Iowans involved in effort to establish tuition-free Catholic schools in Haiti

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Iowa Cath­­olics are playing a role in an ambitious charitable project to provide free Catholic school to talented Haitian ­students.

The Haitian Project (THP) is embarking on a plan to develop The Louverture Cleary Schools Network in Haiti — a national system of 10 schools, one in each governmental department, providing 3,600 students with a rigorous, tuition-free Catholic secondary school education and supporting 1,200 students on scholarships to Haitian universities each year.

Dr. Scott LeGrand, chair of THP’s Board of Directors, is a native of Du­buque and graduate of archdiocesan Catholic schools, including Resurrection Elementary School, Wahlert Catholic High School and Loras College.

“Catholic education is in large part responsible for my successes in life so I hope to make it available to more people,” he wrote in an email to The Witness.

The Haitian Project is also receiving ongoing support from other individuals, schools and parishes in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, such as Xavier Catholic.

High School and St. Pius X and St. Patrick Parishes in Cedar Rapids. Loras College is the alma mater of several individuals who have served one or more years as volunteers at Louverture Cleary School.

THP has been providing quality secondary education in Haiti for three decades. Supporters see this endeavor as a game-changer for Haiti — a way for the country to finally have the human capital necessary to emerge as a successful nation out of the poverty and chaos that has gripped the second oldest republic in our hemisphere for over two centuries.   

“The reason we are so confident in the positive multiplier of education is not just because of our own mission’s success, but because of the church’s long history providing education to immigrants, marginalized and disadvantaged people around the world,” said THP President Deacon Patrick Moynihan. “Catholic education has been extremely successful helping immigrants escape ghettos in the U.S. and around the world.”

The network builds upon the success of THP’s existing Louverture Cleary School (LCS), a tuition-free, Catholic coeducational secondary boarding school located just outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, serving 350 students.   In a country where children are more likely to die before the age of 5 than finish high school, LCS’s historic pass rate on Haiti’s national exam is 98 percent — four times the national rate. Thanks to LCS’s university scholarship program, graduates go on to attend and graduate from university in a country where less than 1 percent of the population holds a university degree.

Also, in a country where 70 percent of college graduates leave the country, 90 percent of LCS graduates remain in Haiti. This is by design and embodied in the school motto: “What you receive for free, you must give for free — Mt 10:8.”  Louverturians are committed to remaining in Haiti and building strong families, strong communities and a stronger country for themselves and their children.

The leadership of The Haitian Project en­visions the network not as an end unto itself, but as an opportunity to galvanize support around a broader movement to direct more funding to education in Haiti overall.

Deacon Moynihan explained, “While we are going to focus our mission specifically on building a school in each of Haiti’s 10 dioceses, we recognize the good work of many other organizations increasing the number of parochial elementary schools in Haiti.  We see providing excellent and accessible regional secondary schools as our participation in this collaborative effort of providing more and more opportunity for young people to receive a quality education.  For our part, once our schools are completed, fewer students will have to migrate to the big cities to find quality secondary educational opportunities.”

While full of excitement and promise, the ambitious undertaking is not without its challenges.  For starters, THP will eventually need to raise over $10,000,000 each year to operate the network, which can be a challenge in the current philanthropic environment.  Deacon Moynihan noted, “We are going to have to move education higher on the list of things people choose to fund when helping developing countries. Currently, the split is about 80 percent for immediate services and relief — the majority of which is health-­related — and less than 20 percent for education and social institution-building.  That mixture has proven ineffective at creating systemic long-term change. If we can increase the amount going to education, we can be of better assistance.”

At $73,100,000, the initial investment required to construct the schools and fund the start-up costs for the project is also no small feat.

THP is confident that the payoff for Haiti will be significant and that the network will be nothing short of a catalyst for robust institutional and economic growth.  The projected cumulative earnings of graduates over 40 years underscores this point.  At over $9 billion, the impact of graduates from the network will be transformative.  For comparison, Haiti’s economy today is approximately $8 billion.

Dr. LeGrand is upbeat but also candid about what the project needs at this moment to make the network a reality.

“Based on my years of first-hand exper­i­ence working with The Haitian Project and Deacon Moynihan, I in no way doubt our ability to accomplish the network,” he said. “All we need at this point is for the general community to provide the day-to-day support to keep us there.  It is actually our loyal donors and the new donors who pitch in what they can that will keep us at the table long enough to secure the $73 million gift.  The success of the network will be to their credit as much as anyone.”

To celebrate the launch of its Network Campaign and the importance of Catholic education everywhere, THP will give 50 percent of designated donations made by Dec. 6 to Archdiocese of Dubuque Catho­lic Schools. To join this moment, visit www.haitianproject.org to donate online or send a check payable to The Haitian Project, P.O. Box 6891, Providence, RI 02940, and be sure to note “Network – Archdiocese of Dubuque” on your check or online donation. THP plans to re-open the 50/50 donation plan again during Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 27 – Feb. 2).

Photo: Students of the Louverture Cleary Catholic School Class of 2016 celebrates after receiving their diplomas at graduation. The institution is supported by the Haitian Project. (Contributed photo)