Merlene Davis: With help of Frankfort residents, woman provides education for Haitian children

Raymonde Jacques has made it her mission to build schools and a clinic in Haiti's mountains.
Raymonde Jacques has made it her mission to build schools and a clinic in Haiti's mountains.

For more than 15 years, Raymonde Jacques of Frankfort has been working tirelessly and selflessly to give children in the mountainous region of Haiti, her homeland, access to the kind of education most American families take for granted.

She has been instrumental in building three schools in Seguin, Samadek, and Tourette, the last two of which are still operational and serving more than 500 students.

"We still have a long way to go," Jacques said. "We have nine grades in two schools and vocational classes on the weekends."

The structures are a far cry from what we consider appropriate for learning. They are mostly shells of buildings with no windows and few desks and chairs.

But Haiti is the poorest country in this hemisphere, the victim of a corrupt government — about 32 coups since gaining independence — and very harsh dictatorships. About 500,000 children, ages 6-11, are unable to attend school of any kind because their parents can't afford the fees. The new president said he would make elementary education available to all students but most reports say that has not happened.

"There are no roads, no electricity, no hospital, no doctor," Jacques said. "They need everything."

Any school is a blessing, as evidenced by the number of students flocking to the structures to learn. Elementary students gather in the mornings and middle school students meet in the afternoons.

The 20 teachers are paid through the non-profit Haitian Needy Children Foundation, which Jacques formed about 15 years ago with a lot of help from individuals and members of the Capital City Christian Church in Frankfort.

Fortunately, neither the people in the upper elevations of that country nor the schools were affected by the devastating earthquake that struck a little over three years ago in Port-au-Prince. An estimated 250,000 people were killed in urban areas and thousands more injured during the quake. An exact number is still unknown.

Three years later, though much of the debris has been removed and some new houses have been built, sources estimate about 350,000 people are still living in tents and other temporary housing in the urban areas.

Unfortunately, the mountainous region is so isolated there is very little access to health care or an education.

Robert Scott, treasurer of the foundation, was trapped on the island, along with about 14 members of Capital City Christian, when the earthquake struck. They had gone to Haiti to visit the schools.

He never reached the schools, not because of the earthquake but because high water had made the primitive road impassable.

Traveling to the schools requires a seven- to eight-hour, 90-mile trek in a four-wheel drive vehicle and then a couple more hours of walking.

The Rev. Jon Sutphin, associate pastor of Capital City Christian, said most people in Haiti don't have access to adequate daily resources.

"But for these people, it is even worse. They are so far from Port-au-Prince, it is extremely difficult to get the resources to them."

That doesn't stop Jacques, whose motto is "faith, hard work, determination, integrity and patience."

Jacques moved to Frankfort in July 1987, to work as a nanny to Connie and Douglas Riddell's daughter, Elizabeth, who had cerebral palsy.

After visiting her terminally ill mother in Haiti in 1994, Jacques realized she had to do something to help alleviate the poverty of those living in Haiti's mountain regions. In 1996, she saved a dollar a day until she could open an account with $100, which was the beginning of the foundation.

"She is an amazing woman," Sutphin said. "There is no other way to describe her. She works tirelessly and she provides much of the financial support herself."

Jacques works two full-time jobs to ensure she can support the schools and a medical clinic she plans to build.

"I am 67 and I work seven days a week," Jacques said. "It is a blessing at my age that I have enough energy to do this.

"For myself, I have everything I need. I have a bathroom, a kitchen, a bedroom and that is all I need. Every penny will go to the children.

"I have members of my family who have died because they don't have a chance to see a doctor. We have to do something to help them."

Donations from the church and from the students, parents and faculty of Second Street School in Frankfort, where Jacques works during the week, have kept the dream alive, she said.

But, as always, more is needed. Monetary donations are preferred.

"I am begging, please, if you have a church, a club, or a committee, please, we are in desperate need of your help," she said.

To help

If you would like to donate to the Haitian Needy Children Foundation, send a check to 34 Timberlawn Circle, Frankfort, Ky., 40601. For more information, call (502) 352-2971.