Behind the AHADEPA school lies a story of people getting together to help children from struggling families in economic distress. Several community members helped a lot but the man behind the original idea and the project is co-director Ricot Osias. He gave us a chronological account of the development of what became the Ahadepa school.
Ricot joined an association with the youths from his old neighbourhood in Cote-Plage zone 16 (in Carrefour, Port-au-Prince). That’s when he realized that getting people together was very powerful to alleviate community difficulties. He kept in mind that leading others to help each other was something he wanted to do.
Ricot moved to the neighbourhood where the school is now and joined the local church. He started to participate to the evangelisation program in January in the difficult Matobou area near the sea (where Bechilove and Benaldson live). The tasks involved to meet families in distress and convince them to join the church community or at least accept help.
At 3pm one day, while preaching from door to door, he met a woman washing clothes while breastfeeding a baby. Two other kids were playing marbles in the dirt and a third one was blowing a fire between three stones to cook some peas. The children hygiene was poor and it was obvious that they did not go to school.
The Bible preaching was a lot shorter than usual and Ricot explained that it was at that exact moment that he had a revelation. He was shocked by the scene and thought about the hundreds of people living in the same conditions in the same coastal area.
The church main aim was to preach and convert while not fixing the problems. Ricot and a few young members from the congregation organised together and that’s how the “Association des Humanistes pour Aider les Demunis du Pays” (Humanist Association to help the poor of the country) was born in March 2005.
AHADEPA stands for ASSOCIATION des HUMANISTES pour AIDER les DEMUNIS du PAYS (Humanist Association to help the poor of the country)
The first steps of the AHADEPA association this first year was to get an office borrowed from a generous community member and start a roster. The same technique used for evangelisation was applied to find out names, age and addresses of kids not going to school in the various community zones.
Once a significant list of children out of the education system was compiled, Ricot who was president and administrator of the association, met Maitre Rene Innocent which was an AHADEPA member and a professor in a school called Maitre Thomas. Ricot and Maitre Innocent decided that the next step was to start a school.
They needed premises, teachers, furnitures and school supplies for kids whose families could not help financially. At this stage, the teachers would be volunteers from the association and the local church committee authorized the school to be set on the upper level of their premises which was an unused and ramshackle space. Money was needed for school supplies as well as benches, tables and school boards. A school sign was set outside the church and documents explaining the project and the kids situation was printed to convince potential donors within the community. Many small business owners and others were reluctant to donate due to either lack of interest, funds or due to many conmen operating in the area.
One small business which gave Ricot a morale boost was the hardware store “Pazapa”. The manager understood the project and asked for legit and official papers. Ricot provided the attestation from the Social affair ministry and the shop owner donated 2000 gourdes. Although this is the equivalent of $32 US, Ricot and Maitre Innocent felt like it was 2,000,000 dollars! This allowed them to buy second hand furnitures, and pieces of wood for benches and boards. School supplies were also donated.
Monday October 2nd 2006, the school officially opened.
The school opened for five levels of classes (Preschool to 4th year of primary school). Although children families were experiencing extreme financial difficulties, small fees were requested to at least operate the school. The inscription cost was 25 gourdes (40 cents) and the annual fee was 300 gourdes ($4 US). Many parents did not pay at all. Ricot allowed it since the objective of the association and the school was to help those in hardship. At the same time, volunteering teachers started to ask for a small wage thinking that fees were getting paid.
While Ricot was sensible about asking school fees to parents, Maitre Innocent asked to try the role of full time school director in an attempt to be more rigid on the fees matter. It never changed. Since Maitre Innocent was well known in the community as a competent teacher and Ricot had a compiled list of unschooled kids, they both managed to get 130 students this second year.
Problems between the direction and the parents or teachers were sometimes hard to manage. Parents were trying to bypass Maitre Innocent by smooth talking Ricot to avoid school fees. Volunteering teachers turnover were also getting shorter since most of them were giving up due to the absence of a real wage. Sometimes, Ricot and Maitre Innocent ended up teaching two classes at the same time each.
Ricot used to give driving lessons as his main job (he now drives ambulances for one of the busiest hospital of Port-au-Prince) since he is not working full time at the school like Maitre Innocent. He met a young 17 years old named Christian Billy for driving license and his mother Doctor Carole Billy during those years and kept in touch.
In 2008, Christian went to England where he met Carole Attis, a Haitian expatriate willing to participate in an educational project to give back to the Mother Land. Christian introduced Carole to his mother and both Carole(s) clicked.
Dr Billy mentioned the AHADEPA school while Carole was creating the association UHUK in November 2008 (today a registered charity). Doctor Billy was effectively the link between Carole and Ricot Osias.
