In the fall of 2014, UNIFA an accredited institution of higher education in Haiti, began its fourth academic year since its rebirth in 2011. The University was founded by former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. When he returned to Haiti from forced exile in South Africa in the spring of 2011 he promised to dedicate himself to education in Haiti. Since then he has done just that, reopening UNIFA just six months after his return. There are now over 1000 students studying at the UNIFA campus in four degree granting programs: Medicine, Nursing, Law and Political Science, and a brand new program in Physical Therapy.
New School of Physical Therapy Opens
The new School of Physical Therapy, which opened on Oct 6, 2014, is the first Physical Therapy School in Haiti. (There are only a handful of Physical Therapists in Haiti and all were trained elsewhere.) This program is a partnership between UNIFA and Stony Brook University, State University of New York. This school answers the acute need for Physical Therapists in Haiti, a need that became particularly clear after the 2010 earthquake when many people suffered devastating injuries that require intensive rehabilitative treatment. Stony Brook faculty are working with UNIFA faculty to create the curriculum, and they will provide the much of the teaching staff for the courses particular to Physical Therapy.
Medical School Enrollment tops 500
At the Medical School there are now four classes years of medical students, for a total of over 500 young doctors pursuing their medical training at UNIFA. In January 2014, third-year medical students started clinical training at the University Hospital in Mirbalais run by Partners in Health and at the Bernard Mevs Clinic in Port-au-Prince. Third and fourth year students will continue their clinical training during the 2014-2015 academic year. Dr. Michaèle Amedé Gédéon was appointed as the new Dean of the School of Medicine in the spring of 2014. She is a former Minister of Health, and Director of the Red Cross. Since becoming Dean last spring she has brought tremendous skills, resources, energy, and enthusiasm to all of the health science programs at UNIFA.
Nursing School Will Meet High Demand for Nurses in Haiti
Berteline Beaulieu was appointed director of the School of Nursing in December 2013. She brings to the job over 25 years of experience in nursing, both as a practitioner and educator. Under her leadership second year nursing students completed a three week clinical rotation at Hopital St. Nicolas in the northern city of St. Marc, while nursing students will continue to gain valuable experiencing assisting physicians and nurses at the regularly scheduled health fairs at the Aristide Foundation for Democracy.
Law School Focuses on Human Rights and the Rule of Law
At the Law School, during its first year Jeffrey Brand, the former Dean of the University of San Francisco Law School, served as international visiting dean. In addition to support to the new school and helping to shape curriculum he led a two–week seminar with incoming students on international human rights law.
Visiting Faculty & International Partnerships Connect UNIFA to the Universities Around the World
During the first 3 years, UNIFA welcomed over a 12 visiting professors from the United States, Haiti’s Diaspora Community and one professor of law from Southern Cross University in Australia. The partnership with Stony Brook University promises a steady presence of international faculty within the School of Physical Therapy. Physicians for Haiti, a medical group in Boston continues to recruit and send medical faculty to teach at UNIFA. In April 2014, Dr. James Quesada and Nadine Quesada spent a week at UNIFA. Jim specializes in medical anthropology at San Francisco State University and Nadine is a practicing registered nurse. They co-taught a five-day course (to medical and nursing students) on the physical and psychological effects of trauma. Dr. Diana Chamrad visited in May and lectured on health behaviors. Visiting faculty are scheduled to teach in all three of the health sciences program during the 2014-2025 academic year.
For a second year, Physicians for Haiti hosted a three-week summer course in social medicine at UNIFA. This year UNIFA nursing students join UNIFA and American medical students in this innovative, multidisciplinary class. Fifteen international students, and 10 Haitian students participated in the course.
In September 2014, UNIFA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (RFUMS), based in Chicago. This partnership seeks to offer on line educational information to UNIFA and enhance UINFA’s information technology capabilities, to recruit other institutions of higher education into the collaborative effort, and involve RFUS faculty in the education of UNIFA and RFUMS students, and the delivery of charitable health-related humanitarian services in a clinical environment.
UNIFA is also collaborating with the diversity program, PRIDE, at NYU School of Medicine to develop a strategic vision for building a strong research division at UNIFA to address the many health and psycho-social problems facing Haiti.
Huge Demand and More Expansion
Demand for entrance at UNIFA continues to be overwhelming. For entrance into the three health sciences programs in the fall of 2014, one thousand three hundred candidates sat for the entrance exams. Before taking entrance exams students must first meet stringent high-school grade and test score requirements. Of the 1300 who met this mark and took UNIFA’s exams, approximately 350 were admitted to the school of medicine, the school of nursing, and the brand new school of physical therapy.
To welcome so many new students the UNIFA campus continues to expand. Over the summer of 2014, a second floor was added to the Nursing School and work began on a new building which will house the School of Physical Therapy. There are now three large building on the UNIFA campus, two if which will likely we further expanded in the near future.
Congratulations to the 350 new UNIFA students who began their studies in October, 2014. Congratulations to the faculty, staff and administrators who have made all this happen!
March 8, 2012 was the 16th anniversary of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy. To mark the anniversary and International Women’s Day, the Foundation organized a health fair. Dr. Jessy Pierre, the medical director for the day, coordinated 32 doctors and 15 nurses who consulted over 600 people during the six hour clinic. The medical staff included two optometrists and a dentist. Students from 29 area schools came to the Foundation for the day for one-on-one consultations with physicians and also to hear health education talks. This health fair was organized in conjunction with 29 schools in the La Plaine area– whose students don’t often get the opportunity to consult with physicians.
