December 19, 2016

About Our Cause

Mission: To provide accessible education to children worldwide, to inspire big dreams, and to provide the resources to make those dreams come true.

Vision: We believe that we can and will overcome poverty and social injustices through global access to high-quality education.

Movement: We have developed a partnership between the Toronto District School Board and the charitable organization Third World Awareness, which will sponsor a school construction project for the children of Canaan. The primary goal of the Haiti School Building Project is to fund,  construct and establish a safe, well-equipped school in Canaan, so that children living there will have the opportunity to learn and grow, just as our students do here in North America. Through generous donations, we are able to provide the youth in this school with supplies, teachers and functional facilities.

Our Story:

For the past ten years, Founder Serena Bufalino has been privileged to work with Toronto’s most “at risk” youth.  The circumstances surrounding their lives is so severe that they cannot function in a regular school setting nor can they thrive in a Special Education classroom. Instead, these youth are in treatment centres battling everything from learning disabilities, to mental health issues, severe trauma, abuse and neglect, family crises and addition problems.

In an attempt to build their self-esteem and self worth, Serena guides her youth groups into the community where they volunteer at local shelters, soup kitchens and beyond. Through this alternative approach to education, these youth powerfully learn life skills, social skills and can develop a impressionable resume. Social activism and participation in the local community motivated these youth and energized them to give even more. They craved something bigger, something global. One day, while learning about global poverty and access to education, it was these kids – Toronto’s most at-risk and vulnerable youth- who imagined the unthinkable – that they could build a school in Haiti. The primary goal of the Haiti School Building Project is to empower youth both locally and globally by showing them they have the potential to bring about great change in their lives and the world around them.

With the help and expertise of Third World Awareness (an independent, not-for-profit organization that builds school in developing countries) Serena and her group of youth have translated these dreams into a reality.  Through ongoing fundraising campaigns, yoga retreats for the charity and incredible donor support, the school construction site has already started on the grounds in Haiti.

Meet Our Inspiring Toronto Students:

Section 23 Student Population: The students in Toronto District Elementary – Secondary Schools (Section 23 Programs) are students who, due to the circumstances surrounding their lives are unable to be in a regular or special education class. Section 23 programs are a partnership between and amongst the Ministry of Education, the TDSB and The Ministry of Child and Youth Services.

Each program has a TDSB Special Education Teacher and an agency partner. All the students within these programs have an Individual Education Plan plus a Transition Plan to facilitate the student’s transition to a regular or special education class in a community school upon demission from the program. Learn more here.

Meet Our Incredible Haiti Students:

Over 50% percent of Haiti’s population is of school age yet over half the population is illiterate (Francis 2002). As of 1992, more than 65% of the population over the age of ten had received no formal education at all, and only 8% of the population had received more than a primary education (Francis 2002). The government does not provide adequate funding for public schools and most families cannot afford the costs of private education, which can be as little as $20 a year (Francis 2002).

The efforts of Haitian governments to educate their people have not yielded remarkable results nor does education appear to be focused on the specific needs of the country. For example, there has been a tendency to focus exclusively on the formal system of education designed for the urban elites, while ignoring the fate of more than 80 percent of the population is in the countryside (Francis 2002). It is imperative to redefine the scope of Haitian education to rectify this error. Serious reform is needed in order that education becomes a true instrument of progress and development. For these reasons, The Haiti School Building Project is setting up its grounds in the remote countryside of Haiti in an area known as Canaan.

Canaan is a small city in Haiti, located 12 kilometres north of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. This city like many others in Haiti was devastated as a result of the 2010 earthquake. In Canaan there are currently thousands of displaced Haitians living in tent structures, struggling to survive with out consistent access to water, food and electricity. Because of the earthquake, the local schools were reduced to rubble.

About Our Founder Serena Bufalino:

Serena Bufalino is a force of nature. She is rooted in service to others, and hauls herself over every obstacle using the pitons of hard work, dedication and determination. She believes unreservedly in her ability to shed light in dark places, and that with love and guidance any dream is possible.

Since 2005 she has been working for the Toronto District School Board, in partnership with Child and Youth Services. It is under the Section 23 program that Serena gives guidance to some of the most at risk youths in Toronto. She works with young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty one who suffer from mental health issues, severe past trauma, learning disabilities and addiction, and who would find it impossible to function in the mainstream school system.

Under the Section 23 program she is responsible for eight to ten youths at a time, and they stay in her program for a maximum of two years. They learn social and life skills, reading, writing, attend work placement and build resumes. But perhaps most importantly, they learn what it is to be loved, to be heard and to be seen. Having battled significant learning difficulties throughout elementary and high school, Serena posits that she has become the teacher she wished she’d had.

With the encouragement from her mother and the momentum of her own formidable determination she graduated high school in 1997 and applied to the McMaster University early acceptance Social Sciences Program. It was at university that she learnt how to time manage and ask for help. She graduated from McMaster in 2003 on the Deans list, with honours.

In 2004 Serena was accepted into Teachers’ College in Australia. She knew immediately that she wanted to work with students who were “slipping through the cracks”; the ones that she felt were being undermined by a one-size-fits-all system, and so she was determined to complete her work placement in a detention centre school facility rather than a mainstream school setting. 

She spent the next year working and volunteering in detention centres, group homes and mental health hospitals, fascinated by the stories she was hearing and unwavering in her desire to make a difference in the lives she encountered. She devoted herself entirely to learning about the people she was inspired to help: researching mental health, disabilities and human behaviour. She ran after school group sessions where young people could come together to share their stories and their gifts.

The same year she was hired by the Halton School Board to serve the youth in Canada’s largest detention centre. But after a year she felt compelled to find a way to connect with young people before their lives had spiralled them into the prison system. That was how she found her way into the section 23 program. 

Her intention to foster strength and self worth in “her kids” by engaging them with the community to help those even less fortunate than themselves began in the homeless shelters and food banks of Toronto, and flourished in a direction she could never have imagined possible. It was her students, when confronted with the extreme poverty and helplessness of the situation in post earthquake Haiti who challenged her “Miss B, you say we can do anything, so lets build them a school.” And so, in 2011, in partnership with John Callaghan of Third World Awareness, The Haiti School Building Project was born.   

Manifesting her motto “Something local, Something global” Serena and “her kids” have so far raised over $100,000 for The Haiti School Building Project. The school is being  constructed in Canaan, a small city 12 kilometres north of the capital Port-au-Prince. Fifty two orphans of the earthquake are already enrolled, and attending school thanks to Serena, and a small group of Canadian youths who now have a reason to stand tall and proud. By the first of July this year the school will have a roof and 300 students beneath it. From one small act of human empathy springs a great one. As Serena says “In helping others, we help ourselves.”