GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As people in Haiti continue to recover after being hit with a major earthquake, a West Michigan organization is working to raise awareness about the continued challenges Haitians are facing.
“One of the hardest things is when you see things like landslides or earthquakes or you know, COVID or gang violence… feeling helpless,” said Sue Pastoor, child sponsorship coordinator with the Power of Education Foundation.
The foundation started three weeks before the 2010 earthquake which was estimated to have killed 200,000 people. The Michigan-based co-founders wanted to give kids access to free, high-quality education but wanted a local partner who shared their dream of educating children in Haiti and had the experience to run a school.
They connected with a Haitian educator named Jordan Fleurant and opened a school that now educates some of the more vulnerable kids in Port-Au-Prince.
PEF consists of 10 teachers who live in Haiti, and four West-Michigan-based volunteers who run the U.S. side of the foundation. The K through 9th grade school offers free, high-quality education to students who can’t afford the tuition charged by most schools in Haiti.
Since opening its doors in October 2010, the school has grown from 90 students to 240.
In the past 11 years, students and their families have faced countless challenges, including increased poverty, the pandemic and political gang violence which worsened after the assassination of the country’s president in July.
“One of the gangs actually came down and took over one of the neighborhoods next to us,” said Jennifer Masternak, financial and creative director with the power of education. “All of the teachers that lived there, all of our families that live there had to flee basically on a moment’s notice with the clothes on their back. A lot of it was burned down, they don’t have anything to go back to right now.”
She said many of those families and teachers fled to the southwest of Haiti, which was hit with a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on Aug. 14, killing more than 2,000 people and injuring another 12,000.
“We have luckily found all of our teachers and all of our staff are safe. We’re still waiting to find a number of our families,” Masternak said.
The foundation is now working to reshelter those impacted by the earthquake, but they’re asking for the community’s support.
“Nine of our teachers lost their homes to gang violence even prior to the earthquake. We now have extended families, their families so the money that we have we can send directly down there and we know that our partners in Haiti, our friends, are being resheltered, they’re being given food,” Pastoor said. “We are a school, but in addition to that we’re also a larger community organization meaning that anyone who touches the school like with this earthquake, all of their families we’re supporting.”
“We’re not a gigantic relief organization, but we have very very strong local ties there and donations that come to us go directly to those families who need it. These kids deserve to go to school. These families who are impacted by the earthquake deserve medical care, they deserve a place other than a tent to sleep,” said Masternak.
In addition to helping those families, they also have their hands full planning a fundraiser known as Chopped Grand Rapids. Four of Grand Rapids’ top chefs will compete in a cooking competition to be crowned Chopped Grand Rapids Champion 2021. All proceeds will benefit the Power of Education.
“That’s one of my passions is to do something great for the community, great for our chefs, great for local restaurants, but supports the school and the people that we love doing great work in Haiti,” Pastoor said.
You can find more information about the Power of Education online.