Dear Friends,

This is an urgent request for your support of the
SOPUDEP School in Petion-Ville, Haiti.  

At 11:00 am this morning, heavily armed police
officers and members of the appointed Mayor of
Petion-Ville's irregular 'security force' violated
this school for the poor. The appointed mayor, Mr.
Figaro, entered the premises of the school with the
appointed adjunct mayor of Petion-Ville Madame Rene.
Entering the school in this manner was a case of
blatant intimidation by show of arms and an
inexcusable act. Upon entering, they refused to state
the reason for their intrusion and rudely demanded to
know the whereabouts of the school's director. On
their way out, one of the armed men quipped that they
were going to close the school.  

This unique project which serves the poorest children
in Petion-Ville barely escaped closure last March
thanks to the pressure and support of its friends in
the United States and Canada. We ask you to help
SOPUDEP once again by responding quickly to demand
that this resource of the poor remain untouched and to
demand that the threats to close it cease immediately.
Letters of support from individuals and organizations
should be sent to kevinpina@yahoo.com. For
organizations that have the resources, it is best you
write a letter on your letterhead and scan it as a
jpeg document before sending it.

The appointed adjunct mayor Madame Rene has agreed to
meet with a small delegation of supporters tomorrow
morning at 10:30 am. We know it is short notice but we
would like to enter the meeting with as many letters
of support as possible. If you cannot do this in time
for meeting, send the letter when you can and we will
have it hand delivered with others as soon as
possible.

Thanking you in advance. Your voice will make a
difference.

Sincerely,

Kevin Pina
Port au Prince, Haiti

 

Here is background on the SOPUDEP School:

A prominent U.S. journalist, recently working in
Haiti, once said of his editors, "Hey, I am sorry but
they are not interested in positive stories about
Lavalas. I wrote it, submitted it and they told me
they were not interested." What was the story? It told
of how the government expropriated the former mansion
of a notorious Duvalierist drug dealer and assassin
named Lionel Wooley, a.k.a. "Ti Je," and worked with a
local grassroots organization to convert it into a
school for the poorest children in the township of
Petion-Ville. The school now serves over 160 of the
area's poorest children and tries not to turn down any
child whose parents cannot afford to pay. With the
torture chamber under the swimming pool sealed
forever, the school stands as a beautiful symbol of
transforming a gruesome legacy of the past into hope
for the future for Haiti's youngest and poorest
citizens. Yet you will never read about it in the
mainstream media.

http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Feb04/Pina0212.htm

Andre Jean-Marie was a member of a community group
called SOPUDEP and founder of its school which our
delegation visited. The school provides education for
350 needy children whose parents can not afford
tuition or can not find a place for them in the
overcrowded public school system.  The school does not
turn children away and provides one hot meal -
sometimes the only hot meal a child will receive.

The school occupies the former residence of a Tonton
Macoutes member.  Tonton Macoutes were the
paramilitary wing of Duvalier dictatorship and were
known for their swift and cruel repression.  The
ousting of Duvalier, the dismantling of the Tonton
Macoutes and the election of Jean Bertrand Aristide as
president in 1990, signified a fresh change for Haiti.
 SOPUDEP and its school are a small indication of what
is possible under the new democratic government.
According to documentary filmmaker Kevin Pina, the
location of the school "takes a symbol of a horrible
piece of Haiti's history and turns it into a symbol of
hope."

The leader of the delegation, parishioner Paul Miller,
receives a plaque of appreciation from SOPUDEP.
The visit to the school was a highlight of the trip.
We were introduced to each classroom and were treated
to songs in both English and Creole.  We met Andre and
many other teachers and administrators and heard their
stories.  At recess we had the opportunity to play
with the children, take their photos and practice our
Creole.  With the support of the St. Joan of Arc
Justice Fund and other fundraising, we were able to
leave behind three suitcases of school supplies and
$750 - enough to repair their second bathroom.  The
look of appreciation on their faces was heart-stopping
and made us determined to forge an ongoing
relationship with this wonderful school.

Two days after our visit to SOPUDEP, the rumblings of
political dissent were in the air.  Opposition groups,
backed primarily by the elite,  had taken to the
street of Port-au-Prince to demand Aristide's
resignation.  In response, thousands of Aristide
supporters also took to the streets, creating an
explosive atmosphere in front of the palace.

Andre had been at the palace earlier that day for a
literacy campaign meeting and returned to join the
thousands of Aristide supporters.  As he departed his
car, he was struck and killed by bullets.  The news of
his death was shocking for our delegation and has
rocked the school he founded.  His death is tragic
reminder of what can happen in an unstable political
environment and when working for the poor can put one
in danger. He leaves behind a wife and two children
and dreams for a better Haiti.

http://www.stjoan.com/er3/haiti/haiti2.htm

This just in from Port-au-Prince: The SOPUDEP
(Organization for the Socioeconomic Development of
Petionville) school, which provides a free education
and hot lunch program for over 400 of the poorest
children in the community, is being threatened.
Opposition thugs and former military have spread word
through the neighborhood that they are planning to
attack and burn the school very soon. The
administration and staff take this threat very
seriously and many of them have already gone into
hiding until the situation changes.

http://www.indybay.org/news/2004/03/1671949.php

Kevin Pina