This week, we caught up with Parfait Bassale, another team member who travelled to Haiti on the Rubicon Education Foundation’s mission to explore possible educational connections. Here are his reflections on this experience one year later.
Why did you decide to visit Haiti with Rubicon’s team? What appealed to you about the Sister School Partnership Program?
I wanted to go to Haiti to find out for myself:
- The scope of the devastation
- The needs and challenges to full recovery
- Credible organizations and individuals to partner with
Every time we spoke with a school administrator or a teacher in Haiti, one or two dimensions of the Sister School Partnership Program came up. Very quickly, the program surfaced as the best way to respond to several educational needs at once. Through the Sister School Program, students can help other students with resources; teachers can help teachers with pedagogical approaches.
Before the trip, what were some of the expectations you had about the country, people, and your possible work in Haiti?
Prior to the trip, I was under the assumption that Haiti would be very similar to West African countries. I expected the market places of Port-au-Prince to resemble the informal landscapes one finds in West African capitals. For the most part, my expectations were correct. However, I was not prepared for the slowness of the recovery process, nor was I prepared for the inefficiencies I have seen with not-for-profit and international organizations. Most importantly, I was not prepared for the stories of loss and survival. It was one thing to watch the news and another to be there in person and interact with survivors. On the other hand, I was touched and moved by the resilience of the people I met.
What emerged out of the meetings with schools and teachers? What were the lessons about the Haitian educational system that you brought back to the Foundation’s Board?
Haitian school administrators, teachers and Haiti residents realize the importance of educational reform. Although everyone had their own thoughts on how such reform should be implemented, they all agreed that teachers need more professional development, and schools need stricter accreditation process and policing. The lack of resources is intertwined with these issues.
What single image do you have in mind now, a year later, when you think of your trip to Haiti?
Rather than an image, what I associate with Haiti is a song I wrote, “Nou Tout Haitien,” meaning we are all Haitians. The song paints the story of a 10 year old, whose reality was forever changed after the earthquake. The little girl is forced to beg in the streets of Port-au-Prince to help provide for her younger brothers. Her story embodies the fate, struggle, resilience and hope of the Haitian people.
What lessons have you learned that will have a lasting impact?
I was reminded once again that the world is much larger than our personal experiences.
Do you feel like you personally were able to help in a crisis of such magnitude?
By allowing myself to be touched by what I have witnessed, and most importantly, by keeping the memory of Haiti alive through music, I feel like I am making a small contribution.
What can we do to help? What advice would you give to others wanting to help in Haiti’s reconstruction?
First, one must hear the different stories and different accounts of survival in Haiti. Then, one must care beyond one’s own guilt, sadness and/or personal distress. One must care as a result of understanding and empathy for people who went through such a tragedy. Then, one can respond based on a care solely driven by a Haitian-centered perspective, choosing areas of needs that best resonate with one’s passion so that the effort is more sustainable and more impactful.
Stay tuned as we continue to connect with the other members of Rubicon’s travelling team.
Parfait is originally from West Africa and is a Masters candidate in International Conflict Resolution at Portland State University. However, at heart, he is a musician. During his academic training, he has specialized in the adaptation of conflict resolution techniques to song writing.