If you walk through the village of Source Matelas on any given school day, you are bound to run into school-aged kids who are not in school. Perhaps they started school in September but were sent home after a few months when their mom couldn’t pay the rest of the tuition. Maybe their older siblings are in school, but there just wasn’t enough money to send the younger kids. Maybe they’ve never had the chance to go to school.
Whatever their individual story may be, the lack of access to a basic education is a problem that plagues countless children and their parents in Haiti.
When Grace Emmanuel School began in 2004, as an outreach ministry of Victory Bible Church, the hope was to address that problem for a handful of kids who were approaching their teenage years not knowing how to read or write or do simple math.
Over the last 16 school years, the school has grown vastly beyond what that first group of kids could ever have imagined. The Lord has been faithful each year to provide sponsors and other partners to come alongside the school, paving the way for the incredible place that it is today.
This year 375 students come each day to learn their numbers in the kindergarten classrooms or to study calculus in the secondary classrooms.
The story of Grace Emmanuel School is a story that I never grow tired of telling, a story that still brings me to tears when I walk up to the classrooms on the hill at JiHM’s mission property, just a short walk from the Caribbean Sea. I picture the ratty army tents down the hill that the students used to sit under, trying to learn in “classrooms” that fell over in the wind, filled with dust, and swarmed with bugs that came up from the rocky ground to bite ankles. I shake my head in wonder at the beautiful concrete structures, the staff the school now employs, the cafeteria with the cross-breeze. Only God writes these kinds of stories.
One of the ways that God has chosen to write the story of Grace Emmanuel School is through a sponsorship program. Just over 250 people from all over the US (and even the world) currently choose to partner with one or more students to help pay for their education at Grace Emmanuel School. These sponsors have been the financial backbone of the school since early on, but over the years, they have become so much more than that. They are prayer warriors, encouragement givers, and champions for the students.
Though JiHM uses the word “sponsor” for simplicity sake, I often wish there was a better word to encompass the role of a sponsor, as it seems to create a clear-cut dichotomy between one group as the givers and one group as the recipients. The relationship of a student and sponsor is much more mutual than that.
From the sponsor’s perspective
Marchelle, who has sponsored Yves-Malie since 2013, has been overwhelmed by the love she has received when she’s visited Yves Malie and her family. She describes the first time she met Yves Malie’s mom.
“What a welcome that was!” Marchelle recalls. “Mama was there with open arms to greet us and could not tell us too many times how much she appreciated our help in providing an education for her little girl. She loved sharing her photo album and her home. She gave me the ‘grand tour,’ telling me all about her home and everything in it—at least I think that is what she was saying because I did not understand a word! We were instantly ‘best friends’ and I cherish that feeling. It has been amazing to watch this little one grow into a smart, lovable, spunky young ‘lady’ who is now in the sixth grade.”
For Charlene, the relationship with her student Neïka has also been the best part of being a sponsor.
“I am blessed that we get to pour God’s goodness into each other,” she said. “Since we both pray for each other, there is mutual encouragement. I believe she is in God’s family and knowing we are connected by faith brings me lots of joy. It fills my heart up to be able to sit and spend time with her when I visit Haiti.”
God has also used their relationship to grow Charlene’s relationship with Him. “My relationship with Neïka has made me more sensitive and aware of the trials she goes through, and it challenges me knowing her circumstances require so much perseverance, strength, and courage. I realize she needs to depend on God for peace and trust Him with her well-being. My compassion, prayer life, and love have increased over the years. I have to seek God’s wisdom and depend on him regarding my responses and the possible consequences. I have to trust Him and lean on Him more as I remember He loves her even more than I do.”
From the students’ perspective
The students also respond most to the relational aspect of the sponsorship program.
“She makes me feel like I’m someone who is very important in her eyes. She makes me feel like I’m a daughter to her,” said Neïka, 12th grade, of her sponsor, Charlene. “She is like a mom to me. She represents a gift that God has given me.”
Yves Malie, 6th grade, has also been impacted by her relationship with Marchelle. “She makes me feel good because of the love she gives me, the way she considers me when she sends me letters, the way she talks with me.”
I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to Neïka, Yves Malie and 7 other classmates talk about their sponsors in the following video, and then I hope you’ll consider sponsoring one of the 37 students at GES who need a sponsor.
“You will never regret sponsoring a child,” said Marchelle. “Your heart and your life will never be the same. The joy you can feel in knowing that you are making a difference in one child’s life is overwhelming.”