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First Graduating Class

It all started seven years ago with a request to help dig a well, then to help build a school. On Friday, June 23, thanks to the efforts of many, St. Gabriel's School in Fontaine, Haiti, celebrated it's first graduation. The event was historic because never before had the rural Haitian community of Fontaine witnessed the graduation of a high school class of students. Among the guests attending the celebration was Nick Ascioti. Nick is a member of the Friends of Fontaine Board, a diaconate candidate for the Diocese of Albany, New York, a member of the faculty of St. Jude's School in Wynantskill, N.Y., as well as a member of St. Jude's parish staff. It was Nick's first trip to Haiti and St. Gabriel's and his report follows below.

Dear friends and family,

            This is my first visit to Haiti and, specifically, to Fontaine. I came here without any expectations so that I could simply experience the culture and the people. After driving through Port-au-Prince and the other villages I got the impression that the way of life was inconsistent, ranging from clothing, to housing, to transportation. When I arrived in Fontaine and began to meet the students and other people of the village, I came to a new understanding of the word "poverty." In the U.S. we use the word "poverty" in a very general sense. It is assumed that if you live in poverty then you must have a miserable existence, depressed all the time, alone, and always looking for a hand out. That is not the understanding of poverty in Fontaine. These are wonderful, inspirational people, who celebrate life with family and friends. True, their way of life is difficult and there are many obstacles, with lack of nutrition and health care being at the top of the list. However, the people of Fontaine do not allow what is lacking to define them or deprive them of joy. Their sense of community is also an asset that helps them on a daily basis. Being here has given me a better understanding of their appreciation for others and their gifts, living simply, and living daily with gratitude.

            The graduation of St. Gabriel's first graduating class was a wonderful experience. Beginning with a procession that started at the school with the school band playing hymns and the graduates following. They processed through the town and the church. The festivities began with a celebration of Mass, and this was a celebration. The people of Fontaine know what "full participation" in the Mass means. It was a privilege to participate in that celebration with them.

            There are many great things happening in Fontaine and at St. Gabriel's School. Just before we arrived there was a new well installed, with a pump. The water is sent to the roof and is stored in tanks. This saves a lot of time and effort of hand pumping the water and carrying it to the roof. The more significant use of this well is for the irrigation of a 3.5 acre field. The produce will be used to help the food assistance program at the school and also help the residents of Fontaine.      

            I am truly blessed to have visited Fontaine and to have spent time with the people of the village. They have shared with me some of their stories, traditions, and gifts. Thanks to Brother Bill, I have a better understanding of how our help is making a difference. Our assistance not only benefits the school students, but also the community. There remains much work to do. I look forward to the next trip, whenever that may be, and look forward to finding new ways to help improve the conditions in Fontaine.

Nicholas Ascioti

St. Jude the Apostle Church and School, Wynantskill, N.Y. 

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