MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - On a building made of stained, cut stones and mortar, a sign says “Ecole Mixte Secour d’En Haut,” which translates into the Help From Heaven School of Mixed Gender in Thomassique, Haiti.
An old, wooden door barely held together opens to dozens of eyes from young students who look up from their crude benches used as desks.
The young students gaze to the front of the room where their teachers go over arithmetic, grammar and other subjects.
Cpl. Gethro R. Metellus, an administration specialist with Transportation Services Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 25, Combat Logistics Regiment 45, 4th Marine Logistics Group aboard Stone Bay, founded the school in September 2005.
“They are the future,” Metellus said. “Just thinking about the children and how appreciative they are of being able to go to school and earn their education makes me tear up every time.”
Some students have to sit outside under a large tree with a blackboard nailed to the trunk to have class. If it were to rain, there would be no learning that day.
Although the conditions are less than ideal, the students would not be able to earn their education were it not for the school.
Metellus learned the value of helping others from a very young age when Jesula Jean Pierre, his mother, opened her own health clinic called Crutre de Sante’ Architecte de l’Univers, roughly translated into Health Center of the Architect of the Universe.
“When you call something like this a health clinic, it provides really more of a community environment,” Metellus said. “It is her legacy and her own way of reaching out and helping our community.”
Jean Pierre passed away in 2004, leaving her hospital to Metellus.
Metellus decided to run the hospital only as an administrator so he could carve his own path in life and leave a legacy of his own. The school is that legacy.
To operate the school, Metellus used the revenue of his late mother’s hospital and created a non-profit organization called the Foundation Resulmy Metellus for Education in May 2005.
“I’m not the type of guy to sit on an idea; I started working on the school the day I decided to make it,” Metellus said. “I made the foundation to save the families the burden of not being able to let their children be educated. With the foundation, I created the school.”
Metellus asked his grandfather, Resulmy Metellus, a pastor, to become the principal of the school.
“I believe the hand of God is helping to guide my grandson,” Pastor Metellus said via a translator. “I believe the school not only allows students to get educated, it also saves people’s lives.”
Two years after founding the school, Metellus was forced to leave the country for his safety. The money he inherited made him a target in Haiti.
“Because the social, political and economic situation is so bad in Haiti, even if you are just doing OK - not rich but just well off - you become a target,” Metellus said. “Your life is in danger when people think you have a lot of money, and they will try to kidnap you.”
After moving to the U.S., Metellus joined the Marine Corps in 2008, because he was raised with high social and moral standards. The Marine Corps fell right in line with that, Metellus said.
Metellus dealt with not only the hardships of recruit life and missing his family and friends, but also received reports from the hospital and school. From his boot camp rack, Metellus managed his mother’s hospital while maintaining the school’s funding.
“That is when the challenges really started to pile up for the school,” Metellus said. “I was not there to oversee the hospital or school directly anymore. I remember my drill instructor came to me with a letter - it was a big envelope. He asked me what was going on since I receive all this mail, and I had to tell him about the school in Haiti and all the stuff I’m involved with back there. I have to receive reports and continue my responsibilities even though I’m in boot camp. When everyone had their free time to write to their families or fix their uniforms, I had to go over the reports and mail them back.”
After graduating from boot camp, Metellus sent $500 monthly to help fund the school as the hospital’s revenue started to decline in 2010 after the earthquake.
“The earthquake took its toll on everybody in Haiti,” Metellus said. “The hospital was no exception.”
The hospital building cracked, and the school collapsed. A new location to rebuild the school was needed.
Jasleyv F. Metellus, Metellus’ wife, then still his fiancée, helped Metellus with finding materials for the school and contacting the World Food Program, an American non-profit organization which provides the school with free food.
“People hear that and say, ‘That’s a good sentiment,’ but they have no idea how important and vital the World Food Program is to us,” Metellus said. “If we could not provide the students a meal for lunch, their families would not be able to send them to school if they could work and get money for food instead. This way more students can go to the school.”
In 2011, Jasleyv started pitching in money from her paycheck to help pay the teachers and help the school stay afloat.
“One dollar in the U.S. is like $8 in Haiti, so it wasn’t as bad as you might think,” Metellus said. “With that said, when I was a lance corporal, taking $500 out of my paycheck to help the school was a big toll. It was something I was doing from my heart, so it wasn’t much of a burden.”
When the money he used from his own pay was not enough, Metellus and his fellow Marines raised funds for the school through community events such as car washes and bake sales.
“One thing people never get is I will ask them to help me raise money, but I will never ask them for money,” Metellus said. “After the earthquake, people were raising money left and right, but they weren’t using the money to help my people. They were taking advantage of people. I’m trying to do something from my heart because I believe in God, and I believe in giving. I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where people think I’m trying to put money in my pocket.”
Even with help, the declining revenue of the hospital made it increasingly harder to fund the school. Metellus turned to the Haitian government to ask for assistance.
“The government put together a program to help out with some of the classes,” Metellus said. “They agreed to help 80 children for us, which was amazing. It was a big help for us.”
Of the current 400 students at the school, 120 attend 100 percent free, 80 attend for free because the Haitian government’s support and the other 200 are paying only a fourth of the yearly tuition.
“The structure of having the school helps far more children than if I had decided to pay them individually,” Metellus said. “I don’t think I was created just to receive, but I think every time I have an opportunity to give, I should take it.”
Metellus added the goal of having 300 students go to school 100 percent for free is nowhere close to complete, and he will continue to move forward to reach his goals.
“We have no way of telling what the future holds for them because of the declining revenue from the hospital,” Metellus said.
Metellus started a program to help facilitate anyone who wishes to help an individual student to get in contact with that student so there is no middle man.
Metellus shows the person many ways to determine the money is going directly to and helping the child. He ensures to the supporter that the money is not being used inappropriately.
“My only role is to help bring the two people together for their arrangement,” Metellus said. “I provide the person a little package of photos and information about the child so the person gets to know who they’re helping. I even get them to video chat with each other so the child can show off their uniform and school supplies.”
For more information about the school, the students or how to help, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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