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Making A Long-Term Difference in Haiti

In response to the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti and severely damaged its education system, the HBS Student Association has launched a fund that aims to raise $45,000 from the HBS community to help rebuild Saint-Louis de Gonzague, one of Haiti’s most respected high schools. The SA has partnered with Architecture for Humanity, a non-profit organization with expertise in post-disaster rebuilding. The project is led by both RC and EC students and is the result of our desire to bring the great altruism and experience of HBS students to benefit Haiti. More info can be found at www.rebuildinghaitischools.org.

In the weeks leading up to commencement at HBS, memories from my high school graduation in Haiti have been flooding back. Although I was anxious at the thought of leaving Saint-Louis de Gonzague, a secondary school in Port-au-Prince that had challenged me intellectually for seven years, I felt eager to experience what the future had in store. I knew that many of my classmates shared the same feeling as a large number of us were planning to attend universities in Haiti and abroad.

As I reflect on that time, memories of the excitement of moving to the United States for college are tempered by the sadness I feel when I think of the hundreds of high school students in Haiti whose dreams were eviscerated in 35 seconds when a massive earthquake shook the country. The earthquake that hit Haiti destroyed more than 75% of the schools in Port-au-Prince, severely damaging the school that prepared me and others like me for universities around the world. Despite the millions of dollars that have been donated to the country mainly for emergency relief, Haiti’s education system remains in a deplorable state.

In the weeks following the earthquake, I was touched by the outpouring of love from the HBS community and the U.S. at large. I could barely keep up with emails from classmates who wanted to check in on my family and sought ways to help. Several classmates have asked me how best to help, and over time a group of RCs and ECs, including Alika Phipps (NF) and Jean-Claude Homawoo (OI), have worked together with the Student Association to contribute to the long-term reconstruction of Haiti’s education system. The project has evolved into the HBS Student Association Haiti Fund, which aims to raise $45,000 from the HBS community to help rebuild Saint-Louis de Gonzague, one of Haiti’s highest-performing schools.

Donations to help rebuild the school can be made to www.rebuildinghaitischools.org and the funds raised will be collected by Architecture for Humanity (www.architectureforhumanity.org), our non-profit partner having extensive experience rebuilding schools and other buildings in post-disaster areas and in developing countries.

By contributing to the HBS Student Association Haiti Fund, we are making it possible for more than 2,000 promising Haitian students to continue their education and to hold on to their dreams of a better future for their country and for their families. I recently spoke with several current students at Saint-Louis de Gonzague and was energized by their determination to continue their education despite their loss. In their aspirations and desire to better their lives, they reminded me of what it was like to dream of great things as a high school student in Haiti. It also became clear to me how big of an impact we can have in their lives by coordinating efforts together at the Harvard Business School.

This project also opens up the door for potential future cooperation between students of HBS and those of Saint-Louis de Gonzague. The New Orleans IXP started with a group of HBS students traveling to New Orleans to help with relief and reconstruction in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and has since evolved into an annual trip that has benefited students and New Orleans alike. Our hope is that this project could provide a platform for a future Haiti trek or IXP that could help make those students’ aspirations a little more palpable.

AUTHOR’S BIOGRAPHY
Jules is an EC student from Section D. He grew up in Haiti and attended Saint-Louis de Gonzague School in Port-au-Prince, which he hopes to help rebuild through the HBS Student Association Haiti Fund (jwalter@mba2010.hbs.edu).

April 26, 2010
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