Friday, February 18, 2011


This week has seen the beginning of two construction projects in Gros Morne: the first, is the much-mooted chicken coop, which has long since been on the minds of UCDVO alumni, since in the region of €10,000 was raised for the project over 2 years ago; the second is an extension to the Fon Ibo school - five classrooms and a block of latrines to be built on land adjacent to the existing school.

The chicken project itself has been under way in some form since 2007. To date, land has been purchased and fenced, a well has been dug, hens have been purchased in Jamaica, and the grain storage and guardian buildings have been constructed, both wooden structures. The final construction to be completed is the actual coop itself, which will consist of three brick rooms, each housing 50 chickens. The project is being overseen by Christie Newman, a volunteer and agronomy graduate from Washington D.C., who is here for 5 months, having previously spent a year living with the nuns in 2008. The coop will function as a co-operative (a coop-co-op?), enabling locals to buy eggs at a lower price, either for consumption by their families, or to sell on at the market. From looking on the internet, there are a number of other projects in Haiti, and globally, with similar goals of providing an economic ignition point for a small community. They seem like small projects relatively, but the work required from both the organisation responsible and the local labour make the simple task slightly more expansive, and as with all projects involving the purchase of land in Haiti, time-consuming. Aside from the planning and construction of the facilities, often there is also a transitional period required, to oversee the smooth and effective transfer of management of the project to a local body. It's all well and good building a chicken coop with 150 chickens, but if the community haven't been educated, and they're hungry today, two guesses as to where those chickens will end up. Having said that, chickens are a commonly-farmed animal here, and it won't be like throwing a load of Kangaroos into Dublin-west. They know how to look after chickens on a small scale, the transition in this case will involve training in the running of a larger business operation.

There has been a lot of press lately concerning the massive humanitarian effort ongoing in Haiti, concentrated primarily in Port-au-Prince. There seems to be a consensus that this effort, relative to its financial scope, is failing. Granted, the scope of such a humanitarian effort is unprecedented, especially in a country which was so poorly developed to begin with, so I for one think its relative success or failure might be unquantifiable. Having said this, a lot of money seems to have been pissed away. In an age where communication is ever cheaper, it would seem to me that the key to less money being squandered would be more communication between smaller organisations, or divisions of organisations even, with narrower, more direct goals. Maybe I'm wrong on this, but hopefully this small-scale chicken coop will become reliable source of income for the community.

The second project I mentioned was the ground-breaking for the Fon Ibo school extension. Fon Ibo is a primary school in the centre of a small community on the outskirts of Gros Morne. The school system in Haiti is similar to the Irish system, consisting of two infant years followed by six years in primary school, then an exam and transition to college, or secondary school. In secondary school, the first three years are capped by state exams, followed by another three years ending in another set of state exams. This year is then followed by the 'Philo' year, which acts as a preparatory year for University, and culminates in a third set of state exams. Similar to Ireland, children start at the age of 4 and complete second-level at the approximate age of 18. Or at least that's the ideal scenario. Not all schools are state-funded, in fact relatively few are. In Gros Morne, most of the schools, primary and secondary, are tied to a church or privately run. In schools such as these there is generally a charge, about an average of US$15 per year. Plus the costs for books, uniforms etc. Taking this into account, many families can't afford to send their kids to school, at least not at the age-appropriate times, and often children miss a year if parents can't afford to pay at the time. As a result, there are kids up to the age of fifteen still in primary school, and a considerable portion of secondary school graduates are well into their twenties.

Still, things are more than moving in the right direction, which can be seen by the increased enrolment rates in schools. With this, however, comes the problem of space. I know there are still schools in rural Ireland which might share a classroom between two or three classes of three or four pupils, but here, there are classrooms that house two or three classes of 25+ pupils each. Some classes hang curtains to divide them into two, or use the blackboard, or simply have the classes facing opposite directions, two blackboards on opposing walls.

This is the case in some of the classes in Fon Ibo school, so the expansion could not be more welcome. At the ground-breaking yesterday, pupils and their parents carried rocks from the banks of the nearby Troi Rivier that will be used to form the foundations of the new buildings, whilst the construction crew dug the trenches outlining the structure of the new school. This community involvement was an apt and encouraging accompaniment for the laying of the foundations of the classrooms.

Employment and education. Janey mac. As if you don't get enough of that kind of talk at home these days, eh? Say hi to Mary Hanafin for me.

The Ground-breakers: A representative from each class did their part.

Community Gathering: The rest of the school and a large group of parents gather to watch the ground-breaking ceremony, and help in the formation of the foundations.

Speech Time: Not short. 

Nice shovel.

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