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January-February 2011
Vol. 36, No. 1

Haiti: Compassionate, hope-filled connections

Maryknoll Affiliate Renate Schneider coordinates Haitian Connection (Koneksyon Ayiti), which was established as a compassionate response to the poverty and misery that so many Haitians face. As Haiti observes the first anniversary of the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake and struggles to set its political future on a positive course, it is important to remember and recognize good work that continues there, including three Haitian Connection projects:

Houses for Haitian Women: It is believed that over three million people were affected by the recent earthquake in Haiti, leaving thousands of Haitian people without homes, many of them women who are single parents and heads of households. Kay Pou Fanm Ayisyen is a project of Haitian Connection in partnership with women’s groups in Jeremie and Fondwa. The Jeremie area had to accommodate 80,000 earthquake refugees, many of them women and children. Fondwa was 80 percent destroyed by the earthquake. Studies have shown that women, who own their own homes in Haiti, are better able to maintain their own small businesses, and feed, clothe and educate their children.

Mental Health Program in Jeremie: The catastrophe which hit Haiti and the subsequent migration from Port-au-Prince to the rural areas underscore the need for trained mental health counselors on the ground as people resettle, tally their losses and adjust to a new and likely much more difficult reality. Psychological relief aid cannot be done in the same way as other disaster relief. It requires a consistent and long-term presence on the ground. As a result Haitian Connection is committed to training local people in trauma and grief intervention.

Haitian Connection will train teachers and orphanage personnel in Child-to-Child (CtC) methodology which has been adapted to help children assist other children to cope with traumatic situations. A CtC publication on children affected by natural disasters outlines specific activities that children can do to help other children, including engaging younger children in games, songs, storytelling, and dancing.

University of the Nouvelle Grand’Anse: After the earthquake, Haiti’s best universities were wrecked, their campuses a jumble of collapsed concrete, mangled desks and chairs, and buried coursework. Hundreds of professors and students were entombed, although the exact number of dead is complicated by the fact that class lists and computer registries were also wiped out by the quake.

This obliteration of higher education will have long-term impact on Haiti, unless the capacity for high education is rebuilt not only in Port-au-Prince, but also in the provinces. Having viable educational institutions in the provinces will keep young people in the countryside, strengthen the communities which host them, and can provide non-student groups with continuing education. In addition it will create jobs and can lift up a whole community.

It is imperative for Haiti to invest in the next generation, creating a critical mass of people to run the country, so Haiti in the future will not have to rely on outside experts. With this in mind, Haitian Connection has proposed strengthening the Université de la Nouvelle Grand’Anse through the institution of a General Studies curriculum.

The university is located five kilometers outside the city limits of Jeremie, the seat of the Grand’Anse department. Its infrastructure is in place with two main classroom buildings; a large assembly hall/cafeteria, offices, internet and electricity access as well as a medical clinic and an agricultural infra structure (chicken coop, pig husbandry, and available irrigation, as well as demonstration plots for farming).

The university has currently two programs, one in agriculture and the other in administration/management. The school can be called a technical school or a community college. Unfortunately it does not have a stable staff, and its educational level fluctuates quite a bit. Therefore the proposal to institute a year of General Studies before the students embark on their specialization.

The purpose of the year of General Studies is to introduce students to a broad range of human knowledge and intellectual pursuits, to equip them with the analytic and expressive skills required to engage in those pursuits, to develop their ability to think critically, and to prepare them for life-long learning. This curriculum provides students with the intellectual, ethical and aesthetical foundation necessary to make informed choices, foster a creative spirit and a sense of service to their country and their communities.

For more information, visit the Haitian Connection website.

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