The first UHUK donation to AHADEPA was $400 dollars (24,000 gourdes) which was astronomical at the time and definitely helped to make some progress. The priority was to pay all debts including the now non-volunteers teachers wages. Then, two levels of classes were added (5th and 6th year of primary school). A National exam needs to be passed after year 6 and all efforts were made to register the school at the State level.
The first inspection report of the school by the Education Ministry showed mixed results. The school was still at the upper level of the church and the main concerns were related to the hygiene. Only one toilet for 130 students, classrooms were not separated and the premises were not in a good shape.
Nevertheless, the inspector sent Ricot to the DDO main office (Direction Departementale de l’Ouest) were he first met a second inspector who gave him a negative feedback as well as a “nobody sent you to start a school”.
While walking back the corridor, luck stroke again when another inspector from Carrefour crossed path with Ricot. This inspector was more attentive and believed that the situation was not as bad as it sounded. He gave a list of things to do to Ricot and also sent a letter to his superior which later on gave the attestation and authorization for the AHADEPA school students to attend National exams.
The school almost terminated that year says Ricot. A new Pastor came to the church and was against the school running upstairs. He claimed that it was too filthy compared to the ground floor were the evangelisation was taking place. Ricot argued that the co-directors were not remunerated and that the parents of the kids could eventually be converted, but to no avail.
The Pastor requested to stop the school without delay and claimed that it was not a school of the church but a school on the church premises.
As an influent member of the church committee, Ricot attempted an ultimatum. If the Pastor was putting all those kids back in the streets, Ricot and Maitre Innocent would bring all the parents in front of the church. Their argument was not to show disrespect to the Pastor but to do the right thing as Christians and as community leaders.
All the other members of the AHADEPA association affiliated to the church committee voted against Ricot and Maitre Innocent. Ricot was caught in a corner, there was no solution until a woman from the church borrowed them an empty house for the school.
It was not ideal but they managed to stay a few months until the property owners needed the place back in September. At this stage, the only other place they knew was still the church. Although Ricot and Maitre Innocent were determined to defend their case again, they were truly worried about the outcome. To make things more complicated, the Pastor changed again and Ricot thought that he would simply follow in his predecessor’s foot steps.
While Ricot was presenting some initiatives for the church, the new Pastor was quite impressed by his oratory skills. In the next church committee meeting, the Pastor asked all leaders who they were including Ricot. He asked Ricot if he was paid for any AHADEPA projects and decided that the school could re-integrate the church premises.
The new Pastor claimed “What is the problem if a guy is giving all his energy to a church and a school while not getting paid!?”. The next five months were so peaceful for the AHADEPA school but it was the calm before the storm.
The worst earthquake that hit Haiti on 12 January 2010 affected almost 3.5 millions people including the entire population of 2.8 million people living in Port-au-Prince. Carrefour being part of Port-au-Prince, the church was not spared and got destroyed.
Luckily enough, the kids were not in the church when the earthquake stroke but one of the student lost a leg. Many families relocated in the countryside and the number of students dropped.
The school started to run again in March but was outdoor in a land near the church. School boards and parasols were donated by Save the Children and a big tent (still in use) was given by ADRA (Agence du Development Rural Adventiste).
UHUK could not help to build a school on the land of the church and everybody was scared to build anything that year. UHUK did several visits in 2010 (Carole Attis and her sister Nadege) to set programs for food and communicated on the UK medias such as BBC as they were the sole Haitian association at the time in England.
Many events were organised for fundraising and donations which allowed UHUK to send six containers of goods to Haiti.
Three containers for RHASADE (Reseau Haitien pour la Sante et le Developpement) and three for AHADEPA. Not all containers managed to reach the AHADEPA school mostly due to corruption and the chaotic organization at the custom level during the post-earthquake period.
Government donations paid for the rent of the land where the school was located since March 2010 as an effort to assist communities hit by the earthquake. This program stopped in 2012.
Since 2012, UHUK started to rent another plot of land (current location) for the children to have class and donated money for school supplies and to build the shed where the year 4th, 5th and 6th classrooms are located. The classrooms for the preschool, year 1, 2 and 3 are in the big tent given by ADRA. The number of students went up to 169 pupils.
UHUK struggled since 2010 to find a piece of land to buy due to ownership conflicts in the area and an extremely slow process to update land ownership by the DGI (Direction Generale des Impots). Nevertheless, the purchase of a piece of land was finalized in 2015 and a wall was built around it to avoid land theft.
The next steps will be for UHUK to build a sustainable AHADEPA school to gain more autonomy and carry on its mission to alleviate extreme conditions through education. Check out the dream.