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Education as a tool to rebuild Haiti

As a nurse, Susan Kaye worked to heal the wounds of people who were injured in the devastating January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

She and others with a Delaware-based nonprofit group are also determined to find a lasting cure for Haiti’s crippled infrastructure by sending Haitians to college in the United States so that they can take the knowledge they gain home to their native land.

Education as a tool to rebuild Haiti
Visions for Haiti co-founder Danny Childs. photo courtesy: Danny Childs

Kaye, a dialysis nurse at Christiana Hospital, founded Visions for Haiti with Danny Childs, a senior at the University of Delaware who plans to become a doctor and specialize in public health. Dr. Steve Johnson, a Trenton, N.J. surgeon who previously practiced at Christiana Care, is vice president of the organization. All three have volunteered for medical missions to Haiti.

“It is impossible to come home and forget the people you have met in Haiti,” Kaye said. “We spent a great deal of time thinking about ways we could make a lasting difference and soon realized that the key to it all is education.”

The first Visions for Haiti scholar is Rodrigue Constant, who helped found a community school in the village of Cayes-Jacmel. Constant will start studies in the fall at Wilmington University, which has granted him a full scholarship.

LaVerne T. Harmon, university vice president, says the school supports Visions for Haiti’s mission to make education the central thrust in rebuilding Haiti.

“We are proud to be the first to offer a scholarship to Visions for Haiti,” said Harmon.

Visions for Haiti has vetted and approved eight prospective students including Constant from small fishing villages, who would work in such desperately needed disciplines as AIDS education and prevention, cooperative farming, engineering, nursing and water treatment. The scholars, all young men, already have shown promise by spearheading grassroots initiatives such as cleaning up a village leveled by the quake and establishing a garbage dump. Students are required to return to Haiti after completing their education and use what they’ve learned to benefit the community.

“These are individuals who have demonstrated that they are both enterprising and committed to Haiti,” Kaye said. “They can bring about positive change.”

Constant, who serves as a translator for medical relief workers, is active in AIDS education, as well as programs to prevent domestic violence and sexual abuse of women.

Haiti has made great strides in reducing AIDS but there is much work to be done. HIV prevalence among pregnant women in 2006–2007 ranged from 0.8 percent in the western part of the country to 11.8 percent in one urban area, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). UNICEF estimates there are 440,000 AIDS orphans.

“Rodrigue will be a tremendous asset to his country,” Childs said. “He is a young man who will work to help others for many years to come.”

The organization had hoped to secure scholarships for all eight students and to ultimately add young women to the program. But Delaware Technical & Community College turned down requests for assistance. Kaye is hopeful University of Delaware will help but says she has not received a commitment from the admissions office.

To pave the way for more students, Visions for Haiti is reaching out to businesses in Delaware and Pennsylvania. The nonprofit is seeking contributions for tuition and corporate sponsors for students.

Still, it is a tall order for a small organization. Childs notes that tuition and fees for out-of-state students at UD is approaching $30,000 a year.

“It is difficult for an organization of our size to come up with that amount of money each year,” he said.

During their schooling, the students will live rent-free in a small bungalow on Kaye’s property in Arden. Premier Physicians, a medical practice with offices in Newark and Brandywine Hundred, has committed to providing free physical exams and outpatient services for the students.

“We are trying to be as cost effective as possible so we can help as many people as possible,” Kaye said. “We believe education is an investment that will pay off many times over for the people of Haiti.”