PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- In Cite Soleil, one of the most destitute neighborhoods in this poverty-ridden city, children dressed in their best school clothing sit quietly while dignitaries speak, before filing into their refurbished school to receive school supplies sent to them from across the Caribbean.
Their tiny faces brighten with smiles as Marines and sailors hand them crayons, pencils, pens, paper and other school supplies donated by Bell Fork Elementary School in Jacksonville, N.C.
The supplies from Bell Fork Elementary will allow the school to immediately take in students, according to Sanon Mirlene, a teacher at Sacre Coeur de Jesus de Brooklyn (Sacred Heart of Jesus of Brooklyn) school.
“This gift of a new school and supplies to go along with it is a dream come true.” Mirlene said. “I’m so happy to be able to come back to teach here. I can’t get over the improvements that have been made here.”
The distribution of $400 in school supplies was part of a ribbon-cutting ceremony reopening the school June 4, after Marines and sailors from Marine Air Ground Task Force –8 rebuilt potions of the school to make it a safe learning environment for the children.
Attending the ceremony, Haiti’s Minister of Education Pierre Buteau, the U.S. Ambassador James Foley and Franck Skzryerbak of the Organization of American States, which funded the project, each addressed community members and military personnel about the completion of this project and the future of Cite Soleil.
“Like this school that has risen from the ground, so will our future,” Buteau said, addressing those present in French. “This area has been an area of pain and tragedy, but now it is an area of dreams.”
Switching to English, Buteau ended his address by thanking the Marines for assisting in the education of Haiti’s youth by repairing the once collapsing school.
“When we came across this school, it had half a roof and was in dire need of repair,” said Capt. Shawn Fitzpatrick, the fire support coordinator for 8th Marine Regiment. “We were able to identify the need and basically give them back their school.”
Along with new roofs for the school’s buildings, the MAGTF-8 constructed partitions to form individual classrooms in the main building as well as donated desks, chairs and benches for the children.
“I think it was a fantastic effort,” Fitzpatrick said. “The Marines rebuilt the school and our local community back home pitched in by providing some school supplies for the kids.”
This assistance was possible because the numerous presence patrols conducted in the district by the Marines allowed them to identify the needs of the community and reach out to help them.
The renovation of the school and other projects the Marines with MAGTF-8 have completed in the Cite Soliel and its surrounding areas have helped build a bridge between the Marines who patrol the streets and the community, according to Fitzpatrick.
“Working with members of the community and interacting with them has helped the Haitian people understand that we are here to help them improve their own lives and their communities,” Fitzpatrick explained.
As the Marines continue to reach out to the community by patrolling the city streets to keep them safe or lending a hand by rebuilding schools, they will never be forgotten by those whose lives they have touched.
“I will never forget what the Marines have done for us here,” said Mirlene. “They have become a part of our community.”