The school year ended fairly smoothly with the Institute of the Improvement of Life Through Education. 48 students finished the year by completing their final exams and we are currently preparing to hand out report cards. A few students moved away or stopped attending school throughout the year, unfortunately. The reason why we have not yet set a date for this meeting is that there is lots of discussion taking place regarding plans for next year. Our summer volunteers have been leading educational activities for students in the school in the afternoons and at the end of some of these activities, we visit the houses and parents of children. Parents have been reporting information about the past school year that we had not heard before, and they have been reporting it consistently. So we will have to make changes accordingly, and it seems as though these changes should be made before a report card meeting occurs so that everyone can be informed at that time. We're trying to work things out as quickly as possible.
One point of discussion is how student sponsorship funds should be allocated. For the 2011-2012 school year, 21 students were sponsored. Sponsors donated $100 for the year to sponsor their student and received a student profile complete with a family photo in return. The funds went toward a uniform and set of books for each student, with some left over to go toward the monthly costs of running the school including paying rent on the building, cleaning supplies, and paying teachers. Somehow we purchased books and uniforms for much more than just the 21 sponsored students, not wanting to make the opportunity available only to those 21, but to be fair among all students. This year we are trying to get started earlier and have these students re-spondered, as well as find sponsors for those who were never sponsored. Last year we were purchasing books and uniforms throughout the entire year. This year we hope to have all of this done before the year begins, or within the first month of school. If you make a donation of $100, we will contact you with your student sponsorship information and keep you updated throughout the year.
It is our desire that the sponsorship funds go toward uniforms, books, and some sort of food at the school. Parents have expressed that their most pressing need is proper documentation for children and for themselves, as all of the students in the schools we serve are living in the country illegally. In January, I believe, Immigration officers broke into houses in the community of Padre Granero at 4am and hauled people into a truck, then took them to Haiti. One of the families in our school was separated as the mother and some children were taken, but other children were left behind. This doesn't happen often, but when it does, it is very unorganized and inhumane in this way. Of course, the situation of illegal immigration would be almost completely under control if Immigration guards at the border were not corrupt and did not accept bribes. I have never heard of a guard not accepting a few hundred pesos to let someone pass. Nonetheless, you are only safe when you have your proper documentation. This is the request that parents have been making. I have let them know that this would cost more than $100 per student per year and that our best bet is to develop strong relationships with sponsors of the students and share this situation with them. Maybe one day we can collaboratively help these families to obtain legitimate documentation so that they can live legitimate lives in the Dominican Republic.
One last bit of drama in the community is that there is a rumor that a new school is opening that will offer all that we have been able to provide and more. This rumor sprouts from a young woman in Montreal who once pretended to be interested in financially supporting the school. In the end, she wound up meddling in the school and community, attempting to create division. It is all very strange and out of the ordinary but true nonetheless. Now she takes pictures of students from the Institution of the Improvement of Life Through Education and claims on her blog that they will attend her school next year. However, I think she is playing a game more than anything as she used to collect funds to support a school in Africa but apparently mishandled the money on several occasions, leaving many untrusting.
It is sad that there are people who like to toy with the most vulnerable communities, but it is true. At a parent, teacher meeting last Friday, I told parents to not pay attention to such rumors about a different and better school opening. I let them know that I have more insight into the source of the rumors (as they are highly disconnected from the Internet and non-profit world), and that these were games that were being played. You should believe something when you see it. Our school has finished its sixth year, about to begin its seventh, and things improve every year. And we aren't going anywhere!