By Neale McDevitt
It is a case of First and Third World problems cancelling each other out. When Beverly Baker saw a classroom in the Education Building being renovated and older, but perfectly serviceable, desks being replaced, her thoughts immediately turned to Lycee Jean-Baptiste Cineas, a school in Limbe, Haiti where she had run some professional development workshops this past December.
Located in northern, rural Haiti, Jean-Baptiste Cineas is the school for some 2,000 students from the ages of 12-20. Like many schools in the country, Jean-Baptiste Cineas is painfully short of material goods. Instead of individual desks, four or five students squeeze in on rough benches made for two people. “Because there is so much overcrowding, it becomes very territorial and fights sometimes break out because people have taken someone else’s space,” said Baker. “For each student to have their own desk it is very important.”
The idea seemed simple enough; why not reduce McGill’s clutter by shipping some of its unused furniture to Jean-Baptiste Cineas where these items were in short supply and great demand? It is recycling at its very best.
Needed: able-bodied volunteers with superior packing skills
On the morning of August 13, a 40-foot naval shipping container will be delivered to the area between James Administration and the Wong Building. From August 13-14, Baker, along with what she hopes will be a team of volunteers with strong arms and good packing skills, will load hundreds of essential items – including 100 desks – into the container to be shipped to Jean-Baptiste Cineas a few days later. “We need people to help pack the stuff as it arrives,” says Baker with a laugh. “I have zero expertise in packing so I’m hoping to get people who have better spatial awareness than me.”
Most of the furniture has been donated by McGill, secondhand items that were no longer in use that was gathering dust in storage. Working with Virginie St-Pierre, Furniture and Signage Coordinator with Facilities Operations and Development, Baker toured McGill’s storage depots and earmarked items destined for Haiti.
But Jean-Baptiste Cineas doesn’t only need furniture. The wish list provided by the school’s Director also includes microscopes; cassette, CD and DVD players; rechargeable batteries and chargers of all types; large coffee makers (50+ cups) and reusable cups; basketballs and basketball nets; soccer balls; musical instruments (for the school band); art supplies; sewing supplies (not cloth, but notions); books in French, Spanish or English as a second language; and school supplies (paper, pens, binders, folders, etc.)
Baker is hoping the McGill community will help her fill that wish list but asks that people respect the list. “There are restrictions to what we are allowed to pack,” she says. “For example, we aren’t allowed to send any clothes or food items. I just ask that items are in excellent condition and are already packed in boxes that are clearly labeled.”
Earthquake’s impact still being felt
People can also donate money to help defray shipping costs. While Baker has raised funds doing everything from selling Haitian artwork to working with non-profit organizations, she is hoping generous McGillians will help out. To make a tax-deductible donation, go here and click on “donate now” and the container fund for Haiti will be visible.
Baker believes every donation, no matter how small, will have a significant positive impact on Jean-Baptiste Cineas. “I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” she says. “There are no desks for students, no desks for teachers, no gym, no library, no cafeteria. This school has major material needs.”
While the region wasn’t directly hit by the catastrophic earthquake that devastated southern Haiti in 2010, the subsequent impact has been significant. Basic municipal services such as garbage pickup are virtually non-existent and people are being transported to hospitals in the back of trucks because there is no ambulance service. The population of Jean-Baptiste Cineas – already overcrowded – has bulged from 1,200 to 2,000 following the influx of refugees streaming north. “It feels like a disaster zone,” says Baker. “I’m just hoping this shipment of goods will offer some measure of relief.”
The container for Haiti will be on campus between James Administration and the Wong Building from August 13-14. Volunteers looking to help pack the container should contact Beverly Baker at email@example.com to let her know which days they are available and for which shifts (9 a.m.—1 p.m. or 1 p.m.—5 p.m.). People looking to donate items should adhere to the list in the article above and can drop by between 9 a.m.—5 p.m. on Aug. 13-14. For more information on the Lycee Jean-Baptiste Cineas