I recently returned from my third trip to the mountain village of Lebrun in western Haiti with the non-profit, HavServe. In 2013 and 2014, I assisted in efforts to help establish organic vegetable gardens in this beleaguered agricultural village that had suffered significant damage from Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. Lebrun has seen a lot of progress over the last half-decade, but then last fall Lebrun’s orchards and gardens were devastated once again—this time by Hurricane Matthew. My recent visit was focused on helping upgrade the community garden and collaborating with local teachers to implement a children’s gardening program at HavServe’s Annual Summer Camp and Annual Enrichment Program.
The trip from the airport in Port au Prince to Lebrun takes about 3-1/2 hours, the last half hour of the route winding through tortuous, rough, unpaved mountain roads–not an easy feat for the driver or us passengers. On this occasion, we had just started up the mountain when we came to a school bus parked next to the road. The driver noticed that the windows were open and, with the sky threatening to erupt into a rainy-season downpour, he stopped the SUV and proceeded to close the windows of the bus.
I was aware that HavServe had purchased a school bus last fall, filled it with school supplies, hygienic items, and other commodities and shipped it to Haiti, so seeing the bus there came as no surprise. But, as I stared at the side of the bus, I saw in faded lettering the words, “South Park School District.” I am a resident of South Park Township, Pennsylvania and my three sons are graduates of the South Park schools, so, to see a school bus in this remote village in Haiti with those words printed on it was almost unexpected. But I told myself, there must be other South Park school districts in the country–so don’t get too excited. Nevertheless, later in the day, I mentioned the coincidence to one of the directors of the program.
“Well, we bought the bus at an auction in Maryland,” he said, “but it came from Pennsylvania.” Now I was determined to find out whether the bus really did come from my hometown.
The name, HavServe, comes from the understanding that if you have, you serve. If you have time, you serve. If you have compassion, you serve. If you have resources, you serve. If you have knowledge, you serve. HavServe’s mission is to support community-led development, by empowering villagers with the education, training, and basic services necessary for them to play an ever-increasing role in determining their own future. It’s a 100% volunteer organization with a bare minimum of operating costs or overhead. The main thrust of their activities is to help children in Haiti have access to education.
The bus will be used to transport 7 graders to Miragoane, the nearest town with a middle and high school. Up to now, young people wishing to go beyond the 6th grade had to walk about three hours to and from Miragoane. Despite the desire to continue their education, this would often prove to be too much for kids who are also hungry. The gardens that HavServe is helping the citizens of this village to establish will hopefully go a long way towards filling famished stomachs. The procurement of this used bus has the potential to help shape a brighter future for the children in the village of Lebrun who wish to continue their education beyond the 6th grade level.
On returning home, I started on my mission to find out whether the bus was really from “my” South Park. I had the Bus VIN number and the school number and, not knowing where to start, I stopped in at the township administration office. The staff there suggested that I start by calling the school district, who informed me that they don’t own the school buses but lease them from a company called First Student. I called First Student and told my story. When I gave the person at First Student the numbers, she excitedly assured me that the bus had indeed been from our school district.
What this experience tells me is that we really do live in a small world, one that is getting smaller all the time. We are citizens of one world, connected in ways we can’t even imagine.
HavServe Volunteer/Board Member