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|Sujet: SOPUDEP ap fe yon gwo travay lan Petyonvil, men Lidi Paran ap anmèkde yo. Sam 23 Aoû 2008 - 14:02|| |
A Haitian school under attack
A school for the poorest children of Pétion-Ville, Haiti is being threatened with closing by the town's mayor. The following report was published by the Haiti Information Project  and is reprinted with permission.
August 22, 2008
THE OFFICIAL school year in Haiti begins again in September. Always a difficult time for parents in Haiti who have to scramble tirelessly to find money for their children's education, it is also a time of renewal and hope for the future.
Despite the hard-pressed reality of grinding poverty, Haiti's children start school with renewed enthusiasm each year as they walk for miles down dusty roads in neatly starched uniforms in their pursuit of an education. Unfortunately, more than 450 of the poorest students in the community of Pétion-Ville may not have a school to go to this year if the current mayor, Lydie Parent, has her way.
The mayor has, according to the teachers, administrators and parents of a school for Pétion-Ville's poorest children, ignored a legally binding lease for their school's current location and has begun strong-arm tactics in an effort to evict them.
The school is called the SOPUDEP School and is run by a local grassroots organization whose acronym stands for the Society of Providence United for the Economic Development of Pétion-Ville. The school has been in operation since 2002 and during that time has tried not to turn away any child for lack of funds. This is based upon SOPUDEP's fierce conviction that the education of Haiti's children is not just the responsibility of the government but of the community as a whole.
This isn't the first time a mayor of Pétion-Ville has tried to forcefully evict the SOPUDEP School from their current location in Haiti. The school faced a similar situation in September 2004 when masked police and security personnel from the Pétion-Ville mayor's office entered classrooms with guns drawn. Today, nearly four years later, the SOPUDEP School finds itself under attack from the current mayor of Pétion-Ville in yet another attempt to take over the school's building.
The history of how the school acquired their current building, in the area of Morne Lazarre near the posh Hotel Montana, is as much a story of hope and rebirth as the educational mission of the school itself. According to SOPUDEP's Web site, "Located in Pétion-Ville, Haiti, SOPUDEP School is a comprehensive public school serving the poorest residents of the city. Founded in 2002, the school has grown to over 400 students, many of who receive their only regular meal through the school's hot lunch program."
SOPUDEP's building once belonged to a bloody enforcer for the Duvalier dictatorship named Lionel Wooley who was forced to flee Haiti in 1987. The property laid in ruins and was occupied by squatters for many years until SOPUDEP petitioned the government to operate a school on the premises.
SOPUDEP negotiated a long-term lease of the property in 2001 with the national government and the former mayor of Pétion-Ville, Sully Guerrier. According to attorneys representing the school, the lease is iron clad and must be honored by the current mayor. The lease is set to expire in 2012 and was ultimately recognized as binding in 2004 during the first attempt to evict the school.
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THE DECISION to open a school for the children of disenfranchised families in Pétion-Ville, grew out of SOPUDEP's experiences from participating in a literacy campaign designed for adults between 30 and 60 years old. What happened next was to bring about the birth of a new community-based school. The adults began bringing their children with them to class so they could learn to read and write as well.
After assessing the phenomena, SOPUDEP determined that the children of the poorest families in the community were unable to find a place in the already overcrowded public school system and could never afford to pay for a private school. The leaders of SOPUDEP then worked with their community to open SOPUDEP School as a way to provide educational opportunities for the families who need it the most in Petion-Ville.
According to SOPUDEP School's director, Rea Dol, this recent campaign by Mayor Parent to displace them began several months ago. On May 30, five police and security agents from the mayor's office came to the school and demanded they vacate the premises without providing any cause. They simply stated it was a verbal order issued by the mayor and they had no choice.
SOPUDEP refused and continued as usual, but in the months that followed several people claiming to represent the family of the former owner began showing up and threatening them. SOPUDEP stood firm based upon their 10-year lease and refused to succumb to the scare tactics. On July 28, 2008, Mayor Parent delivered an eight-day eviction notice to SOPUDEP to vacate the school. Again, according to Dol, no legal grounds or justifications were given.
The following week, according to SOPUDEP's attorneys, something akin to a cease and desist order was filed against Mayor Parent in the Haitian courts. Despite the legal effort, the mayor appeared intent on ignoring the lease and, on August 8, 2008, sent a car with police and her representatives accompanied by a Radio France International radio crew to the SOPUDEP School. They tried to enter the premises after refusing to identify themselves, saying the mayor had instructed them "to post signs for her new project in the building and hold a press conference."
They were turned away by school security and refused entry to the building after they failed to present a court order. The situation is only expected to grow tenser in the coming days as anxious teachers, parents and local community organizations brace for what they expect to be a greater confrontation escalated by the mayor's office. But they are not alone.
SOPUDEP's efforts on behalf of their community have garnered them a large following of international supporters throughout the United States and Canada who are now mobilizing to save the school.
Paul Miller is a native Minnesotan who has supported the school for many years and has brought numerous delegations to visit with teachers and students. Mr. Miller commented, "SOPUDEP School and the staff are a shining light for the children of Haiti. With nothing more than their own determination they have built a school that provides an unbelievable service to children that would otherwise have no means of obtaining any kind of education."
Miller continued, "It greatly disturbs me that such a success story in Haiti should be under attack. I have never met people more committed to doing what is right for the children of the community than the staff at SOPUDEP School."
Darren Ell, a Canadian photojournalist who has documented the role and progress of SOPUDEP School the past two years, said, "The economic reality of Haiti is such that a large proportion of children are inadequately nourished and unable to concentrate while in school. I have seen the glazed look of hungry children in Haiti's schools. SOPUDEP has responded to this reality by instituting a feeding program, guaranteeing hundreds of children one square meal every day of the week so they can focus on their studies."
Ell concluded, "By closing SOPUDEP School, the mayor of Pétion-Ville is clearly showing a complete lack of concern for the health and future of her community's most vulnerable members."
International supporters of the SOPUDEP School have begun a letter-writing campaign targeting Mayor Lydie Parent demanding she respect the terms of their 10-year lease. Details can be found on the SOPUDEP School  Web site.
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What you can do
Supporters of the SOPUDEP School are asking that people write letters of solidarity and support for the school. Find out more information at SOPUDEP.org .
For news and activist updates about Haiti and the struggle for justice, visit the HaitiAction.net  Web site.
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