P.S. 89 caps fundraising effort for Haitian sister school

Members of P.S. 89’s Haiti Committee led their peers, parents and teachers through Rockefeller Park on Fri., May 25. Downtown Express photo by Sam Spokony

BY SAM SPOKONY  | As billions of dollars continue to pour into Haiti following the earthquake that devastated that nation in 2010, one Downtown school has found a novel way to make a difference on a smaller scale.

Students, parents and teachers of P.S. 89 completed their final school-wide “Liberty Walk” last Friday morning, capping a three-year effort to raise money for the children of the Saint Paul School in Haiti.

The one-mile walk, taken through Rockefeller Park, in northern Battery Park City, featured little in the way of fanfare and theatrics. But its real value was in bringing the entire school together as a team — one that, by all accounts, has had a great deal of success.

The school, which is taking pledges this year through Fri., June 8, has amassed more than $22,000 over the past two years.

“This is really special, because there’s such a direct relationship with another school,” said Abbey Gardner, one of the originators of the project whose fifth-grade son attends P.S. 89.

“The result is that none of these donations are going to pay the overhead of a non-profit or NGO: 100 percent of the funds go straight to the Saint Paul School, and that’s a very rare thing to see.”

Gardner now works for Partners in Health, a non-profit organization that has contributed to the fundraising effort by acting as a liaison between the P.S. 89 and the Saint Paul School. But she first came up with the idea of a school-to-school connection while working for the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti following the January 2010 earthquake.

Gardner realized the importance of working directly with another school, primarily because it gives donation recipients the ability to use the money in ways that can best serve their own unique needs, she said.

She believed it was vital to make the project more than a one-year commitment in order to build that bond and remind students of the value of caring about their underprivileged counterparts.

“It’s so great for our kids to be thinking about these issues and to realize how lucky they are and also how important it is to be a global citizen,” said Gardner.

The Saint Paul School is located in Thomonde, a town in Haiti’s central plateau. Though the town was spared physical damage by the 2010 earthquake, Thomonde suffers from poverty, unemployment and overall quality of life that has been exacerbated by an influx of displaced Port-au-Prince residents. Nevertheless, the town hasn’t received nearly the amount of financial aid as more heavily damaged communities such as Port-au-Prince.

The Saint Paul School, in particular, faced problems based on poor building design and structural instability. In response, Partners in Health spent two years reconstructing, enlarging and fortifying the school.

Following in that vein, last year’s funds raised by P.S. 89 went toward the purchase of locally built furniture for the school.

The majority of this year’s funding will go toward treating Haitian patients with cholera, especially children in Thomonde.

In addition to the monetary support they have received, P.S. 89 students have become increasingly involved in learning about Haiti since the three-year project began. After several visits from representatives of Partners in Health, who briefed them on the nature and exact locations of recent cholera outbreaks within Haiti, some students even took the time to create what is now dubbed the Haiti Committee.

Several members of the committee led Friday’s walk, proudly holding a sign with the message, “89 Doesn’t Stop ’Till Haiti’s Back On Top,” which they had created for the event.

“They don’t have as much as we have,” said fifth grader and Haiti Committee member Sarah Weiss, when asked about why she took pride in the walk. “We have all these things like phones and technology in our classrooms, but the kids in Haiti don’t have any of that. So donating money and knowing that it goes to them really makes me feel good.”

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