Education in the Haitian Community


By Barbara Melendez


TAMPA, Fla. (March 2, 2010) – University of South Florida graduate student Robin Baldwin has immersed herself in doing research on one of the most important concerns of the area’s Haitian population – education. Just back from a trip to Haiti, she will report her findings under the heading “Disparities in Academic Achievement: Perspectives of the Tampa Bay Haitian Community,” Thursday, March 4 from 11 a.m. to noon in the USF Institute on Black Life Conference Room, in the Faculty Office Building, Room 296. She will present photographs and video from her trip as well. 


“I kept hearing one theme over and over again before choosing this topic and that was issues related to education,” Baldwin said. “My research is community-based and provides the perspectives and voices of the people.”


She will talk about several matters that came up in her explorations including social stigma, students not wanting to be identified as Haitian, and the lack of language accommodations in the public schools where Haitian heritage is too often ignored.


Baldwin’s session on Haiti is part of the ongoing Institute on Black Life Colloquium. For the full schedule, visit For more information and disability accommodations contact Clara Cobb at (813)974-9387 or


Before coming to USF, Baldwin taught school in a largely Haitian community in Newark, N.J. and has found herself drawn to Haiti’s people and culture more and more. Her trip last week was her second trip to the struggling nation. The first was well before the earthquake when she and fellow USF student, Sharon Pierre, went to offer health care services with the Women’s Federation for World Peace in June. This time the earthquake was the reason. They were asked for their help with the delivery of health care services once again. 


This time around Pierre provided translation services while both assisted the medical teams based on their prior experience. They worked with doctors and nurses from all over the United States right in the epicenter of the quake in the town of Gressier. 


Baldwin said, “The devastation was little bit overwhelming, seeing building after building reduced to rubble. The living conditions are so extreme right now, it’s hard to imagine.”


In the immediate wake of the disaster, Baldwin and Pierre mobilized an informational networking meeting at USF that brought campus and community organizations together to focus on various action plans, to help share information and coordinate their relief efforts. Pierre delivered over 700 hundred pounds of donated clothing and other items that came as a result of connections made at that meeting. An upcoming meeting on March 12 will revisit the local initiatives in the light of their trip.


“We plan to share our observations and identify the organizations that we witnessed doing good work ‘on the ground,’" Baldwin said. “I found there are a lot of well-educated people in Haiti. The skills sets, knowledge and manpower are there, they just need jobs and the opportunity to work."


Pierre lost an aunt and distant cousins in the earthquake, but other close members of her family – another aunt, her grandmother, uncle and others – survived and she was able to see them on this trip. The rest of her family lives in the United States. She has dropped out of school temporarily but plans to return in the summer after her next visit to Haiti in May. 


“I had to take the time off to help, but I’ll be able to concentrate on school now that I’ve taken the time to do this,” she said. “The trip was very emotional, heart-wrenching.  I have to admit, I was very strong through it all until we got to the orphanages. That’s when I reached the breaking point.”


She met the head of one orphanage who when asked what they needed, came up with an answer that took Pierre by surprise.


"When I told the people I was travelling with what she said, everyone started crying," she said. "She could have asked for food, for clothes, for money, but she said, 'please pray for the children, God will provide.' That's when I broke down."



 Photos courtesy Robin Baldwin



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.