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NYTimes: Cruise line builds school in Haiti, finds it has a lot to learn

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  • Bruce Potter at IRF
    from the Repeating Islands blog http://repeatingislands.com/2011/05/09/cruise-line-builds-school-in-haiti-finds-it-has-a-lot-to-learn/ ... Cruise line builds
    Message 1 of 1 , May 9, 2011
      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
      York Times.

      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
      done more.

      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
      teachers said.

      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.�

      Hourlong commute

      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,�
      she said.

      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

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