This semester, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of something really cool: the development and planning of a disability-inclusive primary school in Haiti. This is yet another foray into the world of educational development for me, involvement it seems I never plan, but the need so big that I fall in anyways. Centre d’Education Inclusif, or CEI, is a student-led initiative at Cornell to design, implement, and establish a school in Petit Goave, Haiti that seeks to provide a quality education to children regardless of physical or learning ability. This need has been drastically amplified since the 2010 earthquake, as the population of permanently disabled children increased from injuries, and schools were destroyed across the country. The need was already there, of course… Haiti has somewhere around a 50% literacy rate, higher only than some of the most war-torn North African and Middle Eastern countries. It has drastically risen in the past few years, thanks to huge influxes of aid after the earthquake, but not all have benefitted equally from the assistance. Port-Au-Prince received the most help, while other areas, some hit just as hard or harder, were mostly neglected due to lack of infrastructure to support aid intake. Petit Goave is one of these areas.
During a March 2013 visit to Haiti, a group of Cornell students connected with a local philanthropist, who, through his organization Light Path 4 Haiti, was advocating the need for an inclusive school in his community. He had purchased the land, but lacked the academic resources necessary to design and implement the school in a successful and sustainable way. Thus, CEI was born, under the original appellation Project Inclusive School Haiti.
Throughout this semester, three student groups have been working on the architecture, curriculum, and business plan of CEI. The architecture group has come up with some amazing and accessible designs that utilize local materials in innovative and dynamic ways. The curriculum group has studied creative school pedagogies, strategies for inclusion, and inventive ways to adapt lesson plans to meet the needs of all students. And my group, the development team, has spent the semester conducting literature reviews, designing construction and operational budgets, analyzing potential partners, and even taking a spring break trip to Haiti to connect with stakeholders, the community, and to further formulate the future of CEI.
The coolest thing about this whole project is that it’s real. I’m sitting in a classroom, working on powerpoint presentations, staying up until 3 am working on Excel… but, everyone cross your fingers, the final result of everyone’s hard work will be a successful, sustainable, and life-changing school for the children of Petit Goave, Haiti. There is so much passion among these people, and they are absolutely ready to put in the time and effort to do this project right. It is inspiring to see and to be a part of. The support of the Cornell community has been instrumental, and I can’t wait to see where this project goes!