FAIRFIELD — When Anh Nguyen first saw the school in Cherette, Haiti, it was raining. He said there were leaks everywhere.
Matthew Pinkerton-Lloyd said there were huge “cheese holes,” where rust corroded the roof on the approximately 800-square-foot school that served about 400 students.
The bathroom? No roof, no doors.
But the students still came to learn. That’s what struck many of the Solano Community College students who embarked on a lengthy project to build a new six-room school in connection with a Vallejo nonprofit, Water & Education International.
“I was taken aback with how dedicated they were to going to school,” Pinkerton-Lloyd said. “If that was out here, (kids would say,) ‘No, that’s ghetto, I’m not going.’ ”
Nguyen said students came from miles away to attend the ramshackle, leaky school in the small village located in the southwestern part of Haiti.
“Ten miles at least,” Christian Ogden said. “(There was) even a creek they had to (wade a)cross.”
Spearheaded by Solano College student Arturo Castillo, students in the college’s MESA program – Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement – embraced the project. Through the college’s Superintendent/President Jowel Laguerre, who was born fairly close to Cherette, contacts were made with Water & Education International, which supported fundraising activities and travel logistics for the MESA students.
“They have operated in Haiti for over 10 years,” Laguerre said. “They serve as the fiscal agent for the project. They collect money and disburse funds for the project.”
Solano College MESA Director Mostafa Ghous wanted the students to have a project that gave them experience in their field of interest.
“I wanted to make sure the experience was meaningful to them,” he said.
Ghous was mostly hands-off during the project, letting the students take the leadership roles – “giving them the resources and the contacts and let them take off with it,” he said.
After lengthy preparation, Castillo and a group of students made their first visit to Cherette in the summer of 2011 on a cultural, fact-finding trip.
They got to see the village and the school, which is run by Orelus Laguerre, Jowel Laguerre’s cousin. That introduction helped them gauge what needed to be done and find out where they could help best. They also asked the community for input on what was needed.
They came back to the U.S., did research, wrote the proposal and sent it out to various places that might be able to help financially. The Delta Sigma Theta sorority stepped up and funded much of the needed money to build the school. Initial estimates were about $20,000, but the projected ended up costing about $25,000.
The students, who largely funded their own transportation, were also in charge of surveying, designs and blueprints, locating contractors and finding local residents who could keep an eye on the project after the students went back to the United States. As students graduated or moved on to four-year schools, new students moved in to join the project.
“We got the ball rolling, the motivation and the right people together,” Castillo said of the project.
Castillo did the blueprints and much of the student and project organization, but he said it was a group effort.
The last trip was to paint the building – a brightly colored light-yellow-and-red school made of cinder blocks and the glassless windows unique to Haiti called clostra.
“Glass is expensive and fragile with too many rocks around,” Jowel Laguerre said. “You find more glass in the cities and Port-au-Prince.”
The building is made of typical cinder blocks with a concrete foundation and wood tresses. The school includes a solar suitcase from We Care Solar. It’s outfitted with a 50-watt solar panel strong enough to power lights and charge computers. Delta Sigma Theta donated new desks.
The school was inaugurated June 15, 2013.
“The new school will inspire students to make more efforts as the learning environment has improved and has become more comfortable,” Orelus Laguerre told the Daily Republic via his cousin. “We are indebted to the Solano students, their supporters as well as to Delta Sigma Theta for their investments in our children.”
For more information, and additional photos, go to the project’s Facebook page, Solano MESA: The WEI Project.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.