GENEVA – Jamie Schumacher is safely back in Geneva these days, after nearly being stranded indefinitely in Haiti after that country being closed down March 19 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She and her friend Susan Arch credited U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, for working with the State Department and Haitian officials to get her on a plane home by March 23.
“On March 19, the Haitian president closed down Haiti. I called to let her know I would not be coming home, due to the closure of Haiti,” Schumacher said. “And that night, she contacted Congresswoman Lauren Underwood’s office to explain my situation.”
Arch said shortly after she sent an email to Underwood’s office, Rebecca Hooper, Underwood's constituents service representative, called to get information that they could present to the American Embassy in Port Au Prince.
“The next two days, we were going back and forth with updates. They were amazingly available,” Arch said. “They were working on behalf of Jamie and another person from her district who was stranded in Peru and trying to get out of countries that were closed because of COVID.”
With pressure from Lauren Underwood, the State Department continued to work with the Haitian government to let American Airlines or a chartered plane bring her home, Schumacher said.
“Lauren Underwood got us a chartered flight, but we left in a regular American Airlines flight that came that morning on March 23,” Schumacher said.
“The chartered flight still went out later that afternoon. Both planes had flight clearance to arrive empty and fly people to the states. None of that would have happened if a U.S. Representative had not been working with them for flights out,” Schumacher said. “Lauren Underwood called on March 24 to see how I was doing and to be sure I got home safely.”
On March 20, the American Embassy in Port-au-Prince called her.
“They had received an email from Lauren Underwood’s office and they were checking to see if I was there. To let me know I was on their radar and that they were working on things,” Schumacher said. “That I was not alone or forgotten. That never would have happened if Lauren Underwood’s office not been on top of this.”
Throughout the weekend, several times a day, Schumacher said she would call the American Embassy to ask how things were moving along.
In a statement, Underwood said that the coronavirus crisis has broadened the scope of how she can serve the 14th District.
"When our team learned of Jamie’s situation in Haiti, we worked around the clock to ensure the State Department helped her safely return to her family in Illinois," Underwood said. "We’re all in this together—from a nurse needing (personal protection equipment), to a small businessowner trying to keep their workforce on the payroll, to someone like Jamie desperate to get home to Illinois from abroad — it was my honor to be able to help.”
A new life in Haiti
Schumacher was in Haiti because she had moved there four years ago to help a Haitian colleague open a school for special needs children.
A former eighth grade teacher for nearly 20 years at Sam Rotolo Middle School in Batavia, Schumacher resigned in 2016, sold her house in North Aurora and got rid of all her stuff.
“I travel light,” Schumacher, 50, said.
She made arrangements with a friend, Susan Arch of Geneva, to stay with her during school vacations and summers. Arch, 65, is a retired school counselor who knew Schumacher because they both had worked at Rotolo and attended some of the same Bible studies.
“I had just refinished my basement,” Arch said. “I told her when she’s home on furlough, she could stay here. She’s here two months over the summer and over Christmastime.”
The Haiti Center for Inclusive Education has approximately 100 special needs students, but serves all students, Schumacher said.
“In Haiti, kids with special needs don’t go to school, they fall by the wayside,” Schumacher said. “A lot of times, parents have to pay for them to go to school and if parents can’t afford it, they just don’t go to school.”
The school is an inclusive school, where students with special needs, learning disabilities and regular education students are all together, Schumacher said.
The school is tuition-based and Schumacher said she does a lot of fundraising to pay teacher salaries and for supplies.
“My only income is what I get through fundraising and mission support,” Schumacher said.
World Relief tutor
In retirement, Arch volunteers at World Relief to tutor refugee children.
“These are families who have come to us as refugees and assigned to me. I tutor students in all subjects, but mostly reading and writing,” Arch said. “I’ve been doing this for three years now and I’m tutoring my fourth family.”
Arch tutored two children from Syria, one from Burundi and currently, she is tutoring a seventh grade boy from Iraq.
To support Schumacher’s school in Haiti, donations can be sent to New Hope Lutheran Church, 701 N. Randall Road, Aurora IL 60505 with the notation that it is for the Haiti Mission.
More information about World Relief DuPage/Aurora is available online at worldreliefdupageaurora.org.