A year after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, members of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda began supporting a small, private elementary school in the Leogane region of the impoverished island nation. Except for the handful of members who visited the school during mission trips in 2011 and 2012, most had never met the man who founded and directs the school, Pastor Johnny Felix.
That changed last weekend when Felix, 33, visited the area to network with agencies that could help him obtain resources to improve his students’ education and well-being, and meet the people who have supported his Nouvelle Institution Chretienne de Leogane.
Felix, by his own estimation, founded the private school out of “poles and plastic [tarp]” after the earthquake. Today, it educates about 170 children in kindergarten through sixth grade.
“We still have a strong need for the school and we need to develop more programs for the school,” Felix said just before he met with officials at Population Services International, a human rights organization. “During my visit at PSI, I tried to explain the possibility [of having] a sustainable zone in my area,” one of his ultimate goals for the school and the community.
Other programs Felix wants to expand at the school include health education and social outreach. He said he would also like the ability to feed his students during the day.
Felix, who is also the founder and pastor of a local church in the Leogane region, met with officials at the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the National Institutes of Health to discuss the problems plaguing his region. He also visited Lycee Rochambeau, the French International School.
His tour of the school allowed Felix, as a teacher and principal, to see what education looks like in the developed world.
At Adat Shalom, he spoke to the congregation about the members who raised money for his school, many of whose students can’t afford the $85 annual tuition. Last year, the synagogue donated about $10,000 to cover security, tuition fees and teacher salaries at the school; a third mission trip is planned for December.
Felix also shared his culture – singing songs from Haiti – and ate with congregants after services.
“We wanted to give [our congregants] a real sense of how our money supports people,” said Rabbi Sid Schwarz of Adat Shalom. “We don’t share faith, we don’t share race, we don’t share country or nationality or culture. There’s nothing we have in common, other than our common humanity.”
In many ways, he continued, “our project was to make the ultimate point of what Judaism is all about, and that is to see every human being in the image of God.”