A Beacon Of Hope: Haiti Partners' Mission To Uplift Haitians Through Education

Dec 7, 2019

John Engle and Laura Kelley of Haiti Partners
Credit Tania Ortega-Cowan

When Indian River County resident John Engle made a 2-year commitment in Haiti to work with a small organization supporting education, he had no idea that he would end up staying for 20 years and dedicate his life to the Haitian people.  

JE: I’m John Engle, director of Haiti Partners.

Engle co-founded the nonprofit in Vero Beach in 2009.

JE: Our major focus is schools. We specifically articulate our mission as helping Haitians change Haiti through education.

(Haitian children singing)

He first arrived in Haiti on …

JE: May 6, 1991. Five months after I got there, there was a violent government overthrow and I witnessed some really horrible things and I also drew inspiration and it just became a new life direction – accompanying Haitians in the process of their healing and working to liberate themselves.

There, he met his wife Merline.

JE: What 18 years ago?

ME: Yes. (laughter).

She was born and raised in Haiti. We spoke to her by phone.

ME: My family was very involved in education … so that is why I have inherited this legacy of trying to make a difference using education.

Their main project is a model school called Children’s Academy for youth ages 3 – 10 years, and they also have 5 other partner schools in Haiti. The motto of Children’s Academy is “Learning for Life”.

(Haitian children singing)

It’s in a small mountain village called Bawosya. The students and teachers all live nearby and travel on foot. Ten of the teachers though travel from Port au Prince; a risk due to political demonstrations. They tell them…

JE: …if there are demonstrations – don’t come, don’t risk! –  but they want to be there. It’s like a beacon of hope. We know that schooling largely impacts the type of culture of a society so our assumption has been if you can change the way schooling happens that little by little you will change the nature of culture and how the transfer of knowledge happens and how collaboration happens.

(Haitians cheering)

Here’s Laura Kelley, community relations coordinator for Haiti Partners.

LK: We were able to send more than 1200 students back to school in the fall.

Parents must give four service hours per week, and everyone is encouraged to learn tools of entrepreneurism and collaboration.

ME: It is not just the school, but it is a community that just puts hands together to support each other on anything that humans need to survive.

They visit Haiti regularly to check on the schools, and…

ME: …to support the artisans in Haiti and also to offer beautiful things. To physically showcase Haiti is not just sadness and political turmoil or uprising all the time. They are beautiful people doing beautiful things.

The art is for sale in the Vero Beach headquarters, located in the K-Mart Plaza. It’s a wide-open, multipurpose space.

TOC: And I see we have some ladies here playing… 

LK: Majong. Yes. We asked many of our supporters what they would like to see happen with the space… we’re experimenting and growing a bit.

And they have many social events open to the public planned for the season.

JE: People say you know why can’t Haiti get it together?  It’s because the history is different… slavery and brutality.

ME: They are very resilient, and they are learning how to cope with so many things. It’s a community that really gives me so much hope.

Learn more by following this link: https://haitipartners.org/