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University News

Brown-Haiti collaboration progresses

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Brown has pledged to develop existing educational programs and collaborations with Haiti, announced President Ruth Simmons in a Sept. 23 press release following the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, which is currently dedicated to Haiti’s long-term recovery and development following the earthquake in January.

“Eight months ago, the Brown community responded effectively with fundraising and addressing immediate needs in the wake of the disaster,” Simmons said in the release. “Now we have an obligation to leverage and expand the strength and depth of Brown’s Haiti programs as part of the reconstruction effort.”

The initiative will focus on the rich history and culture of Haiti through the Haitian Studies Initiative at Brown and the “Remember Haiti” Initiative at the John Carter Brown Library, as well as improve current medical education in Haiti through the efforts of the Brown-Haiti Medical Exchange.

“Haiti and Haitian language studies have an important place at Brown,” wrote Matthew Gutmann, vice president for international affairs, and Barrymore Bogues, professor of Africana studies and political science, in a letter to the Brown community earlier this year. Brown is the only American university offering two years of study in Haitian Creole, according to the press release.

The Haitian Studies Initiative will develop the current curriculum further to add new courses discussing the cultural and political history of Haiti, the release said. The language program will also be expanded to include advanced instruction in Haitian Creole.

Brown students also have the opportunity to mentor Haitian students at Hope High School through a program organized by Patrick Sylvain, visiting lecturer in Latin American studies, and Brown is slated to host the annual Haitian Studies Association meetings in November, wrote Gutmann and Bogues.

The John Carter Brown Library’s “Remember Haiti” Initiative similarly intends to make Haitian history and culture more accessible to both the Brown community and the general public, the press release said. As the home of one of the world’s largest collections of maps, books, newspapers and other rare documents about Haiti from colony to republic, the John Carter Brown Library is working with newly-named Visiting Fellow Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti Foundation to digitize these materials.

Ted Widmer, director of the John Carter Brown Library, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald that the idea to make the library’s collection of Haitian materials more widely available followed his attendance at a recent Clinton Global Initiative. Library Board Member David Rumsey covered the project’s expenses, Widmer wrote.

“The work was already important before the earthquake because it signaled the most ambitious attempt to scan Haitian books ever and the conviction of a U.S. educational institution that Haiti’s history is vitally important,” Widmer wrote. “But it became even more important after Jan. 12, when any expression of solidarity with Haiti meant a great deal. We raised money to help save Haiti’s oldest library, we (welcomed) Haitian scholars here who needed a home, and on May 7 we launched the site with a visit from Haiti’s former prime minister, Michele Pierre-Louis.”

The project is still undergoing improvements. Widmer said he would like to work with authorities in Haiti in order to distribute available information to both teachers and students. Brown alumni ambassadors who speak Haitian Creole will go to Haiti to introduce the website to Haitian schools. Other proposals will focus on introducing Haitian history into U.S. schools and increasing internet access throughout Haiti. “But these concerns will of course have to wait until the urgent ones of finding homes and supplies for people are addressed,” he wrote.

Alpert Medical School has exchange programs with the Universite Notre Dame d’Haiti, the Universite d’Etat d’Haiti and Quisqueya Medical School as part of the Brown-Haiti Medical Exchange program, according to the Med School website. A number of Brown faculty will work with St. Damien Hospital, Haiti’s only pediatric hospital, said Tim Flanigan, director of the division of infectious diseases at the Med School.

“The clinical rotations in Haiti for bedside teaching are not as well-established as they are in the United States,” said Flanigan. He said the problem is often exacerbated when many Haitian physicians go overseas to Francophone countries like Belgium or France. “That, inadvertently, encourages brain drain, and it costs a lot of money for students who are less wealthy,” Flanigan said.

Flanigan said he hopes this exchange will help “strengthen the medical education program and help promote better medical care in the country,” as well as “develop a sense of academic excellence, which would encourage Haitian physicians to stay within the country.”

“As a university with a scholarly commitment to the history, culture and languages of Haiti, and as a university engaged in developing solutions to social challenges around the globe, Brown is already deeply involved in education about Haiti and, with these expanded programs, ready to help rebuild Haiti’s educational system,” Simmons said in the release.

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