A few days before we left Haiti, the government issued the results from the 6th grade state exam every student in Haiti must pass to begin 7th grade. The results happened to come on the same day the students were all at school to register for the coming school year, and there were lots of tears of joy and shouts of excitement as student after student learned they passed.
For one of the sixth graders, the news wasn’t good. Carl Eric missed the passing mark of 700 by 20 points and will be repeating sixth grade next year. Already 19 years old, he bawled in disappointment at falling further behind as the rest of his classmates rejoiced. Nate asked Carl Eric why he thought he hadn’t passed and he said he doesn’t have any opportunities to study, and “all of life is a struggle.”
We have gotten to know many of the students’ stories well over the past couple years, but Carl Eric was someone we just knew by name and some passing conversations. His misery weighed heavy on us that night, so we decided despite the flurry of preparing to leave, we needed to find time to visit him the next day.
Carl Eric lives in Cabaret, a village just north of the school. In the early afternoon, he met us on the side of the national highway to lead us to his home. We turned right after a river, passed a black voodoo cross, and drove down a bumpy, gravel road. We parked the truck and followed Carl along a muddy footpath, skirting a banana grove. Several women and kids shared the path with us, carrying buckets of water from the river to their houses.
Many families served by the school still live in the wood-framed, blue-tarped structures that Samaritan’s Purse donated after the earthquake 4.5 years ago, and we were expecting to see a similar situation for Carl. But after walking about half a mile, Carl stopped in front of what looked like a kid’s makeshift fort.
He lives under pieces of plastic, held up by branches from a Neem tree.
His grandma greeted us and welcomed us inside, into the darkness of the structure. The heat from the August sun in Haiti had turned their hut into a greenhouse, and immediately our bodies turned into fountains, sweat dripping from every inch of our skin, a heat beyond anything we had ever experienced. We understood why Carl Eric said he didn’t have any place to study, and why school might be far from his mind when daily living was exhausting.
Carl Eric explained he lives with his grandma because his parents both passed away when he was young. Their house washed away in floods in 2008, and since the earthquake, they have been living in this heat-trapping habitation. And not only the two of them, but two young boys his grandma has taken in because they had nobody to watch over them.
There was no food in the house, just dishes and a bed, stuffed animals and a few other treasured possessions.
In two years, we have stood in several very heartbreaking homes. We had not seen anything like this. We believe the timing of that visit was not a coincidence, that the Lord wanted that image to be one of the last we’d have to reflect on about Haiti, as we headed back to this land of material abundance, unpacked our 1,600 square foot home, put our hundreds of books on our bookshelves, jammed clothes into an overflowing closet, refilled our pantry.
Though our physical address is back in the United States, a large part of our hearts has stayed behind in Haiti. This coming year there will be over 275 Carl Erics at Grace Emmanuel School, and we know it is not our time to walk away from them.We have been given the joy of knowing their faces, the pain of seeing their heartbreak, and the burden of being in a position to do something about it.
We know that for students like Carl Eric, Grace Emmanuel School is their opportunity to break free from poverty. We know that the 500 gourdes (roughly $12) we left for Carl Eric’s grandma as a handout is not the long-term solution that his family needs. Carl Eric needs both the best possible education and a renewed mind: the best possible education, so he can be equipped to find a job and break out of generational poverty with dignity and not welfare, and a renewed mind, so he won’t be tripped up by the sickness of sin that envelopes and aggravates these villages and imprisons the brightest minds.
As much as we love and celebrate Grace Emmanuel School, there is much work to be done to continue improving the level of education GES provides. GES has an incredible Haitian administrative and teaching staff that we need to continue to equip so they are able to continuing making an impact on the students. In the past two years, we have been blessed beyond measure to be used by God to bless Grace Emmanuel School. We got to be part of fostering relationships that resulted in a beautiful school building out of a dirt hill, fundraising for a wall that now stands complete protecting that school, and doing the administrative work of a sponsorship program that now completely funds the basic operating costs of the school.
We believe that though we have been called back to live stateside for now, our work continues. From the states, Kristi can continue to manage the sponsorship program, continue communicating on behalf of the school, as well as advocate on behalf of the kids in JiHM’s children’s home, and Nate can continue to strengthen relationships with financial partners for the school so we can find funding to take GES to the next crucial level of providing a trade school and career paths.
For these reasons, we are leaving our support account open with Jesus in Haiti Ministries. We invite you to continue supporting our work with Grace Emmanuel School, so we can continue traveling to Haiti multiple times each year to continue growing relationships and building partnerships to help the school, and also to provide a wage so Kristi can continue working part-time for JiHM to manage the sponsorship program that funds Grace Emmanuel School and communicate on behalf of the mission.
Words cannot express how thankful we are for the support you all have given us over these last two years and the preparation leading up to them. It is a joy to return to living in the same community as many of you. Thank you for following this journey so far and we hope you’ll continue. (And maybe join us on trips back to Haiti!)
We will continue to provide occasional updates here, though for now we will sign them,
Love from Minnesota,
Nate & Kristi