This time last year I was visiting Haiti and my host was Rea Dol and her family, all members of the Lavalas Movement and she herself co-founder of SOPUDEP school. SOPUDEP which created in 2001, is a private non-profit school that exists through the sheer determination of Rea and her colleagues. The school serves the poorest and most vulnerable children of the community of Petion-Ville since 2001. The children who attend SOPUDEP school would never have a chance at an education save for this wonderful project. Most of them also receive their only hot meal every school day through the school’s Hot Lunch Program. Given the latest rise in food prices and the hardship this has caused Haitian families, the Hot Lunch Program is an indispensable component SOPUDEP’s work in the community.
However the school has been the focus of unwanted attention and attempts to close it down by the authorities reminiscent of it’s orginal use during the Duvaliers period between 1956 to 1986, when it was home of a notorious Tonton Macoute, Lionel Woolly, known as “Little Eye, and included a torture chamber.
The school started with 160 children but there are now over 480. Initially it includes a government funding hot lunch programme for students and staff. For many this was their only meal of the day. When President Aristide was outstead in 2004 the programme was ended and the first attacks against the school began by various anti-Aristide and anti-Lavalas militias. Still the school has survived and in March this year the hot meal lunch programme began again.
This is what is happening:
For several months now, a variety of characters have appeared at the school to demand they vacate the premises. Some falsely stated they were descendants of the original owner but mostly it was an attempt to pressure the school by disrupting its normal operation. On Monday July 28, 2008, the Mayor of Petion-Ville, Lydie Clark Parent, delivered an eight (8) day eviction notice to SOPUDEP to vacate their school premises. This action is NOT legal as SOPUDEP has a 12-year lease on the property that expires in 2012. The school’s rights under this contract were ultimately respected by the Mayor’s office and the government of Latortue in 2004-2006 and has subsequently been recognized as valid by the Ministry of Education and the Preval administration.
On Tuesday, August 5, 2008, the SOPUDEP school will begin the procedure to file an injunction against Mayor Lydie Clark Parent and ask the court to uphold their binding 12-year lease at their current location. In an effort to show Mayor Parent and the Haitian court the importance of the SOPUDEP school, they ask that all people of goodwill and solidarity please write a letter expressing their support for the school and its more that 450 students. These letters will be critical to showing the wide-spread support SOPUDEP school has throughout the world in the coming days and weeks. Please take five minutes of your time as soon as possible and help save this wonderful resource for Haiti’s poorest children in Petion-Ville, Haiti by writing a letter on their behalf today!
Who is Lionel Wooley?
Lionel Wooley was an assassin for the regimes of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier. In exchange for killing opponents of these repressive regimes in Haiti, he was allowed to steal the property of his victims and claim them as his own. In late 2000, Lionel Wooley died in exile in Miami and the government expropriated the properties he had stolen. Most were returned to the surviving members of the original victim’s families but a few had no known descendents. Among these few properties was a dilapidated mansion, burned and pillaged by an angry local community after the departure of Baby Doc. It is situated in the hills of Petion-Ville behind the Montana Hotel .
Who owns the property?
The property passed through Mayor Sulley Guriere of Petion-Ville, to SOPUDEP whose membership actively participates in the National Literacy Project. Although the literacy campaign is designed for adults 30-60, SOPUDEP was deeply affected by the number of school age children who attended classes as well. They were mostly children of the poor whose parents could not afford to send them to school and could not find a place for them in the over crowded classrooms of the already overwhelmed public schools system. For this reason SOPUDEP made a decision to turn the property into a school for the most vulnerable and poor children of Petion-Ville. The SOPUDEP team hired a lawyer and began the legal process for acquiring a long term lease of the property in 2000 as well as restructuring their organization to meet the requirements of the Haitian government to operate the school. SOPUDEP was given a 12-year lease on the property that expires in 2012 and was provided accreditation by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education to conduct a school at the facility.
What you can do
Urgent Action Requested to Save the School
We must act quickly if this precious resource is to be saved and the rights of SOPUDEP’s school protected. Please forward this alert far and wide.
Please write a letter to:
1. Demand that this illegal attempt to seize SOPUDEP’s school property by the Mayor’s office in Petion-Ville stop immediately.
2. Demand that the legal rights of this important institution be respected according to the 12-year lease negotiated with the Haitian national government in 2000.
3. Demand that all acts of intimidation and coercion by the Mayor’s office in Petion-Ville to seize the SOPUDEP school halt immediately.
Instructions for Letter Campaign
For organizations: Please write a letter on your official letterhead, scan it and email it as an attachment (.pdf is usually the easiest).
For individuals: Please write an email or include attachment (.pdf, .doc)
Email your letters to the school’s director, Rea Dol. She will make copies and hand deliver them. Email your letters to:
Madame Rea Dol, Director SOPUDEP School
Honorable Lydie Clark Parent
Mayor of Petion-Ville
Dear Madame Parent,
It has come to my attention that on July 28, 2008 your office issued a 8 day eviction notice to the SOPUDEP school located in morne Lazarre. As a supporter of this important institution I demand that their rights be respected and the school be allowed to continue without further intervention.
The SOPUDEP school has a 12-year lease on its current location that has been respected by previous administrations at the local and national level in Haiti. They have worked closely with the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education to insure that SOPUDEP school conforms to all the codes necessary for operating the school.
In closing, we are aware of statements you have made in the past concerning the importance of helping the poor in Haiti and the community. We ask that you recognize the value of the service provided by the SOPUDEP school to Petion-Ville’s poorest and most vulnerable school age children. Please respect the legal rights of the SOPUDEP school and honor the 12-year lease negotiated with the government in 2000.
SOPUDEP Legal Defense Fund
SOPUDEP school has contacted an attorney in Haiti who is familiar with the case and is willing to represent them. He has requested a retainer fee of $530.00 US that the school is currently unable to pay. There may be other legal expenses as the case makes its way through the daunting Haitian legal system. Please consider making a donation to the SOPUDEP Legal Defense Fund. Please go to SOPUDEP.org for details about sending your contributions. All contributions should earmarked “SOPUDEP Legal Defense Fund.” You may also make donations towards the school’s General Fund, the Hot Lunch Program, and the Textbook Fund and join the SOPUDEP school team in continuing to serve their community.
For further information please contact:
Haiti via email (French or Kreyol only):
Madame Rea Dol, Director SOPUDEP School
In the U.S.: