Why Children? The Aart Van Wingerden School Has An Answer
Wherever poverty is rampant in the world children are the ultimate victims. Malnutrition and hunger, so characteristic of impoverished situations, are major causes for disease and deficient learning abilities. Haiti is no different with its lack of adequate health care and a 56% adult illiteracy rate. Double Harvest believes that one of the most effective ways to address poverty in this country is through the care, education, training and discipleship of children. Childhood is the time when the most significant life changes can be made and positive patterns developed.
The Aart Van Wingerden School (named after Double Harvest’s founder) was established in 1996 as a non-residential school, beginning with two classes of 30 students per class. An additional class has been added each year bringing the enrollment to over 500 for the 2011 – 2012 school year. The students live with their families or members of their extended family in the surrounding villages. Many walk or ride their bicycle for several miles, while others ride a Tap Tap bus to school each day. Their scrubbed appearance and mandatory uniforms (for all schools in Haiti) belie the living conditions and circumstances from which most of the students come. However, education is valued by most families and seen as a pathway of hope for the future. To add importance to their responsibilities, a small tuition fee is required of the parents in addition to the sponsorship gifts.
There is a saying in Haiti: “An empty stomach cannot hear.” Following this simple logic, a Preschool class (added in 2006), a Kindergarten class, and a daily noon meal ensure that the children receive the adequate intellectual stimulation and nutrition needed to thrive in their future schooling years. These essential elements unfortunately are often missing in the poor and underprivileged families from which these children come. Even simple skills, like how to hold a pencil, are taught in these initial classes. Primarily for these reasons, the leadership discovered the school had no students from the village directly adjacent to the Double Harvest project. The children could not pass the simple qualifying test. Sensing its Christian responsibility, it was decided to allow a percentage of the Preschool and Kindergarten classes to be from the village, giving them an educational opportunity they would otherwise not have.
The school’s principal, Dieusibon, himself a “miracle story”, sums up the values that are foundational to the school’s success: “Our school works on three things: Honor, Academe, Physic.” Honor – The students are challenged to develop integrity, honesty and respect for their teachers and each other. These Biblical values often fly in the face of what is practiced in the culture. Academe – The students are encouraged to study hard and to strive for excellence in their education. This value is applied to both the academic subjects and the required Bible curriculum the students are taught. Physic – Along with the daily nutritious meal and medical care, sports, playground activities, music, and some vocational classes for the older students are offered to aid the student's physical and social development.
Over the years, classroom buildings and a cafeteria have been built, a playground added, a basketball court poured, and most recently the Vocational Building constructed. This building houses classrooms, a workshop for woodworking and welding classes, and storage areas. Beyond the normal academic classes, vocational, computer, Bible, and English classes are also offered. These are most often taught by people from the U.S. and Canada, visiting on a short term mission lasting from two weeks to three months. They compliment the competent and caring Haitian teaching staff, all committed to the welfare and development of the precious lives of these students.