Diaspora

Haitian school honoring Marchand legacy takes flight, thanks to longtime Mitchell friend – Mitchell Republic

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HAITI — For more than a decade, Bruce Blumer trekked to Haiti with a mission to improve the lives of people who are living in extreme poverty.
While each trip provides a meaningful experience, Blumer’s most recent trek to the small Haitian island was one he’ll never forget. As he made it to the La Gonave island on the northwest side of Haiti in late February, a fully finished school building named in honor of his longtime Mitchell friend, Rob Marchand, greeted Blumer.
“He’d really be honored with how the school turned out. It looks great,” Blumer said of the Rob Marchand Education Center that began construction in 2017. “We’re still adding pieces to it as we go, but it’s special to see the kids with smiling faces getting to receive an education.”
Blumer, a former Mitchell resident, is a leader of a nonprofit organization called La Gonave Alive that has helped provide the island with basic resources such as education supplies, health care, food and clothing since 2013.
After Marchand died in 2014, Blumer and members of the missionary organization set out to build a school for the Haitian youth and name it in honor of the late Marchand, who was a youth leader at Mitchell’s Recreation Center for several decades. The two-story school building was built by local Haitians and missionaries like Blumer for Haitian students in grades first through seventh to attend.
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“In America, we are fortunate enough to have schools all around us that kids are able to attend. Getting an education in parts of Haiti is not an option for many kids, especially in rural parts of the country,” Blumer said. “This school is having such a big impact on the community. It really gives the kids a path to a brighter future.”
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, an estimated 50% of Haitian children do not attend primary school, and 80% fail to reach secondary school.
As a college professor and former principal at Mitchell Middle School, Blumer knows how vital education is for youth. And giving Haitian children an opportunity to receive an education is one way Blumer said Haiti can make gains in the poverty level the small country has been in for decades. A 2020 report from worldbank.org ranked Haiti as the poorest country in the Latin America and Caribbean region, and one of the poorest nations in the world.
In the first few years of the Rob Marchand Education Center’s existence, Blumer said kids have also learned how to be more resourceful with the limited resources available. From developing ways of collecting clean water to using solar energy as a power source for the school, students are learning new methods to stretch the limited resources further on the small island.
“We started collecting water off of the school building to allow it to go into a cistern. Clean water is a really hard thing to come by there,” he said. “We just added a solar battery system, and that way we don’t have to put gas in the generator for our computers and lights.”
Among the recent additions to the school are a new computer lab, a bus and a medical clinic that La Gonave Alive helped bring to the island.
“Something as small as a cut can become life-threatening in Haiti because they just don’t have access to basic medical needs,” Blumer said.
Although cancer took Marchand’s life nearly a decade ago, his legacy of inspiring youth to grow into contributing members of society lives on through the confines of the Haitian school. For Blumer, keeping Marchand’s legacy alive for future generations holds just as much importance as helping the Haitian community he’s grown to love.
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Seeing Blumer’s efforts to make the school a reality has been a powerful experience for Marchand’s kids and wife, Mary Marchand, who were able to take part in dedicating the school in 2018.
“When I saw some of the Haitian kids wearing their shirts with Rob’s name on them prior to the dedication ceremony, I got very emotional,” Marchand said. “Having the opportunity to see how happy these kids were to start their education and future was so uplifting.”
Now that the Rob Marchand school is complete, La Gonave Alive is already gearing up for a new mission. With the lack of health care resources and safe living quarters for the Haitian women of La Gonave, Blumer said the missionary organization is planning to build a women’s village that will bring around 100 small homes for local families.
Thanks to a land donation from a Haitian native, the women’s village is now taking flight. The audacious plan for the women’s village is aiming to build four small homes in 30 days, Blumer said.
“This donor has also dedicated that he will build the first 16 homes, and we’re very excited about the women’s village,” he said. “Another organization has also stepped in to help us with the women’s village,
The success of the Rob Marchand Education Center has caught the attention of Haitian leaders, who are helping La Gonave Alive continue bringing more development to the island.
“The mayor of the town we are working in also wanted to give us some land for us to build a market area. It would be kind of an open air market with small areas where people can sell food like mangos and fruit,” Blumer said.
Blumer said the pandemic exacerbated the poverty Haitians are dealing with. Over the past few years, Haiti has become increasingly dangerous for missionary work, as gangs have begun taking hostages for ransom.
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The recent hostage situation that took place in Haiti, in which a Haitian gang held a group of American missionaries in captivity until they managed to escape didn’t stop Blumer and missionaries with La Gonave Alive from going back to the island to continue giving back to the community.
“Doing missionary work now requires more planning with what’s been going on with the gangs. But people are as desperate as I’ve ever seen them, and I know our group and many others will not let that stop us from taking the risks to help these grateful people in need,” Blumer said.
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