University News

Alum reflects on education reform efforts in Haiti

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 10, 2012

Correction appended.

After graduating from Brown with a degree in Classics and Sanskrit, Deacon Patrick Moynihan ’87 planned to travel to Uganda. But when his mother opposed his plans, he set his sights on Haiti instead. Moynihan related his experiences working in Haiti to an audience of alums, students and faculty at the Maddock Alumni Center last night in a lecture entitled “Why Real Change Takes Real Involvement: The Impact a Brown Education Can Make.”

When Moynihan arrived in Haiti, he helped build schools and assisted in bringing social services to Haitian children.  Moynihan said his experience as head of the Louverture Cleary School, a tuition-free Catholic boarding school in Haiti, gave him a broad view of the country’s political, social and economic developments. His brother Brian Moynihan ’81 P’14, who is currently CEO of Bank of America, provided aid in growing the Cleary School, he said. At the time, Brian Moynihan was a young associate at a law firm, but he still decided to assist his brother with the school’s financial development, Moynihan said.

“The school has been very successful,” he said, despite the 2010 earthquake that damaged many areas of the country. He served as the school’s head from 1996 to 2006 and then returned to the position in March 2009.

In his role as president of the Haitian Project, a Providence-based Catholic charity organization, Moynihan directs efforts aimed at boosting the quality of education in Haiti, and developing the Cleary School. The school has more than doubled in size since it was founded in 1987, and Moynihan said there are now 343 alums, 90 percent of whom go on to attend universities in Haiti.

“We are social people and we need to live in social institutions,” Moynihan said, adding that the main challenge in Haiti is building sustainable social services to support the long-term growth of the country.

“We need to strengthen the capacity of the Haitian people through building the infrastructure,” he added.

Addressing the question of whether emergency relief organizations are best equipped to deal with the issue of building social services, Moynihan said he found it “appalling” that United States media consistently focuses on the necessity of non-governmental organizations in supporting the country.

“As much as people care and are involved, they’re not living in the community long enough to make meaningful changes,” Moynihan said. In order to make a real difference in Haiti, new non-governmental organizations are not the best way to funnel money into sustainable, long-term projects because they prioritize temporary relief instead of structural development, he said.

“There’s a lack of truth” about the role non-governmental organizations played in the earthquake relief process, Moynihan said. By impeding the autonomy of the Haitian government, those organizations interfere with the Haitian people’s homegrown efforts to improve their situation, he said.  Those interested in development efforts must “invest in the right things” to help Haitians build a sustainable future.

Moynihan said education is a critical area for investment. He pointed to the Cleary School as an example of the type of long-term change that Haitians need for a better future.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Deacon Patrick Moynihan ’87 said Western governments interfere with Haiti’s efforts to improve its situation. In fact, Moynihan’s criticism was directed at non-governmental organizations, rather than at the government. Moynihan said he supports increased state-to-state interactions between Haiti and the United States government. The Herald regrets the error.

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