In Haiti, most children have a single set of clothes. IF a child attends school, a uniform is a requirement. Because the Barefoot School is open to everyone, we do not strictly enforce that requirement.
As we prepared for the school year last summer, Justin’s budget included $4,500 for ‘uniform cloth.’ I was resistant to authorizing the purchase, but after discussing it with friends, we moved forward in September. “The uniform creates an important identity with the school,” one friend advised me, “and it can serve as an equalizer among students.”
A month or so later when we opened our doors in November, I didn’t see any uniforms.
“That’s because we need to make them,” Justin told me. Then it became clear: indeed, we purchased the ‘uniform cloth,’ not the uniforms. I was mildly upset, but the purchase was made, and we could not spare the money to have the cloth made into uniforms. Lesson learned, or so I thought…
I receive pictures of school activities just about every day. Early in January, I noticed children in uniforms. “We sent the cloth home with the students,” Justin explained, “and asked the parents to make the uniforms for their children.” That is a good idea, I thought.
As February progresses, I see more students in uniform. I was pleased to see Cineus in a uniform!
This week, we are averaging about 140 students each day. Most of them wear uniforms.
Seven of our students live on the streets with no mother or father to care for them; 40 live with only a mother; and 12 live with only a father. “Who will make the uniforms for the children who have no mother?” I asked Justin.
“They are desperate,” he told me. “They are the ones sewing their own uniforms. I asked myself, ‘IF they have the love to learn, there will be a desire to sew uniforms.’ I think this little effort shows the love they have. To come to school, they make an unimaginable effort. Imagine putting some children between the ages of 8 and 16 in an obligation to make an effort for themselves, that’s a big thing.”
That is an understatement. Once again, I find myself humbled by the meekest of the meek.
We do our best. Justin reminds us that we call our school the Barefoot School because when we started, many children came without shoes. He explains that the uniforms will become their primary set of clothes, extra clothes to the single set of clothes each child in Cité Soleil is limited to. He concludes by telling me that many children sleep the night in the streets – even when it’s raining – because there is no hospital to care for them.
Count your blessings and never forget that we are our brother’s keepers.