St. Mark’s Students Connect with Haitian Children
When the 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, Dr. David Vanderpool, St. Mark’s School of Texas Class of 1978, became a first-responder for the suffering Haitians whose lives were devastated by the natural disaster.
Within three years, he would sell everything he owned in the United States, including a comfortable home and a thriving medical practice, to move to Haiti full time.
The nonprofit he started, LiveBeyond, is a faith-based, humanitarian organization bringing medical and maternal health care, clean water, education, orphan care, and community development to the oppressed in Thomazeau, Haiti.
St. Mark’s has been a partner of the organization for the past few years, sending books, school supplies, and funds raised to support the LiveBeyond school. But this year, the school increased student participation, thanks to the efforts of the students on St. Mark’s Community Service Board, and Jorge Correa, St. Mark’s Spanish teacher and Director of Community Service.
In February 2019, small groups of students at St. Mark’s began to teleconference with boys at LiveBeyond’s school in Haiti. They tutor the Haitian boys, help them practice English skills through conversation, and work with them on homework.
But the children in Haiti aren’t the only ones gaining from the experience. The boys at St. Mark’s are learning more about what it is like to live in Haiti. They ask questions about the lives of the Haitian children and have even mapped out the route the boys in Haiti take to get to school on Google Earth.
“The LiveBeyond mentoring program is a truly special community service opportunity,” said Rishi Mohan, St. Mark’s student, who is also a member of the community service board. “This program allows us to look beyond the outskirts of Dallas and into a world where running water is a luxury, and lights don’t always turn on when the switch gets flipped. It has broadened my perspective on other people’s ways of life, and I am sure I will continue to gain valuable insights from these interactions as I continue through the years.”
While overseeing the teleconferencing sessions from Haiti, Dr. Vanderpool observed a particularly interesting exchange.
“One of the St. Mark’s students asked the kids at the LiveBeyond school what their moms packed them for lunch,” he said. “The Haitian kids told them that their moms didn’t pack a lunch for them but that they ate rice and beans at school every day. I could tell that the St. Mark’s boys weren’t sure if that was a good or bad thing. But the boys at LiveBeyond were thrilled. They love rice and beans. It’s amazing to watch both sets of boys get to know each other through these learning experiences. Everyone has been positively impacted by this relationship.”
Dr. Vanderpool explained that after visiting children in a slum in Brazil on a trip with his family while he was a student at St. Mark’s, he began to wonder at the idea that he could just as easily have been born into those conditions. That early revelation deeply affected his career path choices.
The statistics faced by the children in Haiti with whom he works are overwhelming: Approximately 40 percent of the population cannot read or write; the unemployment rate is close to 41 percent; within the Thomazeau region, this estimate is closer to 80 percent. Poverty, corruption, natural disasters, and low levels of education impede Haiti’s economic growth, with about 60 percent of the population living below the poverty line. And children are at risk of being trafficked as domestic servants vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse.
LiveBeyond strives to break this cycle of poverty by offering medical care, education opportunities, nutritional support, and more to the children in the area. But progress takes time, Dr. Vanderpool said.
“The St. Mark’s boys are the great minds of the future here in America,” Dr. Vanderpool said. “Their lives couldn’t be more different from the lives of the kids in Haiti, and yet they are finding unity with the boys in our school. The interactions between these disparate groups not only help the Haitians now but might be part of the solution to poverty in Haiti in the coming years. And that’s exciting.”