In 1999, I visited Deshcapelles, Haiti as a volunteer at the Hopital Albert Schweitzer. The hospital is located about 50 miles north of Port-au-Prince in the Artibonite Valley, an agricultural area of Haiti. While I was there, I met a young man named Oltin Roshnaider who was sitting outside our house studying. During lunch break, I sat down with him and asked why he wasn't in school on Tuesday afternoon? Luckily he could speak English, and he explained to me that education was not free in Haiti. His family was very poor and couldn't pay the tuition and fees. He had a U.S. sponsor for a little while, but the funds stopped coming, and he was not able to continue. I looked through his notebooks and it was clear that he was studying on his own. Oltin was 19 years old at the time and had completed 8th grade. (This is a very typical stopping point for Haitians). The workbook that he was studying was a 9th grade level. My heart told me what I should do... I told him I would like to sponsor his education. A problem immediately became clear.. how would I sponsor him? I was leaving to return to the U.S. the next day, there is no mail service in this area, Oltin has no bank account -- he has no money to put in one! I didn't want to give him the $200 in cash (in 1999 this was the annual fee), because I wanted to make sure that he used it to pay his tuition, books and uniform fees. So I found a U.S. doctor who worked at the hospital. He agreed to receive my money and give it to Oltin on a monthly basis, review his receipts and report cards and monitor his studies. This program worked very well, and I wrote letters to Oltin and through the doctor on a regular basis (this is prior to email being available in Haiti). Doctors rotate frequently in Haiti and so the doctor passed the baton to another willing doctor and so it went on in this fashion through 5 doctors.
In 2003, Oltin graduated from high school, and I returned to Haiti to see him. His transformation was remarkable -- seeing him brought tears to my eyes. He was so proud of his high school certificate (Philo). I learned then that only 15% of young Haitians graduate from high school, and only 2% go on to post-secondary study. I truly felt so good about what my husband and I had made possible for Oltin. We looked around at the hundreds of young people like Oltin who sat on the side of the road not able to go to school, not able to get a job, no future possibilities of success, only a continuation of the cycle of poverty. My husband and I decided to create a non-profit organization that serves the same function as the doctors had for Oltin.
In 2004, we became The Crosby Fund for Haitian Education, Inc., a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. We have an office in Deschapelles with 4 Haitian employees and 7 board members. The board members, through a fair application process, select the brightest and the poorest students and our organization pays for their tuition, books, uniforms, and exam fees. Our organization selects students beginning in the 7th grade (tuition is much cheaper for elementary school, and the need seemed to be greater for secondary) and promises them that if they are successful in their studies and work really hard, we will continue their support through a bachelor's degree or a post-secondary certificate. I big promise, but the incentive pushes the students to work hard. We offer tutoring to help them succeed. We have grown from 32 students in 2004 to 155 today. In our program are 120 students in high school, 10 students in technical school, and 25 students in universities in Port -au-Prince, all studying disciplines that will contribute to Haiti's growth: medicine, nursing, computer science, engineering, environmental studies, business managment, communications etc. So far we have graduated 2 nurses, and physical therapy technicians and these 4 are employed! More will graduate this year, and we have been told that there is a good chance that they will find jobs as well in the restoration of Haiti. NGOs like to hire educated Haitians to help them run their organizations, and there are few qualified Haitians. Our students will be in the forefront.
The earthquake deeply disrupted our university program, and we lost one of our university students, Antonio Alphonse, in a collapsed university. Today with a lot of help from our new employee, Vaudy Jean Baptiste, who works with the university students in Port-au-Prince, all of our university students are back to school and doing well. The Crosby Fund for Haitian Education is a positive force in our students and their families' lives, and our impact in Haiti is growing each year. My husband and I continue to sponsor Oltin privately, and he is in his last year of a medicine degree. It amazes me that this young man who I met in 1999 will soon become a pediatrician working in Haiti.
With the Haitian illiteracy rate at 55%, and with 85% of the youth without a high school diploma, where is Haiti's future? It is clear to us that education is the only way to break the cycle of poverty, violence and corruption in Haiti. Our organization has the structure in place to grow and help many more very poor Haitian students in the country. We simply need more funding.
I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...
In watching it grow since 2004 from 32 students in the program to 155 students today : 120 in high school and 10 in technical school and 25 in universities.
Ways to make it better...
If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...
Create a teacher exchange between Haitian secondary teachers and U.S. secondary teachers, so that the Haitian educational system would learn more creative ways to teach.