In 2016, Balfour Yearbooks began a partnership with The 610 Project, to provide the students at Ecole Shalom School in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti, with yearbooks for the very first time. This is a guest post from Melissa Bain, the organization’s founder.
As founder of The 610 Project, I’m immensely proud of all the work we do. There are times though when a particular project feels especially significant. Our Balfour Yearbook Project has been one of those. It stands today as one of my favorite things we’ve done with our students in Haiti.
The 610 Project’s Balfour Yearbook Project began simply as a conversation with a photojournalist friend about the significance a photograph can have for children in developing countries. As we chatted, an idea blossomed to recruit professional photographers to travel to Haiti and shoot school pictures of our students. The natural progression from there was “Hey, what if we could compile the pictures into a yearbook?”
I remembered my friend Sihwa Campbell who had worked for Balfour Yearbooks and thought she might be able to help. So I called her up, ran the idea by her, and Sihwa was all in. Within a few weeks, she called me back with amazing news: Balfour Yearbooks had pledged to sponsor three years of yearbook printing for our students in Haiti! Elated, I called our Haitian partner and told him to start recruiting a yearbook staff.
On Feb. 1, 2017, a team of six professional photographers, one videographer, Sihwa and I all traveled to Croix des Bouquets where the team spent three days shooting school pictures for more than 450 students, teachers and support staff. We printed all pictures on site, tucked them into cardboard frames and gave each child his or her photograph to take home to their family or orphanage.
While in Haiti, Sihwa trained students to use Balfour’s website, walked them through layout and font options and gave the kids pointers in creating a beautiful book. Faculty adviser Raoul Pierre guided the inaugural yearbook staff: students Esnaldo Michel (Editor), Wenderson Pierre, David J. Raymond, Wesley Patrick Rene and Franckelson Duvelson.
These young men worked after school and on weekends from second-hand desktop computers, with limited access to technology, and a very tight timeline to create a yearbook the entire student body could be proud of. Because yearbook content was compiled online, reliable internet connection proved especially challenging to production. In Haiti, spring is known as the island’s rainy season. The rain brings notoriously slow, unreliable internet. There were many nights when the students would be forced to go home while their computers were left running all night in order to complete content uploads. But the students, Mr. Raoul, and Sihwa persisted, and the finished product was delivered to our office in September. I had tears of joy in my eyes as I flipped through the brightly-colored pages.
This project is so special to me because with a student body of more than 450 students, 132 are orphans, living in crowded homes without parents or family structure. Two hundred others are living as “restaveks”; they are forced into unpaid child labor where they are abused and unwanted. Their school picture was the first portrait of themselves they’ve ever had.
For these students, a framed portrait and hard-bound yearbook let them know they are valued and valuable. They are seen and known. They have a name and a place to belong, a school to be proud of and a future to claim.
For our students, that’s the true power of a school picture and a Balfour Yearbook.
Thank you, Balfour!
The 610 Project is a community-driven movement dedicated to the sustainable success of developing Haitian communities through education, vocational training, and microenterprise efforts.
Based in The Shoals area of Alabama, The 610 Project is partnering with Haitian American Caucus (HAC) to utilize their successful model of community outreach through education in the community of Croix des Bouquets and carry it into southern Haiti and the community of Les Cayes. Find out more at www.the610project.org