While students waited for their consultations, the doctors present offered medical educations talks. Dr. Marie Antoinette Gauthier (surgeon and former member of Haiti’s national football team) stressed with students the importance of physical activity and encouraged them to find creative ways to stay active – all the while conscious that many schools don’t have any outdoor space, the few public parks that exist in Port-au-Prince are still occupied and walking on the streets dangerous with cars and taxi-motorcycles (taxi-moto). As students waited, doctors and/or nurses spoke to small groups about general hygiene, and with the rains approaching, the risks of cholera and cholera prevention
March also saw the inauguration of ‘Klinik Alo Dokté’ (Hello, Doctor Clinic)
Alo Dokte (Hello Doctor) is a public health education program on the Foundation’s radio station, Radyo Timoun. The program, which was launched in January, is hosted by 5 doctors and one dentist, who take calls from the public on health topics. All of these doctors are part of the corps of 745 Haitian physicians who were trained in Cuba since 1996.
The radio programs runs for one hour, 5 days a week. the program begins with a discussion of a health related topic (AIDS prevention, How to recognize Cholera, etc.) Phone lines are then open to callers. Adults and children then call in with very specific and sometimes very serious questions about their own health or the health of a family member. The doctors offer advice and answers to questions. The doctors also give out their personal cell phone numbers and get calls well into the night, even after they’ve left the radio station.
The tremendous response to the show has led to a decision to to create a clinic in the Foundation linked to the show where instead of calling, members of the community can come in person for a consultation with any one of the participating doctors.
On February 2, 2011 The Aristide Foundation inaugurated a Youth League under the banner: Youth Action, Integration and Cooperation. The purpose of the League is to create a space for debate, intellectual and cultural exchange, and practical training for young people who want to assist in the rebuilding of their country. More than 1,500 people attended the official launch, with 132 representatives coming from each of Haiti’s ten departments. Since February the league has grown by leaps and bounds, holding weekly training seminars and events to mark days of national importance.
On February 23, 2011, 1632 young people were invited to participate in an all day work session to reflect on different areas of future activities including, Psychology, Health, Economics, Communication, Education, Sports, culture, and Justice and Human Rights. After six hours of brainstorming, discussion n and debate each working group presented their conclusions and suggestions for moving forward.
Since February 23, the league has more than doubled in size, mainly through word of mouth. On March 22, another 1700 young people joined, and each week since hundreds of new young people have joined, gathering weekly at the Foundation to listen to speakers on a range of topics. The current membership is over 6,000. Many of these young people are participating in classes organized at the foundation in the following areas: music lessons, driving school, cholera prevention seminars, first aid, and computer courses.
In addition to weekly meetings, the league sponsors events to mark important national dates. For International Women’s Day the league sponsored a debate on the active participation of women in the economic and political life of the country. On May 1, (agriculture day in Haiti) agronomists, Dejean and Mésidor presented a conference on environmental degradation and reforestation. Participants received seedlings for planting at the end of the conference. On May 18, rather than having an outside speaker, two Youth League members from the Political Science working group presented the history of the Haitian flag.
On May 28, 2011, a delegation of five teachers traveled to Jacmel to offer a training session for 115 new young people who had enrolled in the league in the South East.
Since June 11, leaders of the Youth League, which includes some of the Cuban-trained doctors who are UniFA graduates, and other young professionals have been meeting every two weeks to harmonize the administrative and technical structures of the league while laying the foundations for coordinating efforts in all ten provinces of Haiti.
On July 15, to mark the birthday of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and in response to the resurgence of cholera in the country, the Youth League, led by 60 doctors, many of them UniFA graduates, held a huge cholera prevention seminar, with a mass demonstration hand-washing, followed by a free medical clinic for area residents.
Most of those who have joined the Youth League are between 16 and 25 years old. According to Merry Roche, the Foundation’s coordinator of youth activities, young people are flocking to the Foundation for a variety of reasons. The welcoming atmosphere at the Foundation attracts them, as does the possibility of finding a spot in a practical training session. Many also hope that one day they may be able to study at UniFA (the University of the Aristide Foundation, whose Medical School is scheduled to reopen in September). Most of all they are looking for a way to contribute, a vehicle for channeling their energies into building a better country. Foundation staff has been impressed at the dedication of the young people who have formed the League. Most have either completed their Rheto or Philo exams (Exams given during the final two years of high school – reaching this academic level in Haiti is already a major accomplishment.) These are young people with high aspirations. They are creative and cooperative and feel great pride in belonging to the youth league. The Foundation has been overwhelmed by both the turnout and the dedication of these young people and is struggling to create programs to meet their aspirations.
It is already clear that UniFA, once it reopens will be able to accommodate only a handful of these young people. The Foundation is exploring the possibility of expanding vocational training programs beyond the computer school, which already operates at the Foundation. We are looking at possibilities in plumbing, carpentry, electricity, silk-screening, administration, accounting, and perhaps most importantly entrepreneurial mentoring to assist groups of young people in the creation of micro enterprises in the above fields.
If youth is the hope of all countries, the youth league of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy is a profound demonstration of Haiti’s potential. More than half of Haiti’s population is below the age of 25. Each year tens of thousands graduate from high school. Baccalaureate exams are taking place right now across Haiti with more than 130,000 students participating. (If they pass the two-year cycle of exams they are qualified to go to University) Yet, there are only places for a handful of these students at Haiti’s Universities and nearly all of Haiti’s Universities have been hit very hard by the quake. There is massive pent up demand for access to post high school education or training – whether University level or vocational. The energy of Haiti’s young people must become the engine that drives Haiti’s recovery. The question facing both the Foundation, UniFA and really the country as a whole is how do we answer their call?