Almost three years to the day after hundreds of thousands were killed in the January, 2010, earthquake in Port-au-Prince, a group of more than 25 visited Haiti to survey progress made on some exciting new educational endeavors for Haiti's Catholic school system.
The group included Rev. Richard Warner, C.S.C., Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross, and Rev. Timothy Scully, C.S.C., director of Notre Dame's Institute for Educational Initiatives and co-founder of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), along with other leaders from ACE and colleagues in development activities in Haiti. ACE has been the locus of the University of Notre Dame's educationally-focused relief efforts. Over the last three years, ACE has developed significant partnerships with various Haitian, American, and international institutions.
These partnerships have now borne fruit in the form of a teacher training institute, the Institute Superior Marcel Bedard (ISMB), which opened its doors in Cap Haitien this fall to 30 secondary school teachers who work in three different Holy Cross schools in the northern part of the country. On Thursday, January 17th, the group of ACE staff and Holy Cross leaders who have developed the institute celebrated the inauguration of this exciting new institution. Its founding has brought international best practices in teacher education to Haiti, where 70% of teachers lack appropriate training. The program aspires to serve as a national model for the certification of high school teachers and grow into a center of excellence and innovation for the country.
Upon returning to Port-au-Prince on Friday, January 18th, the group participated in a roundtable discussion that included numerous in-country and international partners to discuss the dual challenges of access to and quality of Haitian education. Partners around the table included representatives from USAID, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, Catholic Relief Services, the Episcopal Commission for Catholic Education, and the Haitian Foundation for Private Education. The lively discussion, ably moderated by TJ D'Agostino, who has coordinated ACE's efforts in Haiti for three years, focused on challenges and strategies for continuing to improve Haiti's education system.
The discussion highlighted the impressive accomplishments and leadership of the Catholic Church in Haiti in seeking to rebuild and renew Haitian education. In partnership with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the University of Notre Dame, the Catholic school system recently completed a national study and strategic plan for Catholic education. Reaching 98% of Catholic schools, the study leveraged technology in innovative ways, collecting data, photos and GPS coordinates on iPod Touch devices. This has allowed Haitian Catholic educational leaders and their partners to develop a data-rich, interactive map of the school system to aid in effective planning and administration. Catholic educational leaders and CRS have been asked to train the Ministry of Education to allow a replication and scaling of these methods throughout the Haitian system. The roundtable emphasized the potential of the Church to serve as a catalyst for development and progress in Haiti.
Finally, on Saturday, January 19th, the group celebrated the dedication of Basile Moreau School, a school in a poor area of Port-au-Prince. Before the earthquake, the school stood as a symbol of what was possible even in the midst of crushing poverty. The primary school building required significant renovations in the aftermath of the earthquake, and the high school building was totally demolished. The renovations are complete on the primary school building, and the high school students are scheduled to move out of the tents where they have held class since the earthquake into their brand new, state-of-the-art school facility in the next two months.
The Bishop of Hinche, Msgr. Simon Saint-Hillien, csc, who founded Basile Moreau School in the late 1980s, presided at the Mass. Father Richard Warner, csc, the Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross dedicated and blessed the buildings. The bilingual homily was given by Father Tim Scully, csc, the Director of Notre Dame's Institute for Educational Initiatives (IEI), and Father Michel Eugène, csc, the Provincial Superior for Holy Cross's Province of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Haiti). The students, parents, and teachers of the school community led an exuberant celebration full of song and lively testimonials from students and Holy Cross alike. It was a powerful sign of new life and hope amid the many challenges that remain in the wake of the earthquake.
Although there is much progress yet to be made in Haiti, the strong partnership between the Congregation of Holy Cross, the University of Notre Dame, and the Alliance for Catholic Education has made concrete and meaningful advancements. The powerful national partnership between Notre Dame, Catholic Relief Services and the Haitian Catholic Church is bringing national scale and impact, helping to make Catholic schools a model of innovation and catalyst for renewal throughout the Haitian educational system. These partners will remain committed to the life-saving work of Haitian Catholic education and to the children and families these schools will servefor generations to come.
Photo: At the celebration of the dedication event for the Basile Moreau School, standing on the platform (l to r) are Rev. Richard Warner, C.S.C.; the student body president from the school; and Rev. Timothy Scully, C.S.C.