SJU Project Haiti Builds Foundations for Education

Monday, March 19, 2012

In the devastating aftermath of the 7.0 scale earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, humanitarian efforts to support the tiny country flowed from all corners of the world in the form of aid workers, food and charitable donations. At Saint Joseph’s University – where the student body was also working to collect basic necessities for donation – Patrick Samway, S.J., professor of English, Terrance Furin, Ph.D., director of international programs for the SJU education department, Joseph Cifelli, Ph.D., student teaching supervisor and director of teacher certification, and Aimée Terosky, Ph.D., assistant professor of educational leadership, saw an opportunity for large-scale reform of Haiti’s infrastructure, beginning with education. The idea of Fr. Samway and his colleagues has taken shape in the form of a partnership between SJU Project Haiti: Learning and Growing Together and Foi et Joie Haiti, a Jesuit organization whose name means ‘Faith and Joy’ that develops schools and the infrastructures that support them while providing professional teacher development.

“During the past 25 years or so, I have been going to Haiti on a regular basis.  During those years the country has gone through many changes, though after the January 2010 earthquake in the region of Port-au-Prince it is difficult to see how the country will transform itself so that it can move confidently into the future,” says Fr. Samway. “Foi et Joie, a recently established network of schools started by the Society of Jesus throughout all of Haiti, shows great promise as it educates Haitian youth intellectually, socially, morally, and spiritually.”

Fr. Samway and 23 other members of the SJU faculty and staff comprise the SJU Project Haiti committee. Together, they have worked to establish themselves as an active group on campus aligned with the Office of Mission and Identity, with the goal of fostering a sustainable, long-term relationship with schools in Haiti.

“Saint Ignatius was a founder of many schools and we see SJU Project Haiti as a necessary continuance of that tradition,” says Furin. “Suddenly, people were reminded of Haiti and its place as one of the poorest countries in the world. We certainly wanted to help, but water and clothing are one-time things.”

On March 14, six Haitian educational leaders from Foi et Joie Haiti arrived on SJU’s campus for a week-long visit to observe local grade schools, learn about interactive pedagogy, and attend workshops given by SJU’s education faculty.

School visits included the French International School of Philadelphia, the Gesu School, Wyncote Elementary in Cheltenham, Waldron Mercy Academy, and Archmere Academy in Claymont, Del.   In addition, the Haitian leaders enjoyed a trip to the Franklin Institute and attended a presentation by Edwidge Danticat, the Haitian-American author of Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, the 2012 One Book, One Philadelphia reading selection. On March 18, Fr. Samway presided at a liturgy in the Chapel of St. Joseph–Michael J. Smith, S.J., Memorial, mostly in Creole and French, the two main languages of Haiti. The congregation included SJU students, faculty, staff, the Foi et Joie leadership team, and approximately 100 Haitians from the West Philadelphia area.

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