As I was waiting for breakfast this morning, I stood by the gate in our front yard looking out over the street as I often do. The street is always busy with people going to and fro, but this morning was different because about 40 students were lined up outside the school across the street.
I asked Joel (one of the Haitians living in our house) what was going on, and he explained that they hadn’t paid all of their tuition so the school wasn’t letting them enter.
As we were talking, James (another one of the young men living in our house) walked up and smiled. “Oh yeah, I remember that line,” he said in English.
Sadly, this experience is all too common for young Haitians. Since 85% of schools in Haiti are private, families must pay to send their kids to school and many of them simply can’t afford the tuition. The schools know this, so they often extend grace to students throughout the year, permitting them to attend classes even if they’re behind on tuition payments. However, at the end of each year students must take a final exam in order to advance to the next grade, and if they can’t pay their tuition they won’t be permitted to take their final.
Imagine how discouraging it would be if you worked hard all year to keep up your grades only to fail, not for a lack of effort, but for a lack of means.
The school was turning kids away today because it’s almost time for final exams. They’re not just doing this just to be mean. They’re hoping that their parents will scrape together the money to pay, but at the end of the day the schools need money to operate, so if the parents can’t pay they’ll have to turn the students away.
The students waited on the street for well over an hour. Some of the older students had different uniforms from the others, and I learned that this is because they are in their final year of high school. Eventually the students began to leave in groups until only the seniors remained. They’re so close to graduating, but they may still come up short. Finally, even the seniors slowly turned and walked away, dejected and perhaps embarrassed. I tried to imagine how my teenage self would’ve felt in their position … angry, discouraged, helpless?
In that moment there was nothing I could do. I can’t afford to pay for 40 students to go to school, but that’s why we started our education program in Haiti. Individually we can only do so much, but if each of us gives what we can, we can help some of these young people standing in the “line of shame” to get off the street and back into the classroom.