Nouveau College Bird of Haiti Celebrates 50th Anniversary
By Rev. James Gulley and Elliott Wright
October 29, 2010—Nouveau College Bird had ample space for the celebration of its 50th anniversary in Haiti’s capital city. Four principal buildings are gone, destroyed by the January 12, 2010 earthquake; the rubble replaced by temporary classrooms and tents for school’s reopening the first week of October.
Thirteen hundred students have returned to the institution, related to the Eglise Méthodiste d'Haiti (EMH)--the Methodist Church of Haiti. The half-century anniversary celebration, held on October 22-23, was a time of thanksgiving for the resumption of classes and for the fact that no students or staff died in the earthquake. The 300,000 persons who were killed and the 1.3 left homeless were reverently remembered.
The event included an exposition on the school’s history and achievements, a Sunday service of worship, and a basketball competition. It brought commitments of support in rebuilding from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the Methodist Church of Great Britain.
Three choirs, two adult and one of children, provided rousing music for Sunday worship in the chapel, which survived the quake. The Rev. Dr. George Mulrain of Antigua, president of the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and Americans (MCCA), preached. He challenged Haitians to move on in faith in the wake of the devastating earthquake, rebuilding spiritually and physically.
Important Role in Haitian Education
Nouveau College Bird educates students from the primary grades through high school, plus two additional years (a baccalaureate diploma). Its roots extend into the 19th century, and it has “nouveau” (new) in its name because there was a previous Bird College. The namesake, the Rev. Mark B. Bird, was for more than 40 years a missionary in Haiti through the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society of Great Britain. “New” College Bird opened in 1960.
The works of several artists, photographers, and writers who are Nouveau College Bird graduates were on display, along with materials published by EMH. These include the school texts, posters and other educational materials used within Methodist and other schools. The Haitian Church has more than 102 schools and plays a major role in the country’s educational system.
“The exposition left me with a much better understanding of the contribution of Nouveau College Bird and the Methodist Church school system to Haiti,” said Lauren James, who is liaison between the church and UMCOR, which is engaged in extensive post-earthquake relief and rehabilitation work in collaboration with the Haitian Church and other partners. Also present for the exposition was Kamlesh Vyas, interim head of the UMCOR mission in Haiti.
The Rev. James L. Gulley, a representative of UMCOR and the General Board of Global Ministries, spoke about the rehabilitation work underway and future plans. Rev. Thomas Quenet represented the British Methodist Church.
The Rev. Gesner Paul, president of EMH, led the three-day celebration along with the school’s four-person council. The administration honored numerous Haitian teachers and staff and recognized past teachers. From 1960s through 1992, a succession of teachers was sponsored by the Swiss government and the Swiss Protestant Church. Seven of those teachers came to the celebration, including Paul Decorvet, the first director, and Louis Berlie, now president of Swiss Friends of Haiti marking his 50th trip.
The first Methodist missionaries came to Haiti in 1817 at the invitation of then President Pétion. This came about only a few years after the island’s people threw off French colonial rule. The first missionaries were forced out but returned in the 1830s. The Rev. Bird, who was an American working with the British mission board, had a mixed girls and boys school, Wesley College, underway by 1846. Bird died in 1880 and a few years later his institution was moved and renamed for him. The first College Bird ended operation in 1908 when its building burned. An effort to rebuild went unrealized but Nouveau College Bird is at the same location in Port-au-Prince.
In the interim between the first and “new” Bird college, Methodism made significant contributions to education in Haiti. Irish missionary H. Ormonde McConnell, who arrived in 1933, created a written version of the Kreyol (Creole) language used by the majority of Haitians. He was assisted by the famed missionary linguist, Frank Laubach, and written Kreyol became key in popular education, although French was used alongside it. The Bible was also translated into Kreyol.
Prior to the autonomy of the MCCA in 1967 and the formation of The United Methodist Church in 1968, almost all Methodist contacts with Haiti came from Europe. Subsequently, partner relations between Haitian Methodists and the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries began to emerge, initially in the 1980s through UMCOR response to natural disasters. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) became active in Haiti beginning in the mid-1990s. A joint UMCOR-UMVIM program is contributing significantly to the rebuilding of housing and schools and other rehabilitation projects today.
The recovery in Haiti is still in its earliest phases. Your financial and prayerful support is still needed, as tents give way to temporary shelters and ultimately, to permanent homes, schools, places of worship, and small businesses.
UMCOR will partner with the people of Haiti for years to come. Gifts to support UMCOR's work can be made online by visiting www.umcorhaiti.org. For gifts by mail, please make checks payable to UMCOR and mail to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Please indicate Haiti Emergency, UMCOR Advance #418325 on the memo line of your check. One hundred percent of gifts made to this advance will help the people of Haiti.
Primary information came from the Rev. James L. Gulley, Mme Sylvie Gardel, and Rev. Marco Depestre in Port-au-Prince, with supplementary data and the final draft by Elliott Wright in New York.