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Forging a brighter future for Haiti through higher education

9 de Mayo de 2017

When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, it hit the country’s universities particularly hard. Buildings were demolished and 100,000 teachers and administrators, as well as thousands of students, were either killed or left the country shortly thereafter. Less than 10% of Haiti’s 1,000 remaining university faculty have master’s degrees, and even fewer have PhDs — a major obstacle to developing the human resources required to rebuild the country.

Following the quake, leaders from Quebec’s Haitian community quickly formed the think tank and action group Groupe de réflexion et action pour une Haiti nouvelle (GRAHN-Monde) to take steps beyond reconstructing Haiti’s physical infrastructure to ensure the country’s sustainable redevelopment. The group’s first project was the Institut des sciences, des technologies et des études avancées d’Haïti (ISTEAH), launched in 2013 to develop “1,000 scientists for Haiti in 10 years.” IDRC was the first to recognize the tremendous opportunity ISTEAH represented for helping to re-build local capacity, and provided $568,000 to create a critical mass of qualified Haitian university professionals.

ISTEAH offers graduate courses leading to master’s and doctoral degrees that combine best practices from North American and European universities. The programs are taught by volunteer professors through a combination of face-to-face, video, and online courses. IDRC’s investment is already yielding impressive dividends. Currently ISTEAH has 300 students studying at the master’s and PhD levels at four locations in Haiti in disciplines ranging from mathematics and chemistry to education management and business administration. Bursaries support students financially, many of whom are university teachers working multiple jobs to make a living. A new ISTEAH campus is being built outside Cap-Haïtien to serve as the nucleus for a larger project called the City of Knowledge, which will help produce the long-term workforce Haiti needs to become self-sufficient.

At the centre of the action is renowned Canadian scholar and founder and president of GRAHN-Monde Dr Samuel Pierre, originally from Haiti. Pierre holds the Ericsson/NSERC Industrial Research Chair in next generation mobile networking systems, he is a lifelong volunteer, and he is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the Order of Quebec and the Order of Canada for his contributions to the field of wired and wireless communications networks, and for his volunteer work encouraging youth education in Québec's Haitian community.

Pierre was recently honoured by France’s L’Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie with the €15,000 Prix Mohamed El Fasi 2016-17 for his innovative approach to, and the beneficial impacts of, his international development activities in Haiti. James Féthière, president of GRAHN-Canada, attributes this recognition — and ISTEAH’s early successes — to Professor Pierre’s hard work and extraordinary dedication. “When he asks you to do something, you know he’s already doing twice as much as you, which drives you to follow in his footsteps. He is the type of leader who draws the path and walks with you along the path to make sure everyone arrives at the destination.”

Respected for his humility as well as his accomplishments, Pierre prefers to give credit to IDRC for having the vision to initially support ISTEAH. “The single most important thing for ISTEAH was connecting with IDRC,” he says. “We found the right partner for the work we wanted to do, training the next generation of Haitian leaders. I am so grateful for the synergies between ISTEAH and IDRC. It’s because of them that we are able to develop these students and, in turn, our country.”