PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti When two men barged into Sherrie Fauseys school a few months after the quake and demanded all the food in the pantry, she calmly said no.
The men threatened to kill her.
Thats really sad, the 62-year-old said, matter-of-factly. Because Im going to heaven and youre going to prison.
The men ran away.
Thats the kind of attitude maybe its brash American optimism that has paid off for Fausey, a retired schoolteacher from Jacksonville, Fla. Her Christian school in Haiti was destroyed in the earthquake in January, and one child was killed. But classes have started again, more than a month before the rest of the countrys schools.
Like everything else in post-earthquake Haiti removing rubble, rebuilding government offices, putting people to work the reconstruction of the education system is moving at a snails pace. So in the meantime, its up to private school owners like Fausey and other aid groups to improvise.
Many obstacles to education
Before the earthquake, few children in Haiti got beyond the sixth grade, and a million children didnt attend school at all. Most parents sent their children to private school, and the poorest parents paid as much as half their income for a childs education.
Even then, schooling isnt extensive; one nonprofit figures that the average Haitian adult has about 2.8 years of education. Add these grim statistics to the picture 40,000 students and 1,000 teachers died in the quake, and about 80 percent of school buildings in Port-au-Prince were destroyed and the enormity of it all seems overwhelming.
Haitian officials have created a $95 million back-to-school plan as a stopgap for the next three months, part of a five-year, $4 billion overhaul. But the government has a large, messy task ahead, against a historical backdrop of corruption and mismanagement.
There are glimmers of hope, mixed with the realities of a scarred city.
Portable classrooms made out of 100 shipping containers are ready for students in the town of Leogane. USAID has helped build 230 transitional classrooms throughout Haiti, and about 120 U.S. Army-donated tents will house an additional 104 classrooms in 49 schools come October.
Building a school
Fauseys ankle-length, blue floral print skirt brushes by the two-by-fours and the stacks of books, over steel rods and past a buzzing generator.
She moves fast. There are things to do. Kids to feed. Young minds to educate.
Wow, she says, slightly winded from the climb up a rough flight of concrete stairs. Shes got a breathing problem, made worse by the chalky dust thats everywhere in Haiti. There are sweat stains under the arms of her cornflower blue blouse. Theyve gotten a long way.
She points to a building. Construction workers are placing the last section on a tin roof. She smiles wide. Shes wearing cherry red tinted Chapstick.
Ready or not, this is third grade come Monday morning.
Fausey looks like a grandma. Shes got tousled, strawberry blonde hair, wire rim glasses and freckles. She has the air of the slightly stern teacher she once was one who is quick to give a hug after piling on more homework.
In 1999, she retired from the Jacksonville school system and came to Haiti on a weeklong mission trip. Her only son was grown, and she sold her house in Florida to return to Haiti the same year. She didnt speak Creole, or French, but she wasnt concerned. God, she said, had told her to open a school.
In the years that followed, Fausey started a feeding program for a few hundred kids in the area, handed out prenatal and newborn vitamins to malnourished mothers in a nearby shantytown, and, in 2008, adopted 26 orphans who were stranded on a roof of a building after deadly floods.
Her school swelled to 214 students. She accepted only kindergartners that way they could begin their education with her curriculum and follow it through the years. The kids learned geography, math and the Bible, along with languages, science and history. She said her sixth-grade students had some of the highest test scores in the country, but because the entire education system is so disorganized and destroyed by the quake theres no way to know.
While most Haitian schools ran from 8 a.m. to noon, Fausey kept her kids in class from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., like in America.
I dont know what we would do without Miss Sherrie, said Jacqueline Auguste, a 45-year-old single mother whose three kids attend school there. Auguste said her kids probably wouldnt be able to attend school at all without Fausey and now, her 14-year-old son speaks English, French, Spanish and Creole.
After quake, classes in a tent
Classes werent in session at Fauseys Christian Light Mission school when the earthquake struck on Jan. 12. Only Fausey and the orphans were in the building.
The back of the main school which was home for her and the orphans collapsed. Her housekeepers 7-year-old son was killed by falling debris.
A half-constructed second building was located across the street and had a large yard secured with a metal gate. She moved the orphans, the staff and the schools four tawny guard dogs there, and everyone slept in tents. Nobody wanted to return inside.
Fausey started school in a tent Jan. 18, five days after the quake.
They needed to get back to something that was normal, Fausey said. People said it couldnt be done.
Volunteers from the U.S. and Canada arrived, as did $90,000 in donations. Fausey dispatched the volunteers to nearby tent cities to feed children under the age of six. She wrangled food donations from nonprofits at the airport, met with architects about rebuilding, took in a malnourished child abandoned by her parents.
Fausey concedes that she brings a very American, goal-oriented attitude to Haiti.
I have to accept that I think in a different way, she said.