Sixteen Haitian Teachers From USF Program Survive Earthquake
By Vickie Chachere
TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 25, 2010) – After nearly two weeks of waiting for word on the fate of 16 teachers from Haiti who spent the summer at the University of South Florida, word has finally trickled in that all survived the devastating earthquake that decimated their country.
“Of course, they have lost family members and friends,” said USF Professor Barbara Cruz, who along with Professor Mark Amen coordinated the U.S. State Department program that brought the teachers and their counterparts from the Dominican Republic to USF for a six-week program in July and August.
“All their schools have been destroyed. Many of them are homeless,” she said.
The teachers, most of whom were from Port-au-Prince, had remained in close contact with USF friends in the months that followed their visit to Tampa.
Coincidentally on Jan. 12, Cruz had been exchanging emails with State Department Cultural Affairs Officer Victoria DeLong in Port-au-Prince planning a meeting in Haiti in April that would reunite the Patel Center professors with the teachers for a leadership training program. Later that day, DeLong was killed when her home collapsed; she was the first American reported killed in the earthquake.
In the hours following reports of the earthquake, Cruz and Amen reached out to contacts in Haiti and the Dominican Republic asking for any reports on the teachers’ conditions.
Slowly over many days, some of the teachers made their way to international aid stations where they were able to sign on to their e-mail accounts and respond to the message. The chain of reports began to grow as the teachers wrote of seeing their colleagues from the program alive. All were finally accounted for on Sunday.
“They knew we were thinking of them,” Cruz said. “One by one, they found a way to connect with us.”
In brief missives, the teachers described the horrendous loss of life, the injuries to their friends and neighbors, the huger for basic necessities and the destruction all around them.
One teacher, Jean Francois Dujour, sent pictures of collapsed buildings with the brief and heartbreaking message: “Things are much worse than they look.”But they also took comfort in the concern of their USF friends.
“I am more convinced we are a family,” teacher Pierre Theluscat wrote.
The teachers had been part of a group of 37 educators from Haiti and the Dominican Republic who spent six weeks at USF studying democracy and honing their English skills. A 17th Haitian teacher who attended the summer program – Valery Olivier – was killed in a car accident in November.
Cruz said she also learned that their colleagues from the Dominican Republic were quick to respond after the earthquake, organizing a caravan of food and supplies for their fellow teachers in Haiti.
With their country in ruins and their schools reduced to piles of rubble, Cruz said the teachers continue to serve important new roles given the English skills they acquired this summer. Many are now serving as interpreters for workers from the Red Cross and other humanitarian assistance efforts. The Patel Center plans on pursuing leadership training with the teachers – an effort which will take on new significance as Haiti begins to rebuild.
“Haiti is really going to need them now,” Cruz said. “They weren’t just fantastic teachers. They were leaders in the making.”
The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.