McGill supplies reach Haitian school

A school in rural Haiti has undergone an extreme makeover thanks to the arrival of a 40-foot naval shipping container carrying furniture, microscopes, computers and other much-needed supplies donated by McGill and members of the McGill community.
A student at Lycee Jean-Baptiste Cineas, a school in rural, northern Haiti, benefits from equipment that once was used at McGill, including the desk and microscope. / Photo courtesy of Gérald Jean-Baptiste.

By Neale McDevitt

It is poignant proof that one person’s refuse is another’s riches. When some 2,000 students go to class at Lycee Jean-Baptiste Cineas, a school in Limbe, Haiti, chances are they may sit in old McGill chairs, at old McGill desks, look into old McGill microscopes and record their findings on old McGill computers.

Used furniture and secondhand equipment that once just gathered dust and took up storage space at McGill has been given a new life at this school located in northern, rural Haiti. Call it recycling at it’s most philanthropic.

“I thank the McGill community for this gift,” said Gérald Jean-Baptiste, who, until recently, was the school’s Director. “The school would never have benefited from this much-needed material had it not been for the University, the donors and everyone who helped collect and pack the container. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the Beverly Baker’s tireless work.”

Baker, a professor in the Faculty of Education who has run professional development workshops at Lycee Jean-Baptiste Cineas, spearheaded the initiative to canvas McGill and its community to donate these crucial supplies to the school. Working with Virginie St-Pierre, Furniture and Signage Coordinator with Facilities Operations and Development, Baker spent part of her summer scouring McGill’s storage depots and earmarking items destined for Haiti.

On August 13-14, Baker and a host of volunteers packed the 40-foot naval shipping container with a variety of items including furniture, chalkboards, DVD players, digital cameras, soccer balls and lightly used running shoes.

But, once packed, the container’s odyssey had just begun. Arriving in Haiti on Sept. 21, it spent the next two months languishing at customs. Only after numerous appeals to government ministers and customs officials was the container finally cleared – with a hefty price tag for various customs-related and storage charges.

With the red tape nightmare behind them, the school’s students, teachers and administrators have seen the Lycee Jean-Baptiste Cineas undergo a radical transformation. Where students used to get into disputes over seating – they used to squeeze four or five students onto a single rough bench – they now have rows of individual desks. Filing cabinets – once a scarcity – now safeguard important school documents and the school’s computer lab has been entirely updated. “Hundreds of students who never had a schoolbag or binders before now have their own,” said Jean-Baptiste. “Needless to say, students, teachers and even people from the surrounding area are thrilled.”