Next October, God’s Planet for Haiti Christian School will celebrate its 10th anniversary, but for now founder Jemps Maignan is concentrating on keeping students and staff safe during a pandemic and hoping to raise funds to continue supporting them.
Maignan, a Haitian native and resident of Blount County, opened the private school on Oct. 31, 2011, in Marmont, Hinche, Haiti, 60 miles outside Port-au-Prince. He had about 15 students enrolled that first year; today there are 98 students, ages 3 to 12. There were few schools in the area.
The families are charged a small fee to attend and are provided the necessary books and uniforms. The school’s leadership follows Haiti’s core curriculum and includes teachings from the Bible, as well as English, Spanish and world history. The school employs a principal, teachers, cook and custodian. Students are fed two meals per day.
Maignan said it costs about $350 per year to sponsor one child. There are two East Tennessee churches that provide monthly support for the nonprofit, one of them being Maignan’s home church in Townsend, Shepherd’s Glory. The other is in Kodak. He said God’s Planet for Haiti also gets one-time donations from around the area, but this isn’t going to be enough to sustain the mission Maignan has to provide a Christian education to these students in Haiti all the way through high school.
The campus sits on seven acres. The school isn’t connected to any orphanage. Students live with their parents or extended family, and all become involved with the school and its activities.
Because of COVID-19, Maignan had to restrict his 2020 travel there. He was there to celebrate Christmas 2019, but only recently went back. His trip was a short one, Sept. 30 through Oct. 8. He went to make sure the new school year got underway and asses needs.
He can report that there are no cases of the coronavirus among his students, their families or staff.
With the holidays fast approaching, Maignan will be returning in December, to provide Christmas shoe boxes to the students. It is an annual project he has always asked East Tennessee residents to help with. The children are given necessities like toothbrushes, toothpaste, personal care products, socks, shoes and also underwear.
Getting it done
In years past, board members and others have gone with Maignan at this special time of year, but because of COVID-19, he said he might be going alone this time. He gladly accepts donations to transport.
In addition to Maignan’s frequent visits, there have been teams of mission workers as well, who come to Haiti at Maignan’s request. Remote Area Medical has done clinics there for God’s Planet for Haiti and the surrounding villages. Nurses from Carson-Newman University have also come and set up healthcare sites.
Pastor conferences and a jail ministry have also been established through the school.
In non-COVID years, Maignan had been spending several weeks in Haiti, working on classrooms, leading pastor conferences, visiting jails and overseeing medical clinics. The pandemic has shut most of that down for now. He also is a single dad of a 5-year-old son. J.J. is a kindergartner at Alcoa Elementary School.
On Aug. 26, 2011 Maignan obtained his U.S. citizenship.
Now, Maignan visits Haiti when his son is on school breaks. To support himself and his son, Maignan works some part-time jobs that include dispatching for a friend’s trucking business. He also hires himself out for painting and other home projects. All of the money donated to God’s Planet for Haiti goes to support the school and its students, he said.
He was only 14 when Maignan said he felt led by God to work for Haiti’s children. He said it’s been tough sometimes to find others to bring alongside who have that similar dream. This year, navigating through a pandemic has made it all the tougher.
Familes have been hit hard economically, Maignan said. He said he understands what his fellow Blount Countians are facing. He remains hopeful there are those out there with the desire to reach out and help.
Times are tough
“Support is really, really low right now,” he said. “But I am not worried. This is not something I am doing for a set period of time. This is a lifetime job that God has given me.”
God’s Planet for Haiti’s founder knows the best way to ensure longevity is to become self-sustaining. Maignan installed a well years ago so the villagers wouldn’t have to walk miles for water. He wants to begin growing crops to sell so the school can benefit. The next step would be to purcahase a water pump, he said. That could cost thousands of dollars.
He is hoping there might be a church out there wanting to tackle a project that would support and provide an education for these children who live in poverty. There are so many projects left to do, Maignan said. Adding on more classes is one of his top focuses.
Adding on new board members is a priority as well.
It has been a slow process, but progress is evident with almost 100 children being educated.
“It is not my ministry,” Maignan said. “It is God’s ministry. I don’t want to get to the point where I don’t have enough money to pay the teachers and support the children. We have come a long way. I don’t want to see it come down.”
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