By Jean Pierre Paul Durand, SJ
Strictly speaking, Collège Saint-Ignace is the only Jesuit school in Haiti. Founded in 2003 by the late Fr. Claude Souffrant, SJ, and directed since 2019 by Fr. Achange Simeus, SJ, the school welcomes approximately 550 students per year. It is there, on a few square metres of concrete in a slum area, that I am doing my regency as a Spanish teacher. This is the territory where the Ignatian Youth Ministry (IYM) team, of which I am a member, implements projects and activities related to the third Universal Apostolic Preference: “to accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future.” This activity resonates with my pastoral interests and the mission of the Society. Father General himself has recognized that the field of education is absolutely essential to the work of accompanying and learning from young people. This school is one of the ways the Society makes its presence known in one of the country’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
Father General himself has recognized that the field of education is absolutely essential to the work of accompanying and learning from young people.
When the pastoral team began its mission at the school, our first activity was to conduct a survey in order to identify the real problems of young people and to guide us in the most appropriate way to accompany them. During the interviews, 80% of the students sadly revealed to us that they long for a sense of peace and an opportunity for recreation. Why do they lack these things?
The school is located in the plaine du Cul-de-Sac, commune of Croix-des-Bouquets, in Noailles. For two years now, this area has been terrorized by armed gangs: 400 Mawozo, Anba piquant, Tête de mort, and Vitelhomme. These gangs, particularly the 400 Mawozos and Vitelhomme, specialize in hijacking cargo trucks and kidnapping to sustain their members. In addition, warring gangs vie for control over territories, and there are clashes between gangs and the Haitian National Police that cause street blockades, kidnappings, school disruptions, displacement of the population, etc. All these scenes of violence and war take place almost daily just a few kilometres from the school.
During the interviews, 80% of the students sadly revealed to us that they long for a sense of peace and an opportunity for recreation.
This tense situation paralyzes almost all sectors of activity in the area, but the most affected sector is education, as several schools have had to close their doors. For several days, the Collège Saint-Ignace had to operate with less than half its normal staff. But providence, the optimism of the director and his staff, and the reputation of the school in the area meant that the school did not close its doors; on the contrary, more students from elsewhere were accepted. However, the situation has affected the functioning of the school by depriving the students of peace and an opportunity for recreational activities.
On the one hand, these brave and vulnerable young people — mostly teenagers just entering puberty — are traumatized by insecurity and fear — fear that a bullet will hit them in the head as they walk through the streets. So, they don’t live in peace; they are prisoners in their homes. They live in fear and anxiety.
On the other hand, the situation has caused a considerable delay in the academic program. To remedy this problem, the director rightly had to focus on the intellectual dimension of the school by organizing remedial days for the students. The result? Nonstop work! Consequently, the pastoral and recreational dimensions had more or less fallen by the wayside.
The reality is that these young people only have the school as a means and context for meeting, engaging with each other and having fun.
The reality is that these young people only have the school as a means and context for meeting, engaging with each other and having fun. I was surprised to see that there is a disciplinary officer who forces students to leave the schoolyard after class. In other words, students would clearly prefer to stay there for a while instead of going home right away. This intrigued me. I once asked a student why he didn’t want to go home, and he said that at school he sees his friends and has fun, but at home he is locked up like a prisoner. That’s why, when the opportunity arose, they didn’t hesitate for a second to let us know that they long for a space that offers peace and recreational activities.
For our part, as a team responsible for pastoral care, in agreement with the director, we have set up a whole pastoral program to address the situation. At the same time, we have developed spiritual activities that invite the students to experience silence, the interior life, recreational activities, and sports, so that they can have fun. They have enthusiastically welcomed every minute of peace and enjoyment that these activities provide.
We have developed spiritual activities that invite the students to experience silence, the interior life, recreational activities, and sports, so that they can have fun.
I conclude these few words by paying tribute to the memory of Fr. Claude Souffrant, SJ, for his initiative. I also want to commend Fr. Achange Simeus, SJ, and his staff for their courage and optimism. Allow me also to congratulate the students and their parents for believing that the path of education is the ideal way to fight delinquency and to ensure a promising future. It only remains for me to thank the pastoral team that supports this holistic formation and brings to these valiant young people a little peace and enjoyment.