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Seeing Haiti's future in the village of hope.

GANTHIER, Haiti -- Kindergarten students at the Village of Hope School marched happily into the schoolyard to begin their day serenading me and 10 others on the volunteer team from Northern Virginia by raising the Haitian flag and singing the island's national anthem. The future of Haiti will be resting on the shoulders of these little ones someday.

Afterward, several members of the mission team visited with sponsored children. At noon on that last Thursday of February, older students joined the group for a lunch of rice and beans with fish sauce in the cafeteria.

After three days in Haiti, our team still had much work to do to get the health center ready for medical equipment. Returning to Hope House in the evenings brought some respite, but we were really looking forward to reconnecting with some orphans we first met in 2009. The two visits re-energized us in the afternoons.

Marie Majors received the mission team at her home, where she cares for 20 orphans. The facility, which was completed in 2009, received significant damage during the 2010 earthquake, yet her work continues in Croix-des-Bouquets.

"Parents don't come to see their children," Majors said. Gifts were brought from the adoptive parents of Journalda Nice for all of her former housemates to share.

The girls were just delighted to comb and to braid some of the ladies' hair. Frisbees, bubbles and singing gave everyone the giggles.

Several orphans were entering their teens. When the girls age out of the orphanage, Majors said, the hope is that they will continue in state schools.

Moving on to the Little Children of Jesus sponsored by the Florida-based Food for the Poor organization, the mission team danced to the music provided by a staff member, who also is a disc jockey. Gladys Hugette and her staff care for more than 100 physically challenged children, and they were glad to receive diapers. The team reconnected with several little ones from years ago and cuddled some new arrivals. Animal-shaped balloons tickled the fancy of many.

Assessing Haiti's Dilemmas

A few tent cities and rubble remain in Port-au-Prince and Croixdes-Bouquets. However, a lot more farm animals (goats, cattle and chickens) were seen nearby as men and women planted corn and sugarcane in the parched earth.

"The unemployment rate in Haiti is about 40 percent," said Bert Anderson, director of the Village of Hope School. "Of the 60 percent employed some are day laborers or are temporary workers."

The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates that its rubble-removing projects helped between 34,000 and 56,000 Haitians--about 10 percent of the total displaced population--return to their homes.

"The State University of Haiti suffered damage during the quake," said Anderson. The 14 university students from the Village of Hope have seen college costs double and even triple as Haiti tries to rebuild, hire new teachers and replace everything lost in the temblor.

"The cost of operation and rebuilding is being passed on to students in the form of tuition charges. The university traditionally has been for the elite and bourgeoise," said Anderson.

The Consortium for Rebuilding and Improving Higher Education in Haiti, which includes Harvard, City University of New York and other northeastern U.S. schools, is looking to find ways to remedy this situation. Dr. Walter Bumphus, of the American Association of Community Colleges, is expected to conduct a survey to see which colleges are engaged in assisting Haiti. Since the temblor, AACC member institutions have been encouraged to provide scholarships for Haitian students.

"It also will be important to explore curriculum for future careers to help Haiti develop," said Dr. Carole Berotte Joseph, president of Bronx Community Colleges. "Teachers, teachers' assistants are a priority since 46 percent of Haitian's aren't getting educated."

Agriculture is a dying sector, Joseph continued. "Training entry-level health workers, nurses, lab techs to fill understaffed positions is a priority." Decentralizing the State University of Haiti with community colleges in addition to seamless transfer capabilities to four-year colleges will be key, according to Joseph.

Help from Howard

Meanwhile, students at Howard University raised $80,000 for an alternative spring break in several American cities and the nation of Haiti through a phonathon on WHUR radio station and from motorists dropping spare change into buckets on Georgia Avenue.

About 94 students from the historically Black college applied for the weeklong trip to Haiti, according to Phelisha A. Midy, a student coordinator. Only 15 students were accepted based on essays, recommendations and an interview. Midy said the criteria used were knowledge of the island nation as well as passion and the maturity of the student.

Howard students partnered with the Haitian American Caucus on a community development project, literacy program, sexual education course for men and feminine hygiene course for women as well as a general dental hygiene course. Since 2003, the caucus has supported Ecole Shalom, a primary school in Croix-des-Bouquets.

"Our experience emphasized the importance of service and giving back to the community," said Marquis Gibson, also a student coordinator. Clearing a lot of trees, grass and garbage to build a local bank is important to support farming of mangoes and coffee beans, he said.

The experience made Gibson conscious of people's needs. After graduation he plans to join the Peace Corps.

"There were slight improvements from last year," said Midy. "Electricity is still scarce, so we had to rely on roosters to wake us. And we had mosquito nets over our beds."

Returning from sightseeing in Jacmel, Howard students were caught in a huge rainstorm. "The water kept rising until the road looked like a mudslide. Our bus got stuck in a ditch," said Midy. "But Haitians got out of their tents to help us."

This enduring community spirit bodes well for this island nation.

Going Home

Sitting next to a Haitian man on my Sunday afternoon return flight to Miami, one could only imagine his great sorrow, losing seven members of his family in the temblor. He was so grateful to hear that Americans were still coming to offer assistance ... rebuilding wells, homes, schools and health facilities.

But so much more needs to be done.
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Author:Moy, Yvette
Publication:Diverse Issues in Higher Education
Geographic Code:5HAIT
Date:Apr 12, 2012
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