200112-news-haitiupdated

Nicole, Sophie, Manu and Steve Ritchie are seen here at the annual fundraiser for Life and Hope Haiti at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth last April.

ELIOT, Maine — A Maine woman who has spent years sending financial aid to a school in Haiti is traveling there Sunday with her family and a group of Seacoast residents to see the impact their contributions have made.

Nicole Ritchie of Eliot is heading to the Eben Ezer School in Milot, Haiti, on the 10th anniversary of the earthquake that killed 230,000 on that impoverished island nation.

The school was founded in 2003 by Lucia Anglade of West Babylon, N.Y., and has about 500 children enrolled there, according to organizers of the trip.

“For these students, education is a way out of poverty,” Ritchie said during an interview on Tuesday. “Our American dollars can go a very long way in Haiti and help them out of the poor conditions they are in.”

According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with close to 60% of its population living under the poverty line.

There is also a shortage of skilled labor in Haiti, which is why Ritchie and her family send $220 a year to sponsor a student as well as $1,200 a year to pay for one teacher’s salary.

Fifteen families in the Seacoast region have each paid for a teacher’s salary, accounting for the entire payroll of the school. Ritchie said that gives those educators job security so they can focus on their students.

Ritchie said her daughters Manu, 16, and Sophie, 19, inspired their family to get involved with Life and Hope Haiti when they wanted to help the victims of the 2010 earthquake.

Their involvement has grown from there. They attend the annual fundraising dance at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth and had hoped to travel to Haiti in March of last year, but unrest in the country at the time led to the trip being rescheduled.

Amy Miller of South Berwick, Maine, is an organizer of the trip, which starts on the 10-year anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude quake that leveled most of the nation’s already frail infrastructure. She said seeing progress made at the school gives her great satisfaction.

“It feels good that in that small corner of the world our connection with Haiti has made a big difference,” Miller said.

Miller said they are looking forward to seeing progress that is being made on the guest house that Life and Hope Haiti is building, which will bring income to the school. Brian Jervis of Exeter donated $10,000 to the project and will have a room named after him.

A total of 11 travelers will be taking the trip and will be carrying donations from Seacoast residents.

People can hear about the trip on March 21 at the annual dance at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth.

For more information, email newslifeandhope@yahoo.com.

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