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Burlington woman building a school in Haiti

By Denis Gibbons

Parents in Burlington’s east end raised hell a couple of years ago when the Halton District School Board announced plans to close a couple of schools forcing their children to be bused to other locations.

One woman, on the other hand, rarely complains. She has made her life’s work an effort to see that impoverished kids in Haiti have a school to go to at all.

Joanna Baumgartner and Dedra Key Chavez, of the American group Present Hope Ministry, purchased a large piece of land in the south end of Ouanaminthe, a town of 100,000, in the summer of 2018 and construction started on a new school.

The first phase, which includes three classrooms and a kitchen, is complete. The short-term goal is to have students up to Grade 6 accommodated by September of 2020.

The longterm vision is room for 450 students from pre-kindergarten to Grade 9, as well as trades training.

Following the huge earthquake which centred near the capital city of Port Au Prince in 2010, resulting in the deaths of about 250,000, many people from the southern part of the country were relocated to Ouanaminthe in the north,.

The new building survived a minor earthquake 18 months ago, but volunteers are constantly hauling in backfill because of floods during the rainy season.

Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. The average daily salary is $2 and it ranks in the top 10 countries in the world for corruption and malnutrition. Only 50 per cent of

children go to school.

The country has been under tremendous political and social strain and unrest. The situation has been particularly volatile in the past few months with riots, fuel, food and water shortages and uncontrolled inflation.

Baumgartner’s 24-year-old daughter Caroline, who has completed two degrees at McMaster University and is now studying to be a speech therapist, accompanies her on twice yearly trips to Haiti and is training to take over the B The Hope for Haiti organization some day.

B The Hope for Haiti operates under the registered Canadian charity, Empower Global Inc.

“Now more than ever, it is crucially important that we continue to provide a stable and safe environment for hundreds of children to find education, nutrition, health care and love,” Baumgartner said.

“Without these schools and our nutritious feeding program most children in this area would go without education, proper food or safe drinking water.”

“With education, a hand out can become a hand up,” she said. “To truly make a difference we must

empower the next generation toward self-sustainability.”

When Baumgartner first visited Haiti in 2011, this section of Ouanaminthe had four very rough concrete classrooms with no running water and no electricity. Families were bathing in and drinking water from the polluted Massacre River, which forms Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic.

“It was very hot, and very dirty,” she said.

Helping others is nothing new to Baumgartner. For more than 15 years, she and her husband Joe, who works at McMaster, served as foster parents for children whose mothers suffered from addiction.

That was in addition to raising four daughters of their own.

The Baumgartners also are in charge of arranging accommodation for newcomers to Canada through the Holy Rosary Church Resettlement Committee. They have helped to settle refugees from war-torn countries like Sudan and Afghanistan.

Baumgartner says she will need to raise $100,000 to finish the new school.

The Catholic Women’s League of Holy Rosary Church in Burlington and the parish’s branch of the Knights of Columbus have been big supporters, along with Lancaster Technology.

It costs $5,000 to sponsor a classroom or $10,000 for crucial support buildings. Any donation will include the donor’s plaque being proudly displayed and tax receipting through Empower Global

One hundred per cent of all donations go directly to the needs of the children.

“We personally purchase the food, supplies and oversee the construction. We pay teachers and administer basic medical care,” she said. “There is

no middle man, no government involvement, no administration costs.”

Anyone considering a donation can go to the B The Hope for Haiti website at

or contact Baumgartner at 289-887-1985 or

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