The work of The OSU Haiti Empowerment Project has grown from a chance encounter with the director of the HOPE School for girls to collaborative effort between OSU and Haitian institutions of higher education.
The Haiti Empowerment Project is unique in making collaboration and dialogue with Haitian colleagues central to its international partnerships. The mission of HEP is “To work in collaboration with Haitian universities, communities, and governmental/non-governmental entities to aid in empowerment through global problem solving.” Since 2005, the Haiti Empowerment Project has developed long-term relationships with local communities, including school teachers, principals, and community leaders, as well as university and government officials. Some recent hallmarks of the partnerships that HEP has fostered include: community-run teacher professional development sessions with dozens of participants in Croix-des-Bouquets; a community meeting about parents’ visions for their new school in Ropissa; meetings between Ohio State University and four Haitian universities students; and collaborative solar panel installations by Engineering students at University Caraibe and the Ohio State University.
The idea of collaborating with individuals in Haiti is challenging to enact both for participants in the HEP study abroad and for community members in Haiti. With all of the international attention that Haiti has garnered from its natural and political trials, most Haitians have very one-way interactions with foreign groups. Many come to Haiti with a plan for “fixing” or changing some aspect of Haitian life, and they don’t often include Haitians themselves in planning and implementing such interventions. Unlike many visitors to Haiti, HEP students are much more informed about the theory and value behind development work through dialogue. Everyone who participates in the Haiti Empowerment Project studies Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and wrestles with topics like “false generosity” and “empowerment” before they set foot in Haiti. Simply “giving” tools and ideas to people in Haiti, HEP students learn, is not enough to foster empowerment or to incur true change. Here is one student’s reflection about this type of challenging collaborative work on his first day in Haiti: “Overall, communication was key to today's success. Rather than simply choosing a place to slap on some solar panels for our project, a conscious effort was made to find the location where the panels could have the biggest impact on the community, and to ensure it was a community decision.”
The impacts of the Haiti Empowerment Project are equally reciprocal. In addition to the collaborative focus of the group’s work in Haiti, the Haiti Empowerment Project also bucks trends in Haiti by establishing long-term relationships with Haitian colleagues. From the schools and communities in Croix-des-Bouquets to universities in Port-au-Prince, the Haiti Empowerment Project has inspired grassroots dialogue and change. Student organizations have been founded by Haitians. Teacher development initiatives have been organized by Haitians. Solar panels have been co-installed and completely maintained by Haitians. And in participating in the Freirean-based planning, reflection, and community action (praxis) process, HEP students develop a global sense of dialogue, collaboration, community, and empowerment. Here is another student’s summation of enacting the collaborative mission of the Haiti Empowerment Project: “Not only did we create a professional relationship with the communities through our project, but we also connected on a personal level.”
The author of this statement is Nora McCook, PhD Candidate, English.