TODAY'S PAPER
39° Good Evening
39° Good Evening
Long Island

Huntington bus driver runs Haiti school

The more inquisitive parents in Huntington may know that the school bus driver they entrust with their precious cargo has five children of her own. They may even know that this woman who speaks with an accent grew up in a small town in northern Haiti.

What they almost certainly do not know is that Lucia Anglade, a 44-year-old resident of West Babylon, has founded, funded and fostered a four-room schoolhouse in Haiti, a country known for its poverty, its violence and, most recently, its intense hunger and devastating floods.

Over the past seven years, Anglade has created a school on her childhood farm, making sure desperately poor children get the food, books and education that elude a large portion of Haiti's children.

Anglade has done most of this work living 1,500 miles away from her homeland, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and a neighbor to the Dominican Republic on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.

While so many other aid organizations begin in boardrooms or government offices, Life and Hope began in the heart of a Haitian immigrant.

Earning heaven

Anglade came to this country in 1991 and has since become a citizen.

It was 1999 when Anglade began worrying that, if predictions by millennial doomsayers of the world's demise in 2000 turned out to be true, she had not yet earned a place in heaven. Anglade made a deal. If she lived to see the next millennium, she would work to gain herself a spot beyond the pearly gates.

Today, Anglade has made good on this promise.

By 2003, Anglade had quit her work as a nurse's aide and started driving a school bus so she would have the flexibility to begin and run a school on the farm where she and six siblings grew up. Using returns from her 2001 income taxes, she built the first classroom of the Eben Ezer school in Milot, a rural town not far from Cap Haitien. Working with her brother and some men hired from the town, she built the initial one-room school, bought uniforms and supplies and hired a teacher for $7,000. From 10 students and one teacher, she has watched the school grow to about 85 students, five teachers and a director or principal.

The school serves children 4 to 16 in four classrooms, handling kindergarten through fifth grade, with some teachers dividing the rooms for two grade levels. Each year they try to add a grade and plan to eventually go to eight grades.

Most, if not all, of the children would not have gone to school if Anglade's school did not exist. The students all walk to school and do not have transportation to the nearest one besides Eben Ezer. The public schools do not provide enough education for all children, especially in the rural areas, and children who go to them still have to pay for books, uniforms and a small fee for tuition.

The rich and the poor

Today, Anglade lives her life straddled between Long Island, with some of the richest ZIP codes on the planet, and Haiti, where the average person makes less than $2 a day and the majority of people don't have access to fresh water, electricity or a steady income.

To make sure her school succeeds, Anglade leaves her husband and children - ranging in age from 4 to 23 -- three or four times a year and heads south. She leaves her comfortable life - a four-bedroom house, a yard and a refrigerator filled with food -- to bring down school supplies, clothing, funds and Americans who want to help.

Encouraged by Anglade's boundless energy and charismatic invitations, northerners ignore U.S. State Department warnings "to defer nonessential travel to Haiti" and head to a nation once popular among tourists but now all but abandoned as a vacation destination. When guests arrive at the Eben Ezer School, they see a cement block building that has grown slowly into four classrooms. They are surrounded by students dressed in crisp clean uniforms and by staff members who are thankful for the donations and even more for the attention.

Making a connection

"When I arrived I felt immediately embraced by the children. The connection with the kids was just instant," said Agnes Charlesworth of Kittery, Maine, after a trip to Milot in July. "And Anglade was so industrious and disciplined. This was an endeavor she took very seriously."

Josee Vedrine, a Haitian-American friend of Anglade's who lived in New York until this year, has also seen Anglade's commitment firsthand.

"When you go to the school, you see the sacrifices she makes. She leaves her children at home for two weeks to take care of the kids in Haiti," Vedrine said. "People in Haiti think she has tons of money and is doing this for personal gain and that's so not true." She started the school with her own money and over the years has run into different people working in Haiti who have given her support. She had one fundraiser two years ago in New York, but the money raised was not worth it after expenses. She has started creating a newsletter, available on the Life and Hope Web site (lifeandhopehaiti.org), and is hoping to get a one-to-one sponsorship program going.

A teacher at the school gets about $100 a month.

When Anglade started the school, she realized immediately that feeding the children's bellies was essential to feeding their minds. The staff of nine now includes two cooks who prepare hot meals daily.

"This is the only meal some of these kids have," said Michele Adolphe, a Haitian-American who ran for state Assembly in Flatbush, and founded an early childhood center in Brooklyn. Adolphe noted that not all Haitian immigrants are as devoted to their homeland.

"You have to have a lot of courage to do this," Adolphe said. "You have to have a good heart to think about those in Haiti."

Up before dawn

You also need a lot of energy. On Long Island, Anglade's typical day begins at 4:30 a.m. when she wakes to start driving elementary and junior high students, first to St. Patrick's in Huntington and then to Syosset schools. She returns at 10:30 a.m. and has three hours before pickup begins in which to contact Haiti, file paperwork, thank donors, clean the house and cook.

At the Huntington Coach Co. bus yard in Huntington, where Anglade begins her work day, manager John Casale called her "an employee in very good standing." But he said he had no idea she was doing work for Haiti or had started a school there. "That's impressive," he commented.

Since Anglade left her struggling homeland behind in 1991, it has deteriorated profoundly. The 2 1/2-hour trip on highways from Port-au-Prince to Milot has turned to six hours on dilapidated roads, and the power supply to her village has dulled to total darkness. Fertile lands that once provided food have eroded into deserts.

During recent flooding, food supplies across the country were ravaged, making hunger intensely worse for most of the nine million inhabitants. Anglade's school was unhurt, but several Milot families lost roofs and many more saw their meager crops washed away.

A desperate need

"If a storm passes by and takes the house, how are these people going to survive?" Anglade asked rhetorically. "They don't make any money at all and nobody else can do anything for them. The storms take everything. Everything."

Every month or two, Anglade sends several hundred dollars by Western Union or MoneyGram. "It depends if I have the money," she said. After the flooding this fall, she sent clothes and blankets as well.

Anglade says she stays optimistic with help from a growing network of support. But she admits the challenges can be all-consuming.

"Your mind is always working to see what you can do and to know how can you help. Sometimes you have a headache," she admitted. "If you really care it gives you stress. It's very hard when you care."

---------------More information on Life and Hope for Haiti and the Eben Ezer School is available by e-mailing lifeandhopehaiti@yahoo.com or going to the Web site www.lifeandhopehaiti.org .

Latest Long Island News