Educating The Future Of Haiti Dr Debbie Pallatto Fontaine

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and the second most densely populated. Urban and rural poverty rates have risen with overall poverty at 77%. In the rural areas, where Brit’s Home is located, 88% of the people are poor with 67% of the people living in extreme poverty (less than U.S. $1.25 per day). Unemployment in Haiti is currently over 40%.

Brit’s Home is now considered to be one of the largest employers in rural Haiti, bringing a sustainable lifestyle to over 100 women and men. In order to help fulfill Be Like Brit’s Vision to Raise the Next Generation of Leaders in Haiti, The Yunus Centre Social Business Centre at Becker College (Worcester, MA) launched, “Dreams: Educating the Future of Haiti” for Be Like Brit staff. Selected teachers and caregivers from Brit’s Home applied and were enrolled in a two-semester, six-module, program resulting in a certificate in child development psychology upon successful completion of module objectives.

This project is considered a social enterprise under Becker’s Yunus Centre focusing on building the social good, the common good, and addressing social issues to create positive community change. Goals of social enterprise include generating revenue to pursue a mission (such as Be Like Brit’s commitment to raising the next generation of leaders in Haiti), and the training and/or employment of people who are typically excluded from the mainstream economy.

This past Thursday evening, 11 staff (Wilmann, Davidson, Peterson, Jameson, Woncico, Walter, Erik, Gina, Rosianne, Esther, and Mirlaine,) graduated from “Dreams” in a ceremony hosted by Brit’s Home and Becker College. I have never seen such proud and glowing faces when these 11 people walked out in their graduation robes (all wearing white slacks and their Becker t-shirts underneath; and the women wearing matching “Becker blue” shoes!).

After the welcome by Mirlaine the graduates assembled on stage to sing “We are the World” with individual graduates taking turns to sing the lines. What a surprise to find out that each person had an amazing voice; even the other staff members never knew! I hope you will be able to listen to the singing in the video.

Children participated in the decorating that afternoon and Coach was in charge of the music. All of the children and staff were dressed in their Sunday best to honor the graduates. Mr. Wilmann was chosen by his peers as valedictorian and gave an inspirational speech emphasizing that education is key to creatively solving social and economic problems in Haiti and the role that future leaders can play in being the change.

We are truly educating future generations in Haiti thanks to the commitment and motivation of these staff members participating in this program. Each of them is a beacon of learning and, in turn, is a light to the children of Brit’s Home.

Words cannot express what a joyful experience this has been for me to walk the journey with these 11 staff members and to see all they have accomplished. Amidst stressful and busy work schedules, each participant wrote weekly papers and completed field assignments. Their final papers reflected on the skills they had learned over seven months, how the program enhanced their effectiveness and interaction with children, and the change it made in their leadership competency as well as their personal lives.

After the moving and emotional ceremony, graduates and their guests were invited upstairs for photos, a delicious buffet prepared by our amazing kitchen staff, and a beautiful “Becker blue” cake. Tears, hugs, laughter, and congratulations were present everywhere and I had the honor to meet many of the graduates’ families.

Later that night, when things were quiet and calm, the graduates and I had a celebratory champagne toast and I was presented with a thank-you plaque and letters. A surprise well kept! In this small corner of Haiti, all was well and we felt blessed indeed. To all the “Dreams” staff, I say thank you for allowing me to be a part of this time with you and to learn and grow with you.

Plans are underway to teach the same six modules in Haitian Creole to a second cohort (names are already on the list!) beginning in September while offering advanced training for the first cohort of “Dreams.”

Dr. Debbie Pallatto-Fontaine

Peterson wasn't able to be in Haiti for the graduation but was able to skype in...