SEYMOUR – When a school that Father Mathieu Isaac built in his native Haiti collapsed during the massive earthquake of 2010 that devastated the island nation, it destroyed his school but it didn’t break his spirit.
He went into the streets, gathered 550 children who otherwise would be lost to violence, crime and poverty, and began holding classes in tents and around picnic tables.
Now, he’s trying to raise $100,000 to rebuild the kindergarten-through-grade 12 school in Tabarre, near the airport at Port-au-Prince, while facing threats from the government to close it within a year.
His ambitious dream is born of his own conviction that education is the path to pulling youth out of the life-crushing force of poverty.
“The thought that haunted me was that something had to be done to help the children,” said Father Isaac, parochial vicar at the Church of the Good Shepherd. He was ordained in the Archdiocese of Hartford two years ago.
“More than food and money, what they need is an education that gives them a future in which they don’t need to rely on other people to survive,” he said.
Father Isaac’s plan is to build the school in three phases: first a $50,000 (anti-seismic) foundation for 20 classrooms with furnishings; then a $25,000 second phase for a library, lab, offices, cafeteria, restrooms and meeting room; and $25,000 for phase three that calls for construction of an auditorium, basketball court and nurse’s office.
Salaries for the school’s current principal, eight teachers and eight staff members are paid by Father Isaac. Students attend either a morning or late-day session at the tuition-free school and receive one meal. Prayer is said upon arrival, mid-session and before dismissal.
“People here don’t understand that labor and supplies in Haiti are very inexpensive,” he explained. The bigger issue, he said, is dealing with corruption that is rampant in the country.
“The government has given me one year to rebuild; and if I don’t, they will close the school,” he said.
The school, named Institution of the Trinity, is the dream of Father Isaac and his sister, who was a member of a religious community in Haiti and is now earning a degree in education.
“In 2001, we went into the streets and started with five children, then 50; and at the time of the earthquake, we had 385 students,” he said with a smile. “News of the school spread quickly,” he noted. “When parents realized the school was Catholic, they were more willing to send their children because of their respect for and confidence in the church. They know that when the Catholic Church is involved, they help needy people …”
Clearly, Haiti is an impoverished nation. It is ranked as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere: about 76 percent of its people live under the poverty line on less than $2 a day, and 56 percent live under extreme poverty on less than $1 a day.
Since 1987, it has been hit with a series of natural disasters and political crises, including the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people, seriously injured more than 250,000 and left 1.3 million homeless.
According to Father Isaac, while the earthquake-ravaged area around Port-au-Prince continues to try to rebuild, it left children particularly vulnerable to acts of violence and abuse, including slavery and forced killing.
“My dream is to have the school rebuilt so that the children can have a better future,” he said. “If God allows it, I know I will have done something great for my country.”
Donations may be designated “Haiti Fund” and sent to Church of the Good Shepherd, 135 Mountain Road, Seymour, CT 06483. For information, call 203-888-9243.