By Tara McCabe
For The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — St. Paul the Apostle Parish has been raising money to build a new church in Courette, Haiti. The existing church has corrugated metal walls and a dirt floor — but is located in a breathtakingly beautiful spot on the mountain. I was fortunate enough to see this during my trip to Haiti last summer where I helped with teacher training sessions.
A school next to the Courette church also has metal walls and a dirt floor, along with some wooden benches for desks. The office is a ripped canvas tent. Another school in nearby Grand Bois was in session during our visit, so we were able to meet the teacher and see the students, who were sitting shoulder to shoulder on benches with taller benches as desks. The students had notebooks and pencils. A blackboard was on the front wall. What I didn’t see in either school was a book. Not a single one.
I asked the teachers at our training sessions how many books they had in their schools. They thought perhaps 10, but weren’t sure. Each day of our teacher training, I read a picture book aloud in English while a translator read the Haitian-Creole part. The teachers were so engaged in the books. They would discuss every page. If the teachers were so intrigued, imagine the possibilities if they could share the magic of picture books with their own students. Books are windows to the world, allowing readers to walk in other people’s shoes while developing empathy, imagination, language skills and joy.
This year, St. Paul the Apostle School raised more than $2,000 to purchase picture books for the schools in Courette and Grand Bois. And they did it in a variety of ways. A special collection was taken during Advent. Charley DiIulio, a first-grader, took money from her piggy bank for the collection. Tatianna Day, a seventh-grader, went around her neighborhood asking for donations. Students enthusiastically wanted to buy books for children who had none.
Heather Harvey, a teacher, sold flavored water and popcorn during lunch and classes, with the proceeds going to buy books. Teachers organized a free-throw contest during Catholic Schools Week. Students paid a dollar each to make half-court shots. The Student Council also made a donation to the fund. The SPS choir sang “We Are the World” during their fall concert to raise awareness of our connection to our Haitian friends.
St. Paul’s religious education students and teachers helped out, too. They read and discussed books about Haiti to learn more about the country and brought in donations for the Books for Haiti fund.
All the money raised was used to purchase bilingual picture books, which will be carried up the mountain in suitcases this summer. When the teachers come to Grand Bois for their summer training, each one will receive a set of books to take back to their schools. The kindness, compassion and generosity from our own school will directly impact so many children in Haiti, most of whom will have books at school for the first time. Our books will be changing lives.
(Tara McCabe is a middle school teacher at St. Paul the Apostle School in Davenport.)