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Goodbye Fontaine! By Greg & Katie


As our six-weeks at St. Gabriel's School in Fontaine, Haiti comes to a close, we thought we'd share some reflections on the wonderful experience we had in this beautiful country.

We spent our third and fourth weeks in the classroom with a full schedule. It was great to make friends with the students through mutual learning. Our favorite memories are the classes where we went back and forth between Creole and English which meant that we learned as much as did the students.

At the end of week four, we witnessed the installation of the new solar operated pump. This pump will run the new well which will provide water for the school as well as for the field that will serve as a community garden.  

Before the installation team arrived, all needed to be ready so we helped chop down the sugar cane forest behind the school so that a trench could be dug for the pipes and wiring. For two kids from the States, hacking down a sugar cane forest with a machete was a novel and fun experience but it also taught us about the hard work ethic of the average Haitian who works like this every day simply to make a living.

Kevin and Ken, the solar pump guys from Albany, N.Y., were here for four days and they were able to completely install the pump and the solar panels. We were inspired by their willingness to allow the students of St. Gabriel's to interact with them and help in any way possible with the pump. The excitement on the students' faces when they were included in such an important project was heartwarming. 

It is now the end of week six and while the water is still not pure enough to drink, the pump is able to push water to the roof of the school and, from there, feed the plumbing system for the entire school. Eventually it will irrigate a 3.5 acre field where crops will be grown and used to supply food not only for the school's hot meal program but for the community of Fontaine as well. It was extremely exciting to be involved in such an important project.

Our final two weeks were exam weeks at St. Gabriel's. The students all showed up bright and early, ready to take their tests. At night, it was obvious the students were working hard because lights would be on in the classrooms until late in the evening and students would pace around the schoolyard studying until there was no more daylight.

We did get a chance to pull some students away from their studies and teach them a few card games. The favorite at the school, by far, was UNO. With the help of the card games we were able to form strong relationships with many of the school's students. As the end of our time in Fontaine drew nearer, even some of the female students braved talking to us in order to play a few card games. This was fantastic because many of the female students are quieter and overshadowed by their male counterparts. 

Many of the students asked for our phone numbers and Facebook information so that we could continue our conversations even after we return home. We believe this will provide us an opportunity to remain in touch and give the students a chance to practice their English.

We thought we'd end this reflection and our trip by sharing some of our most positive impressions of Haiti:  

·      The hospitality of the Haitian people is beyond anything we have ever experienced before. Everyone from the cooks to the students were always willing to help us in any way they could or make us feel at home.

·      The food is absolutely delicious. The cooks are meticulous with the food they prepare and there was always more than we could ever want. Brother Bill taught us to always add hot sauce to make the meal truly Haitian.

·      The sense of community in Haiti is absolutely beautiful. The best example comes from something as simple as sharing with a child the last few sips of a soda. Every time we did this, the soda was not given only to the individual but to all of his friends as well. The Haitians always pick each other up and help everyone having a need.  We believe this is a powerful lesson that we can learn from. The Haitians are never alone; they always think about one another.

We are both grateful for our experience in Haiti and cannot wait to return someday. St. Gabriel's School will hold a special place in both of our hearts until we do. Thank you for following our six-week adventure.

 Katie & Greg

(Greg Altman and Katie Burke, Senior Biology Majors at Siena College, Loudonville, N.Y., have spent the last six week at St. Gabriel's School in Fontaine, Haiti as participants in a six week "Summer of Service Program" sponsored by Albany Medical College & Siena College. As they left Haiti, they sent a final reflection.)

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