Haitian Teachers In Need

USF professors to visit Haitian teachers from the Democracy Project and see firsthand the dire conditions there.

By Vickie Chachere

USF.edu News Manager


TAMPA, Fla. (July 28, 2010) – A year ago, a group of teachers from Haiti spent the summer at the University of South Florida in a unique project with the U.S. State Department aimed at bolstering their understanding of democracy and enhancing their teaching skills. The educators left Tampa with exuberant hope for their country’s future and eager to share their new knowledge with their students.

Today – some six months after Haiti was devastated by a catastrophic earthquake – the hope has given way to a grim reality of a devastated nation.

 Some of the teachers in the USF’s “Towards Democracy and Diversity” project have fled their damaged country. Others still try to teach, but in some areas of the country there are no classrooms – just a tree to provide shade to the few children who manage to get to lessons.

Now almost a year to the day after this group of teachers left Tampa, USF professors Mark Amen and Barbara Cruz will travel to Port-au-Prince on Aug. 4 to reconnect with the Haitian teachers and determine how USF can help Haiti’s education system move forward.

 “We realize the needs are dire, severe, critical and immediate,” said Cruz, a professor of social science education. “Kids need an education and the teachers are asking for additional training and research.”

The Haitian teachers had been part of a group of 37 from the island of Hispaniola who spent six weeks at USF sharpening their teaching skills, learning about democracy and improving their English in a project funded by the U.S. State Department. Victoria DeLong, the U.S. State Department liaison who helped create the program, was killed in the earthquake but officials have persisted in keeping the education and democracy effort going.

Last month, Cruz and Amen traveled to the Dominican Republic for a workshop with teachers. USF is working on a long-term plan to continue developing teacher training and leadership programs in the Dominican Republic.

Of the 17 Haitian teachers who attended USF’s program in the summer of 2009, one was killed in a car accident in 2009. The other 16 survived the January earthquake. But life now is anything but normal.

Some of the teachers have left Haiti to other nations, and Amen and Cruz have lost contact with six teachers because they no longer have access to email. Others struggle to stay with teaching in an environment that is continually chaotic.

 To tell you the truth my teaching condition now is very poor,” wrote teacher Louis Mykel. “I am teaching only two hours per week in an English institute. I was obliged to drop the school where I was teaching to earn a better salary in a NGO (non-governmental organization). But teaching is noble, I don't want to lose my theory, that's why I keep teaching in this school and hope the condition will change for schools in Haiti in order to continue with my career.”

In a telling sign of the conditions, the teachers have asked Cruz and Amen to bring school supplies, which they lack. But since they have no classrooms, the teachers have no use for chalk or erasers because there are no longer chalkboards. Materials which can be tacked up to trees, pencils and paper are the most immediate needs.

Amen, academic director for the Patel Center for Global Solutions, said he and Cruz hope to learn how USF can contribute to revitalizing the higher education system in Haiti during their four-day trip to Port-au-Prince. They are meeting with the Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development, an organization dedicated to higher education policy in Haiti, and scholars from various institutions to begin brainstorming on how to help the Haitian education system recover. They will also meet with public affairs officers in the U.S. Embassy and with UNESCO officials working on restoring the Haitian education system.

Of the nation’s 32 major universities, 28 were destroyed in the January earthquake.  All four remaining institutions were severely damaged and suffered devastating losses in the number of faculty and student deaths, Cruz said.

“There were insufficient libraries and out-dated curriculum before the earthquake - you can imagine what it is like now,” Cruz said.

Amen and Cruz are especially interested in assessing the nation’s training of professional teachers for the K-12 education system in the country. Amen said they hope to return with recommendations for how USF can help sustain the long-term future of Haiti’s public education system.  

“If we can find something we can do now that will pay off long-term for the country, that’s where our sights are set,” he said.

Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.