Haitian Education Exchange Provides Lessons Beyond Teaching
It began as a simple education exchange — Nebraska Wesleyan University professors and students would meet with high school teachers in Haiti this summer to offer ideas and assistance for low-level classrooms.
“We were surprised by how professional and capable the teachers in our workshop were after we had been told that they lacked preparation and university education,” said Gerise Herndon, professor of English and director of the Gender Studies Program. “Many teachers asserted that the purpose of education is for citizenship and for improving the country.”
The exchange included big picture discussions — the purpose of education and their work for the purpose.
Those conversations eventually led to needs. Haitian teachers often work in demanding conditions: classrooms are filled with nearly 150 students; they don’t have materials for each student; many students are hungry; and teacher salaries are often delayed by at least four months.
“I think that our purpose became learning as much as possible and making sure that the next teams that come along are equipped with the information necessary to bring about positive and impactful change in the areas these teachers need most,” said Alex Souliere, a senior English major from Lincoln.
The exchange was reciprocal.
NWU students learned more about Haiti’s culture and while there, celebrated Flag Day, a national celebration of the country’s founding in 1804. The celebration included parades, music and local foods.
For sophomore Zachary Plummer, the exchange helped him understand happiness.
“It is not being happy by collecting material things, but living life with other people and just being happy with what you have,” said the elementary education major. “Those in Haiti have fewer opportunities than someone in America, but they are among the happiest people I have met. They are able to find happiness in what an American would consider the little things.”
For sophomore Rhianna Becker, it was her first time abroad, and admittedly, a step outside her comfort zone. Her initial expectations of Haiti included a struggling nation filled with starvation and naked children in the streets, which she did not see.
“Though poverty was present, the spirit and ingenuity of the people was amazing,” said the French and biology student from Lincoln. “The Haitian people are proud of who they are. A common subject we found was about the future of Haiti and how the community wants to contribute to a better Haiti. The sense of nationality and community was inspiring.
Souliere said he most enjoyed the relationships he formed with the people he met.
“Nebraska Wesleyan offers a liberal arts education, which means more than just learning about one's individual discipline,” he said. “It means developing a more complete understanding of the world and there is no better way to do that than by experiencing it from another perspective in a different country.”
Story by Emmalie Harris, public relations intern.