KINGSTON — Millions of impoverished children across the globe lack access to something we often take for granted in the United States: a quality education. According to the Global Partnership for Education, 121 million children and adolescents are not even enrolled in a school. Good schooling can be the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. That’s the goal for Christel House, an organization that builds schools specifically to benefit those children living in poverty.
Christel House takes a holistic approach to alleviating poverty. While other organizations may have a singular focus on providing education, healthcare or food, Christel House is dedicated to supplying children with all of these and more. The organization transforms the lives of children from early childhood to early adulthood.
Christel House currently has a total of four international schools: two in India, one in South Africa and one in Mexico. Christel House also operates four schools in Indianapolis, Indiana, where it is headquartered. A ninth school providing impoverished children education in Jamaica will open in fall of 2019.
On July 12, Christel House entered into an agreement with the government of Jamaica to build the new facility on a 10-acre parcel of land near Kingston. The government is providing the land as part of a public-private partnership. Christel House will pay for all the costs associated with the school, which will eventually serve 840 students from the impoverished area.
The Borgen Project spoke with Christel House senior vice president Cheryl Wendling, who said one of the most common questions people ask is how they decide where to build schools. “On the surface,” Wendling said, “the answer is we see an opportunity and we have connections to help us take advantage of it.” Before deciding to provide comprehensive education in Jamaica, Christel House already had connections in the hospitality industry and the government on the island.
The Ministry of Education was excited about the opportunity and the government played a big role in encouraging the project. Wendling visited the site with other representatives from Christel House to assess the level of need. The island’s status as the second-poorest nation in the Caribbean and its proximity to the U.S. contributed to Christel House’s decision to build a school that would provide opportunity and education in Jamaica.
According to Wendling, many students see Christel House as a second home — a place to learn life skills and character lessons they may not be able to learn in their local communities. Christel House also makes sure each kid can learn in optimal conditions, well-fed and healthy. “When we were conceptualizing what Christel House would be,” Wendling said, “we thought ‘What would we want our kids to have?'”
Tuition to the school will be free and needs-based. As in all Christel House schools, students will receive books, uniforms, transportation, lunch, snacks and a health service free of charge. The school will hire locally, though Christel House is interested in hiring Jamaican expats who wish to return to their home country as well.
Christel House was established in 1998 by CEO and founder Christel DeHaan. The organization currently enrolls 4,600 students across the globe. Students maintain a 99 percent graduation exam rate and the majority go on to enroll in higher education. Many go on to work for multi-national corporations.
Wendling says this is due to a comprehensive college and careers program that starts while students are still in middle school. At that time, students pick two or three career choices. While Christel House does not pay for college education, it sometimes helps students pay for educational necessities like books and transportation. Many students successfully secure college scholarships. Most students stay in the country and region where they grew up, though some move into middle-class neighborhoods after achieving success.
Naturally, the admissions process can be full or tough choices. Wendling says the primary factor is poverty, and that Christel House is not focused on looking for the best and the brightest.
“We are looking for families and children that are motivated and really eager to take advantage of the opportunities that are being offered,” says Wendling.
– Brock Hall