SJU’s Project Haiti Provides Hope for Earthquake-ravaged Country’s Future

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Now more than three years removed from the devastating earthquake of 2010 that killed 314,000 and left even more homeless, Haiti has fallen off the headlines and out of news broadcasts. But for a growing contingent at Saint Joseph’s University, Haiti is a personal and professional constant. Born out of a desire to help the nation respond to the tragedy, SJU Project Haiti had grander goals: rebuild and sustain.  Saint Joseph’s looked to its strengths and decided to join forces with a Jesuit educational initiative in the country, Foi et Joie (faith and joy), to develop a viable educational model based on sound pedagogy.

“I’ve been traveling to Haiti for more than 25 years,” says Patrick Samway, S.J., Ph.D., professor emeritus of English, who was instrumental in planning and remains integral to SJU’s efforts on behalf of Haiti. “Educational pedagogy in the country has remained the same for decades. Creativity is rarely demanded. Meticulous penmanship and full notebooks pass as signs of academic achievement. I knew that to truly aid Haiti, we needed to address this concern.”

In the time since the earthquake, under the direction of Ambroise Dorino Gabriel, S.J., 17 grammar schools and 10 with a vocational focus are up and running. SJU Project Haiti is comprised of 23 faculty, administrators, and staff members, who have established themselves as an active committee on campus, raising funds and providing professional development opportunities for teachers in Haiti. A recent $5,000 grant from the Haitian Professionals of Philadelphia is keeping up the momentum started by a $25,000 grant last fall from the Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities of Wilmington, Del. The latest grant was presented to Father Gabriel in person when he visited SJU in May to receive an honorary degree at the 2013 Commencement ceremonies.

The funds raised by Project Haiti have allowed for the periodic exchange of personnel, with Haitian administrators visiting campus for professional development, and SJU faculty and staff traveling to Haiti to learn first-hand about the challenges to the Foi et Joie system. Funds have also allowed for the purchase of sustainable and reusable science kits purchased from the Full Option Science System (FOSS). Led by Joseph Cifelli, Ed.D., of SJU’s Education Unit, teachers in Haiti will be introduced to the kits and trained in the best ways to use them in the classroom.

“In Haitian schools, science comes too late,” says Fr. Samway. “These kits will open new doors for learning for school children.”

Cifelli, a former principal and high school science department chair speaks of the value of science education for the Haitian citizenry. “The overwhelming human and property loss during the earthquake was mostly a failure of engineering in the ways in which buildings were constructed. The science curriculum we are bringing to the schools will focus on topics such as basic measurement of physical objects and phenomena, physical and chemical properties of matter, air and weather, physical forces and machines, and Earth materials. Using inquiry methods the students (and teachers) will not just learn science, they will also do science. In this way they can learn about their world and better understand and prepare for events like earthquakes with an informed mind.”

Terrance Furin, Ph.D., director of international education programs, has been working with SJU Project Haiti since its start and is helping to promote a uniform drive that was created by Anne Marie Borneman, Ed.D., director of the Center for Catholic and Urban Education; Jeannine Shantz, assistant manager of academic computing in the Haub School of Business; and Margaret Ryan-Atkinson of the Office of Mission, to ensure that Haitian children who wish to attend a Foi et Joie school have the required uniforms.

“The uniforms costs $30, which may seem nominal,” says Furin. “But in a country where the average worker makes two dollars a day, the money for uniforms is hard to come by.”

To purchase a uniform, visit

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