New Voices of Community Development in Haiti

This report is the fruit of a four month consultancy project between graduate students in the New Media & Development class at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and Social Tap, a non-profit based in Jacmel, Haiti.


The Country Context: HaitiThe Caribbean country of Haiti has a population of 9.8 million people, with more than half of the population being under the age of 18. Decades of political corruption and instability, foreign intrusion, environmental vulnerability to extreme weather patterns and low government investment in public infrastructure are the country’s major obstacles to economic growth. The country’s GDP is 7.9 billion dollars, which translates into the GDP per capita being $1,300. 80% of the population lives under the international poverty line of $1.25 [1]. Even though a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010 destroyed much of the capital, the country is rapidly urbanizing, with 52% living in urban areas at an annual rate of 3%. Experts estimate that 2.1 million people live in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Lack of a sizeable highly-skilled population due to brain drain and low educational attainment has resulted in an economy largely based on low wage labor, such as the low-end textile market, small-scale subsistence farming, foreign remittances, light assembly based on imported parts and foreign aid. The country has poor labor conditions, as 21% of the child population between 7 and 14 years old are in the workforce [2].
The government’s low investment in public communications infrastructure has stifled its people’s ability to connect with each other and the world at large. Class stratification has created social tiers with varying access to resources. A major impediment to communications growth is limited access to electricity. Only 25% of the population in Haiti has access to energy supply, with frequent power outages still hampering daily activities [3]. Energy insecurity limits the access that Haitians have to mobile and broadband technology. Per 100 people, 10.9% have access to the Internet, .16% subscribe to fixed broadband Internet, and .19% have personal computers [4]. However, more Haitians than ever have access to mobile technology, as 59% use mobile telephones. This technology void has created space for the country’s largest mobile and broadband carrier, Digicel, to develop infrastructure networks necessary to expand capacity and access to Internet across the country. Below is an interview with the former Digicel CEO, Maarten Boute, on the current state and future projections of the country's communications infrastructure.

The current state of the Haitian education is reflective of low public investment, weak management and outdated pedagogy. The department’s pedagogy is reflective of the nation’s French colonial history and emphasizes rote memorization, individual study and limited teacher-student interaction outside of instruction time. Although the language of instruction is French, one of the country’s official languages, all socioeconomic classes speak Creole, the country's other official language, at home. Class stratification has created a wide knowledge gap because only middle class and elite families can afford to continue paying tuition for school, which is where students get exposure to French language skills. An estimated 16,000 primary and 3,200 secondary schools exist in Haiti, of which 85% are tuition-based and managed by a variety of religious organizations, communities, private companies or NGOs. About 67% of children enroll in elementary school and less than 30% reach the 6th grade. 20% of all eligible-age children enroll in secondary school. An estimated 70% of grammar school teachers have no formal training. 400 new teachers are annually certified, but this cycle fails to meet the annual need of 2,000 teachers [5]. As a result, less than half of the population is literate [6]. Reforming this largely dysfunctional sector is pivotal to the development of Haitian society because it establishes a pipeline of stability and long-term security.

==The Partner: Social Tap==Social Tap is a community-based non-profit located in Cyvadier, a rural neighborhood in Jacmel, Haiti. The city of Jacmel’s economic engine is based on its bustling visual and performing arts scene, yet areas outside of the city center suffer from public and private investment. Cyvadier is a low-income community that is dependent on subsistence-based agricultural and fishing work. Social Tap employs an asset-based community development (ABCD) approach to fostering community change in Cyvadier. Social Tap recognizes that communities have the capacity to identify their own strengths, ambitions and challenges. This non-profit supports community leaders in mobilizing their own assets to address the priorities they have identified. Social Tap has partnered with a grassroots community group, Konbit Pou Ayiti, to develop the educational, leadership and communications skills of teenagers in the area by building a media lab adjacent to Konbit Pou Ayiti’s office.

Project Objective

A strong urban bias has resulted in rural areas, which account for 70% of the country’s population, receiving 20% of national educational expenditures [7]. In Cyvadier, a stark gap exists between the needs and abilities of the community and the resources provided to them by the education department. Social Tap’s youth sponsorship program provides 30 students aged 9-12 who are able to access the local educational system with opportunities to tap into global educational trends like interactive and sensory learning. Young people are aware of mobile technology—88% of adolescent males and 83% of adolescent females use mass media [8] and a significant amount indicate a strong desire for greater access to these devices, but their poverty inhibits them. A multi-media center housed in a centrally located area would provide these young people with the space to (1) seek support for academic work in a nurturing environment, (2) develop computer and Internet literacy skills and (3) have a greater understanding of the world around them.
This team has designed a three-prong strategy to increase technology's use and relevance in young Haitian's lives. The overarching mission of this project is to ensure equipment maintenance and sustainability in Cyvadier. This strategy consists of the development of a community youth mapping initiative, basic computer and Internet literacy program and a youth journalism program.

Team Bios

webjeff.jpgJefferson Mok jm3820
Jefferson formerly worked for the Heartland Alliance of Chicago as Regional Director of its operations in Burundi, eastern DR-Congo and Rwanda. Based in Burundi from 2008 to 2012, he helped implement and manage projects on humanitarian assistance and rights protection. During that time, he also created the independent radio program Imagine Burundi, which looked at daily Burundi existence through stories and restaurant reviews. Jefferson received his B.A. from Grinnell College in Iowa, and is now a dual-degree candidate in journalism and international affairs at SIPA in New York.

Cyrielle Jean Photo.jpg
*Cyrielle Jean cgj2109
Cyrielle is a Master of Public Administration candidate 2014 concentrating on small business development initiatives with women. She spent last summer interning with the Haitian microfinance bank Fonkoze to implement a young adult micro-credit and savings program in Jacmel, Haiti. Before SIPA, Cyrielle worked with a variety of local community-oriented think tanks, NGOs and non-profits to fund raise and design programs that accurately meet the needs of their intended ends clients.

JoelRPutnam-Headshot-150xSomething.jpgJoel Putnam jrp2186
Joel is a Master of Public Administration candidate 2015. He has professional experience in IT, troubleshooting Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu Linux systems, software-modding Andorid-based devices, and setting up and maintaining small computer networks. He also has traveled across over seventy countries, and has volunteered in a wide variety development settings, most recently teaching English and advising on IT projects for a new school in Ethiopia. Prior to SIPA he spent three years supporting his acting habit by tutoring New York City middle and high school students across a variety of subjects, something he continues currently to subsidize his further studies.

Photo on 12-5-13 at 2.35 PM #3.jpgAlyssa Mesich amm2382
Alyssa is a Master of Public Administration in Development Practice candidate 2014. She spent last summer working at the Millennium Development Village in Sauri, Kenya on a participatory video project with youth theater groups. She piloted a project to integrate media and culture in the MDGs using film to address issues of concern within the community. Before SIPA she worked as a Volunteer Coordinator in Denver, CO at a food pantry and homeless shelter.

profile.jpgJessa Cruz mac2367
Jessa has three years of research experience, particularly market research and development research. She worked on a social assessment study for a community development organization back in the Philippines. For more than 4 years, she has volunteered to head communications strategies for an international youth organization in which she worked on strengthening the online presence through its social media applications. Jessa received a B.A. in Management Economics from Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University.



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