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PAS Students Put on Summer Camp for COHP

By Alexandra Kader
PAS Students Put on Summer Camp for COHP

The Pan-American School of Costa Rica (PAS) promotes the philosophy that students are creators and should employ their educational experience to benefit the global community. One CAS initiative carried out during the 2015–2016 school year focused on the Children of Haiti Project (COHP). Ten IB students participated in fundraising over US$5,000 and led campaigns to raise awareness about COHP’s efforts to aid children in the wake of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. The project culminated in a week-long trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti last June, when these ten students, along with PAS’s Secondary Principal Patrick Miller, and faculty member Harold Wallace, developed a summer camp for 65 of Haiti’s poorest children.
The earthquake left many homeless in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti on 12 January 2010. Scores of children lost their parents. Many became wanderers in the wreckage. Six years later, the rubble still clutters the streets. The city looks gray—full of concrete, tin, and debris. The lack of colors unveils the crude reality Haitians have to face daily. Organizations such as the Children of Haiti Project (COHP) emerged soon after the earthquake to offer various forms of assistance to the population. When the opportunity of working with this non-profit was presented to us in October, I knew I had to take it. From that moment, we began planning our project at weekly meetings and organized fundraising activities ranging from car washes and food sales to school-wide activities such as Purple Cake Day.
It is complicated to put into words my personal experience working to support COHP. Our lessons were planned, our materials purchased, our bags ready… and yet, despite all these preparations, I ended up living an experience I never expected. Because our trip took place at the end of the school year, we had to submit all of our school work before leaving, so I arrived in Haiti tired and nervous. It was the beginning of an adventure that would help sensitize us to global issues, although we were not completely aware of this at the time.
Then, it was as if all the planning we had done since October materialized. Something we understood in just one day was that these children were completely worthy in every sense. All of the energy we’d poured into fundraising activities, the stress, the meetings, the early annual exams— suddenly everything gained meaning on seeing the children for the first time. The girls came to school with their hair beautifully braided; the boys all wore crisp, clean uniforms with their shirts neatly tucked in. We understood at once that coming to the COHP school was a privilege for them.
The smiles on their faces made us feel welcome. Their excitement expressed their willingness to work. Our satisfaction became even greater when we saw them playing, but mostly, when we witnessed how they treated each other and shared amongst themselves. The next day we formally began teaching our lessons. There wasn’t a moment during the day that I wasn’t happy, smiling, or laughing. The heat, the fatigue—none of this was more important than seeing these children enjoying themselves.
Watching these children pour their hearts and souls out when singing and dancing, I realized that music is embedded in their culture. I was especially struck by what they sang: “Heal the World” by Michael Jackson, “Imagine” by John Lennon, and “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley. These songs convey their hope, love, and best wishes for making their country better. When the COHP kids would sing “’cause every little thing is gonna be alright” with so much fervor, one had to wonder: if these children know their life is going to be alright, then yours probably will be too. As Creole speakers, they were probably not as conscious as we were of the lyrics’ meaning, but it was still one of the most influential moments I experienced there.
Their love for their country was also manifested in our art class when we asked them to draw something they love: a number of them drew Haiti’s flag inside a heart. On the last day a group of girls repeated this activity, and again they drew a heart, only this time it included the flags of both Haiti and Costa Rica. This they did on their own initiative.
Dominique, COHP’s Director, told us on the last day, “They have nothing, yet they still find joy in everything.” When school finishes in the afternoon, these children have to survive on their own. Most of them have nothing to eat until they have breakfast the next morning at school. Many don’t even have a home, and some of those who do must endure violent households. Therefore, seeing these children laugh, smile, dance, and sing all day was a humbling experience.
During my stay in Haiti, I never heard a child complain. These were children that probably didn’t eat a wholesome supper or sleep in a comfortable bed. They probably didn’t have parents to cuddle them during the night, and still they were excited for every new day. In our homes in Costa Rica, we are taught to count our blessings, yet we still protest. We have running water, hot meals, quality education, a loving family, and more than adequate housing. But experiences like the Haiti Project are eye-opening. You realize what really matters is having an opportunity and finding joy in the little things of life, despite difficult circumstances.
On our last day, one of my friends told the children the truest statement of the trip: “In theory, we came here to teach you, but you have taught us more than we have taught you.” This sums up our trip. We planned to teach English to the children, and work on their soccer, art, and music skills. We ended up being students ourselves and learning valuable lessons from these children, lessons that one is able to truly understand only after living such an experience. I thank these children for allowing me to understand the true meaning of love and happiness. I believe that experiences shape people, and this one definitively changed my life.
Participating students included Ciaran O’Cleirigh, Alexandra Kader, María Alejandra Prada, Gabriela Zambrano, Sergio Tirado, Gustavo Gascue, Alessandro Zoffoli, Armando González, Amir El Jaouhari, and Sebastián Olivares, along with Patrick Miller (Director of Secondary School) and Harold Wallace (Boys Soccer Coach).
Pan-American will return to Haiti in December and in June and plans to pursue its commitment to COHP.

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