Forum discusses Haiti’s struggles after earthquake

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April 12, 2011

12:56 AM

In Haiti, education is hope.

On Sat. April 8, Père Wilfranc, priest and principal of Catholic Campus Ministry’s sister school in Thomonde, Haiti, spoke to students about his work as well as the larger role education can provide in helping to rebuild Haiti.

Wilfranc contributed to the creation of an eighth grade class at his middle school in the hopes of increasing both the number of opportunities for students to continue their education and the overall success of the middle school.

“In the level of intellectual activities for the students, we have made a lot of progress,” Wilfranc said. “When I arrived, there were only six students out of every 25 who succeeded in passing the state exams. A few years later, we were able to have 18 out of 25 who pass the exams, and last year we had 100 percent pass the exams.”

When asked about the best thing people can do to aid Haiti, Wilfranc particularly emphasized education.

“For every young person in Haiti who is able to succeed, that’s another person to help others. It’s an idea of mutual benefit,” Wilfranc said. “Through education, young people can acquire the skills to then take up responsibility to help the country. You can’t perpetually live on assistance from other countries.”

Wilfranc discussed the ways the middle school students are already giving back.

“The students [pool] together their resources and try to provide something for those who are even more poor than they are in the region of Thomonde,” Wilfranc said. “They have some agriculture at the school, and they use the food that they grow to give to the poorest of the poor.”

Wilfranc went on to talk about the other problems Haiti faces, such as cholera, hunger and a weak government. According to Wilfranc, foreign influences have played a part in perpetuating some of Haiti’s problems, particularly with UN peacekeepers allegedly bringing cholera to the island.

Danny Yates ’13, who was translating for Wilfranc, noted Haiti’s lack of self-sufficiency, especially regarding agriculture, which has led to an increase in poverty. One of the main causes of this decreasing self sufficiency were Free Trade policies pushed on Haiti by the Clinton Administration. While Bill Clinton admits this was a mistake, Haiti was pressured to remove protectionist policies on their rice production, and as a result Haiti now relies heavily on rice imports from the United States. While Haiti was pressured to reduce tariffs, the United States continues to subsidize its own rice production.

“In 1990, Haiti produced enough rice to be self-sufficient, but nowadays 90 percent of the rice is imported from places like Texas and Arkansas,” Yates said.

Even given all of Haiti’s problems, Wilfranc said education should be prioritized, as it is an investment in the country’s future.

“There are so many problems in Haiti that you have to make a list of priorities, and although [Haiti faces numerous problems], I believe the priority has got to be education,” Wilfranc said.

After Grayson Orsini ’12 inquired about the role of the church in Haiti, Wilfranc emphasized the importance of the church in the efforts to rebuild the nation.

“Parents don’t have the resources to provide much to their children, and the government is weak and not able to do much, so many people look to the church to provide aid,” Wilfranc said. “We welcomed 150 students at the middle school who didn’t have any means to pay. In this way, the church is playing an important role in education throughout the country.”

When discussing the government, Wilfranc brought to attention the recent election of Michel Martelly as the president of Haiti. While Wilfranc says he thinks Martelly has promised too much and is too much of an idealist, he says people are hopeful that with Martelly’s support, things will change.

What gives Wilfranc the most hope, however, are the students themselves.

“Although these students suffer, they still have tremendous joy. As tough as life is, it is this joy that gives them the hope to persevere,” Wilfranc said.

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