The Heart of Fontaine by Claire Calhoun
I came to learn about the St. Gabriel School from my cousin, Maddie Johnson, who went on a trip to Fontaine in 2017. Hearing her love and passion for being in Haiti inspired me to seek out an opportunity through Friends of Fontaine so that I could visit myself.
In May 2018, my dream became a reality. I stepped off the airplane into the warm Haitian sun and was ready to spend 14 days in 2 of the best places in Haiti- Hinche and Fontaine.
After a week in Hinche with the Midwives for Haiti, arriving in Fontaine was a nice change of pace. A smaller and closer knit community was surrounded by bumpy roads and smiling faces. I was anxious to arrive and experience life at St. Gabriel School.
One of my favorite experiences while at the school was when I attended the evening English classes. I got a great sense of who the students were and what their hopes and dreams for each of their own futures hold. I was brought to tears when one student shared that they see visitors as worthy. That all people are worthy. This is a valuable lesson that many people, much older than this student, still have yet to learn. I was impressed by the overall level of English and went to bed that night with my heart feeling fuller than ever before.
St. Gabriel felt so much more than a school. It felt like the heart of the Fontaine community. In my short time there, I was able to witness the many people who came to use the well and all the children who don’t go to school at St. Gabriel but who come to spend time with their friends in the common area. The students come to class each day and stay late to learn all they can. It’s a place for people to learn, feel safe, and be welcomed.
Reading back on my journal from Haiti, I wrote this in regards to my last day in Fontaine and last day at St. Gabriel School; “It’s our last night and we are sad. I will certainly miss this place and can see myself coming back.” A week without a cell phone, hot and humid temperatures, and a few cockroaches along the way but I wouldn’t have changed it for a minute. I would go back in a heartbeat and am so thankful I was introduced to the St. Gabriel School and welcomed by the Fontaine community.
My hope for people who have never visited Haiti is to visit the country before they make their opinion. No country is perfect, but the people of Haiti have love, community, and genuine compassion ingrained in their everyday life. Each country has a lot to learn from a place that possesses these values. Fontaine is full of wise students with so much potential. When given the opportunity to go to St. Gabriel, they learn these values and are then able to carry them onto future generations.
I love this school. This community. And Haiti as a whole.