NYTimes: Cruise line builds school in Haiti, finds it has a lot to learn
- from the Repeating Islands blog
Cruise line builds school in Haiti, finds it has a lot to learn
Royal Caribbean Cruises, the corporation based in Miami, has built a
school complex just outside the company�s resort in Labadie, Haiti.
While residents seem to agree the school is a boon to the community,
the praise is tempered by doubts, as Sarah Maslin writes for the New
On a jungle-covered hill, about 25 Creole-speaking kindergartners
chanted numbers inside a gleaming classroom, the ceiling laced with
clotheslines of paper butterflies. Past noon, they spilled into the
courtyard to dash across the gravel in a blur of blue and cream
uniforms, each one embroidered with an anchor and the school�s unusual
name: ��cole Nouvelle Royal Caribbean,� or the New Royal Caribbean
For years, Royal Caribbean Cruises, the corporation based in Miami,
has run a private resort on a sandy promontory nearby, a playground of
lounge chairs, bars and even an alpine coaster that shoots guests
though the forest.
The company has leased the 260 beachfront acres, about 90 miles north
of the nation�s capital, Port-au-Prince, from the government since
1986. Several times a week, up to 7,000 people descend for the day
when mega ships berth in Labadie on a new $34 million pier, offering a
dizzying contrast to the poverty beyond the gates.
But since the January 2010 earthquake that devastated the capital, the
cruise line evoked harsh criticism when it resumed docking pleasure
ships at the resort for frolicking vacationers, six days after the
quake killed up to 300,000 people, according to Haitian officials, and
left more than 1 million homeless.
The company opened the cheery, citrus-color school complex just
outside the resort�s heavily guarded chain-link fences in October, a
move Royal Caribbean representatives said it was considering before
the disaster and the scathing publicity it received.
�We�ve been there for a long time and of course the problems in Haiti
are enormous, and it�s hard for anyone to really make a significant
dent in them,� said Richard Fain, the company�s chairman and chief
executive. �We thought one of the places to start was with education.�
Still, the assistance was �modest,� he added. �We are a business.
We�re not a charitable organization.�
Other projects include a water-distribution system in the village of
Labadie, said John Weis, an associate vice president. After the quake,
the company donated about $2 million and helped import relief supplies.
�I�m not saying we do this because it�s a completely altruistic
motivation, but I think that our management feels that we have a
responsibility to make a difference down here,� Weis said
Critics speak up
While residents seem to agree the school is a boon to the community,
the praise is tempered by doubts. Its mountainous location is far from
the towns it serves, and its failure to provide any meals � leaving
many children hungry � has critics wondering why the company has not
The World Food Program provided some food, but the company
discontinued lunch a few months ago, citing sanitary concerns in
preparation. A kitchen is being planned, but for now only a handful of
parents can afford to provide lunch for their children, several
The vast majority of the 200 or so students do not eat anything from
early morning until they get home after school, teachers said. Some
students fall asleep at their desks from fatigue.
�The school was built for underprivileged kids, but the way the school
is functioning, it is for the bourgeois,� said Paul Herns, 29, who
teaches fifth grade. He echoed a common sentiment: gratitude mixed
with the feeling that the company, which had revenues of $6.8 billion
last year, could do a lot better.
�Royal promised a school that was to be different from other ones in
Haiti, similar to schools abroad,� Herns said. �Where children are fed
and have access to sporting activities and taught some English skills
to speak to foreigners; where they can surf the Web. These services
have not yet been provided.�
Weis said meals were not promised.
The school itself is stunning and serene, a clean-swept haven from the
several surrounding towns from which the students hail, where streets
are choked with trash and the smoke of plastic bottles burning. It
houses kindergarten through fifth grade and is run by a nonprofit
group founded and led by Maryse Penette-Kedar, a former minister of
tourism and president of Royal Caribbean�s operations in Haiti.
Students are chosen by lottery and about 20 percent are children of
the company�s local employees.
�The vision is that we�ll connect the education and the jobs
together,� Weis said. �We�ll have a steady supply of well-educated
people, and they�ll be prepared to work on board the ship.�
The school cost about $550,000 to build and equip, according to Weis,
and Royal Caribbean spends nearly $200,000 each year to run it. For
this school, there is a $5 a month tuition, a fee organizers say they
imposed to create a sense of stewardship among the families.
It is a far cry from local schools such as L��cole Nationale Mixte in
neighboring Fort Bourgeois, where splintering desks teeter on dirt
floors behind doors of rusted sheets of corrugated metal, and rain
pours through the roof, canceling classes. But because of a decision
to build on hilltop land controlled by the cruise line, rather than
restore schools or build new ones within a community, it is also remote.
Many students commute piled into the backs of pickup trucks, or �tap-
taps,� the jalopies that serve as taxis, which the company says it
subsidizes, even though parents say they pay extra out of pocket. The
company provided bus service but canceled it because the costs came to
$15,000, the vehicles were shoddy and the rutted mountain roads are
dangerous. The company plans to restart and improve the service.
Some students such as Rodman Decius, 13, whose mother, Immacula
Caprice, 39, cannot work since losing a foot to an infection, said
they cannot always afford even subsidized transport. In late March
after school, Rodman showed a reporter his hourlong commute marching
home through jungle paths, at points clambering along a cliff face
with a sheer drop to sea. His walk took him past several schools. He
said he had last eaten 10 hours ago.
Residents such as Eddy Hippolyte, a taxi driver, said that some people
feel that rather than build a showpiece, the company should have
improved existing schools.
But others, such as Jacques Renelle, 37, who teaches kindergarten, are
more supportive. �The overall good outweighs these irregularities,�
Weis is rankled by what he sees as the �give-an-inch-take-a-mile�
attitude he thinks the company�s charity work engenders. �We have a
responsibility to the community that we�re in,� he said. �But it�s not
For students, who often spend recess kicking an empty plastic bottle
around the school�s outdoor tables, the shining school is not the only
oasis they know. The resort lies just down the road, cut off by a
fence. �I wish I could play there,� Rodman says, �But I don�t have any
For the original report go tohttp://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/world/americas/04haiti.html?scp=2&sq=royal%20caribbean%20cruises&st=cse
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]