend the St. Marie-Madeleine Elementary School in grades one and two.  |  Submitted by Mike Ryder of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church
The children who attend the St. Marie-Madeleine Elementary School in grades one and two. | Submitted by Mike Ryder of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church

Students in St. Marie-Madeleine Parish in Duchity, Haiti, will have a roof over their heads this fall, thanks largely to parishioners of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Naperville.

The Raise the Roof initiative is the Lenten season fundraising project of St. Thomas. Coordinators of the event are hoping to raise $10,000 to put roofs on the elementary school classrooms in their twin community of Duchity.

“Every year we have a Lenten project. We have little cardboard boxes, and people collect their change and donate it,” said Mike Ryder, director of outreach and social justice at St. Thomas. “Each year we pick a different project. This year, Raise the Roof is our project.”

St. Thomas has had the twinning relationship with the community in Haiti since 1999. During the first several years, St. Thomas sent money and many mission teams, to help with educational projects.

“Over the years we have sent funds to build a secondary school and add several classrooms to existing schools,” said Mary Anne Buckman, who is a co-facilitator of the program for St. Thomas. “We continue to send funds for those school administrators to use to supplement teacher salaries and pay for supplies so that all students have access to good schools.”

She said the relationship with the town recently has changed.

“In the past couple of years, our twinning relationship has evolved from one focused on providing funding for schools and teachers in the St. Marie-Madeleine Parish area, to one that also incorporates capacity building,” she said. “This means more local leadership and ownership and long-term sustainability.”

While St. Thomas was helping to support public schools in Duchity, families there indicated they wanted their children to get a Catholic education.

“The pastor told them that, if they could go find 30 first-grade students and then fund the operational costs, then he would start a Catholic school,” Ryder said. “That happened two years ago, and now there are two grades making up the school. The parents are paying for all of the operational costs. This has not ever happened there before.”

As the students are continuing to progress through the school, there will need to be a third grade next year.

“There are three classrooms, but they need a roof. They need a roof for next fall,” Ryder said. “We decided that by us taking care of the infrastructure expenses, they can continue covering the operational expenses.”

More than $8,000 toward their $10,000 goal has been raised so far.

The idea of capacity building is reflected in other projects within the twinning arrangement as well.

“When the relationship was established, there was no health care in the village, and residents had to walk for two hours to a clinic for treatment,” Ryder said. “We sent medical teams and eye-care teams and dental teams.”

They also helped establish a clinic with a full-time doctor and small staff, Ryder said.

“Because we’re capacity building, they’re running the clinic, and we’re helping them to become more self-sustaining,” Ryder said.

Another area of focus is water. The team at St. Thomas has identified Haitian-manufactured ceramic water filters that can be installed within homes to provide clean water. Two-thousand filters have been purchased, and a local self-sustaining business is being structured so that the filters can be sold in the community.

Buckman, who has been on three mission trips to Haiti, said the twinning relationship has helped her understand the nature of helping others.

“If we can help others, it makes us feel good, but if we can help in a way that encourages others to build themselves and their own community, not only do we feel good but so do they,” she says. “And we have accomplished something with probably long-lasting effects.”

Send Our Faith story ideas to wendymfoster@comcast.net

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