I can only drink so much coffee.
Let me explain. A few decades ago, my wife and I led groups of teenagers to Jamaica for work projects. We usually repaired hurricane damage in churches and community centers.
I loved the country, loved the people, and loved the coffee.
Afterward, I tried to buy Jamaican coffee whenever I could, because I wanted to support this country and people of whom I’d become so fond.
Then we were blessed beyond measure with three grandchildren born in Ethiopia and my coffee allegiance wavered.
A few years later, we took a trip to Peru and while traveling in the mountains, met another group of coffee-growing people who deserved support. They were hard-working people, battling a history of colonialism and oppression.
I was working on a story a couple years later and ended at a cooperative coffee plantation in the highlands of Uganda, where the people were doing their very best to build a future for their families. They worked together to turn out a quality product and then shoehorn it through a maze of powerful interests, only to reach an uninterested public.
I’m probably one of the least oppressed people on the planet, so it has been a stunning learning experience to discover what so many people need to go through just to make their way in the world. One of the sadder truths in this world is that talent and intelligence are spread equally, while opportunities and advantages are not.
Where is this going? It’s going to the New Life Primary School in the mountains of Haiti, overlooking the community of Mizac, a couple hours south of Port Au Prince. When I first visited, I watched as classes were taught in a room with walls of rusty tin and tattered tarps. To make a very long story short, we were delivering desks made by the men’s group in our church, desks that had started out as ash logs in Garnett Kanne’s wood lot. Loren Strei cut them into boards with his sawmill, and Curt Olson turned the rough lumber into finished material. One night every year, a group of guys showed up at my wood shop and assembled and packaged desks to ship to schools that were doing without.
It’s a small and vastly out of the way place, but enough people cared about it that a few years ago the New Life Primary School moved into an actual building, built exclusively for the purpose.
About 90% of primary schools in Haiti are non-public. Parents are expected to pay fees to send their kids to school. Even though, like parents everywhere, they desperately want their children to get an education, living on a couple of dollars a day means money for books and uniforms end up as a lower priority than food or shelter. So, another generation falls behind.
The New Life Primary School doesn’t charge fees. Still, food, books, and teachers for 260 students isn’t free. I no longer give money to a church – a decision God and I have discussed at great length. Instead, I send $350.00 per month to the New Life School. It’s not nearly enough, of course. Money does go further in Haiti, and the budget to run the entire school for a year wouldn’t pay a principal’s salary in the United States, but to keep the doors open requires about $5,000/month. That amount feeds and educates 260 children, and helps a community build the base that lifts generations yet unborn. I was fretting about this and thought, “Man, if ten percent of the people who read my column contributed $10.00/month, the school would be okay forever.” Most people I know could sign up for ten bucks a month, some could afford a hundred, and a few people could kick in a thousand a month and not suffer.
That brings me back to my coffee metaphor. In this world, we live in an ocean of need. There is literally no end to the number of projects worthy of support. If you’re the sort of person who cares about other people, it’s easy to be submerged in the clamor for your money. I get that. No one can heal all the wrongs in the world.
But I’ve seen this school. I’ve only been there once, because every time I think about arranging a visit, I do the math and realize my travel expenses would pay a teacher’s salary for a year. But I’ve seen these students. I’ve seen, literally and figuratively, the hard road they walk, a road harder than most Americans can imagine, against odds most of us would find insurmountable. Having an education is the absolute first step down that road. I like that the school was started by people who never intended or wanted to be involved, but still stepped up because they knew no one else would. I like that the board of directors are people working for free. I’m deeply sorry that the teachers’ paychecks are small and sometimes missing, but I’m in awe that they keep showing up anyway.
I’ve been writing this column for nearly a quarter of a century. Based on the friends I’ve made over that span, I know a lot of fantastic, caring people throughout a number of countries, and I hope some of them see this. I don’t know if it will do any good – in a quarter of a century I’ve never made a request like this. We do live in an ocean of need. I’m asking that you use a teaspoon and help out the New Life Primary School, in Mizak, Haiti. Just a little bit.
Copyright 2020 Brent Olson