Back to School is Joyful Time for Students at Institut Montfort
By Lynn Knox
“Giving for Thanksgiving” was our quest last year when my husband, Chris, and I were able to join Father Ken in Haiti over the week of Thanksgiving in November, 2015. Our intention was to bring school and medical supplies as well as much needed toiletries and clothing to the 155 deaf orphans who live at Institut Montfort.
As we rode to the Institut run by the French-founded Daughters of Wisdom on the unpaved dirt and rocky roads, we witnessed the severe poverty in the poorest country of the Western Hemisphere. During our 4-day visit, we toured “The Farm” which included 3 new dormitories, a rebuilt convent for the nuns, bungalows, a newly equipped kitchen and various open air structures which were previously used as classrooms. The best surprise was the brand new two-story school with a large courtyard and just completed cafeteria for the 300 deaf students ages 6-18. Father Ken’s Vineyard contributed $40,000+ to the building projects!
The classrooms were sparsely furnished with the old-style desks I remember from elementary school in early 1960’s, a large blackboard and American Sign Language charts posted in each room. The students wore crisp and clean red and white checkered uniforms, dresses or skirts and blouses for the girls and dockers and shirts for the boys. We brought school supplies for all ages including learning coloring books for the younger kids and pens, pencils and notebooks for the older ones. Art supplies of any kind were a big hit. I wished I had brought 200 boxes of crayons so each child could have his or her own.
After school, buses came to pick up the students who live with their families. The remaining 155 kids headed back to their home in the dorms at The Farm, changed from their uniforms and did homework for an hour. We found them in the courtyard wearing old faded t-shirts, shorts, and worn out flip flops or crocs. Fr. Ken led the charge, “Let’s go meet the kids.”
The kids were so excited to meet us and when I started to wave at them, greeted us with big smiles, and several came running over with notebooks and pens writing their name for me and questions such as “What is your name?”, “Where do you live?”, “Are you Catholic?” They mostly communicate with sign language to each other but used pens and paper to “talk” with us. The smiles even got bigger as they saw Fr. Ken. It was obvious how much they love him!
We took lots of pictures with our cell phones along with many selfies. They all wanted to see what they looked like and wanted to pose multiple times with us in different groups. Fr. Ken rallied them around him and wrote “What size shoe do you wear?”
They proceeded to put their name and shoe size on a paper. Some of the girls didn’t know their size so I took off my tennis shoes and tried to see how many would fit into a 7.5 size. Then I tried to approximate the shoe size of each young girl. They were certainly impressed that I had tennis shoes and seemed to admire them. We saw very few on the children’s feet. When we went into town a few days later to see if we could buy shoes for the kids, we found out that even if you could find shoes, they were typically used and cost about $50!
As these kids were deaf, I thought it would be very quiet around them. On the contrary – they made sounds as they signed and tried to speak so it was actually quite surprising just how communicative they were. Probably what made the biggest impression on me is that these children all were all very happy even though they have so little. God is certainly watching over them. They just wanted to be hugged and so appreciated any individual attention they received. They had none of the electronic devices constantly at the fingertips of American kids, but they have each other, dedicated caregivers in the nuns and staff, as well as a safe place to live and learn.
As I look back on this experience, I see my world very differently. We have so much and I think of how minimally all of those children and nuns live. All of their possessions could probably fit in a shoebox. They appreciate the smallest of things, like their own tube of toothpaste, a bottle of bubbles, a bowl of ice cream, new rather than used clothes. And these are things which we have the ability to provide for them.
Will you help outfit these wonderful children for this upcoming school year? We have shoe sizes and can add a half to whole size to allow for growth in the last year. Classroom supplies, laptops, and a large video screen for the main classroom will make such a difference.
Father Ken’s goal is to have the funds in hand by August 20 to shop the best deals for his upcoming trip to Haiti. Help us meet this goal!