This week we caught up with Tuyen Phan, our resident photographer, videographer and all around tech guru, to hear his thoughts on Haiti, one year later.
Why did you decide to visit Haiti with Rubicon’s team? What appealed to you in Sister School Program?
I wanted to see if I could help in person during such a grave disaster. I think the Sister School Program is a great way to let other schools know about the opportunities for their involvement. Kids are very enthusiastic about helping other kids, and such an experience enriches their education as much as it aids the students in need.
What were some of the expectations you had before the trip about the country, people, and your possible work in Haiti?
When I left the US with a few sets of clothes, a laptop, a camera, a camcorder and a pair of working gloves, I was ready to dive in to do whatever it takes. I was completely shocked to see the astounding devastation left by the quake. It was eight months after the quake, and I felt like not much had changed. There was still garbage on the streets, collapsed buildings, and homeless on every corner. I wasn’t prepared to witness such a tragedy.
What emerged out of the meetings with schools and teachers? What were the lessons about Haitian educational system that you brought back to the Foundation’s Board?
The recovery process was moving very slow in Haiti. We were shocked by the available statistics: the enrollment rate for elementary school is 67%. 70% continue on to the third grade. 60% of all students drop out of school before the sixth grade. One of the reasons is the lack of teacher education in Haiti. Less than 40% of schools are accredited. 15% of teachers at the elementary level have basic teaching qualifications, including university degrees. Nearly 25% have never even attended secondary school. More than half of the teachers lack the adequate training or had no training at all.
What single image do you have in mind now, a year later, when you think of your trip to Haiti?
I remember the kids who attended the opening day of TeacHaiti, a school in Port-au-Prince offering elementary education to Haitian students. I had to put my sunglasses on to hide tears in my eyes. The image of a little boy in a bright yellow t-shirt breaking out a big smile when he found my camera pointing at him is always there in my mind.
Was there anything about the experience you did not expect?
Poverty. I was born and grew up in Vietnam and I thought I knew what poverty means, but what I saw was much worse.
Do you feel like you personally were able to help in any way a crisis of such magnitude? In what ways?
Yes. What we accomplished during those 14 days in Haiti might not have been immediately significant, but I hope the information we brought back along with the pictures and footage will contribute in spreading the message to other schools and making a long-term impact on the future of Haitian children.
Do you believe that one day the educational system in Haiti will be functioning properly? How soon?
Just as a home is built, you need to have a stable foundation first. Education is no different: it needs to start with the Haitian government. I don’t expect the educational system in Haiti will be functionally properly before a working government is in place.