Eugene Lim was one of my first graduate students at the University of Chicago. We violated Lorentz invariance together (it’s not as dirty as it sounds), and he’s since gone on to think about bubble collisions and eternal inflation at prestigious places like Yale, Columbia, and Cambridge.
But Eugene always cared about other things in addition to physics, and today he’s bringing us a guest post about a heart-wrenching topic: education in Haiti in the aftermath of their devastating earthquake. Not content to agitate for support from the comfort of his computer, Eugene is actually hopping on a plane this weekend to spend a month teaching math at a poor rural university. Here’s his introduction, and we hope to have a follow-up post after he returns from his travels.
On Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 4:53pm, a massive quake hit Haiti, killing an approximate quarter of a million people, injuring another quarter of a million, and causing massive infrastructure damage. Today, more than five months later, as the news cycle has moved on, Haitians are still pulling themselves out of the disaster, with 1.5 million people still homeless.
Fondwa is the 10th Communal Section of Leogane situated about 60 km south of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, near the epicenter of the quake. It is a rural community with big dreams, the peasants banded together in 1988 to form the APF (Association of Peasants of Fondwa) to create a model community, not just with the aim of providing basic services but to empower the people of Haiti by providing them with the education and knowledge to improve their own lives.
One of their amazing achievement is the founding of a university, the University of Fondwa (UNIF) in 2004 in the mountains of Haiti, offering majors in Management, Agricultural Engineering and Veterinary Science — skills necessary for a rural community to survive and thrive — with about 40 students from all over Haiti. They graduated their first class last year.
The quake destroyed all the buildings of UNIF : the main building, the dorms and the lecture halls. Remarkably, classes continued after the quake, first in tents, and hopefully soon in temporary shelters. Final exams were given and graded, and the new semester began on schedule, May 5.
I met the founder of the University, Fr. Joseph Phillipe in New York a few weeks ago (he also founded Haiti’s biggest microfinance bank, FONKOZE, but that’s another story) — a series of hopeful email inquiries inspired by the watching a documentary about Fondwa led to having coffee with him in uptown New York City. Despite the challenges that his community is facing, he was full of energy, focusing on what to do for the future. I was impressed. I told him I want to help out.
I told him I wanted to volunteer to teach in UNIF, but I was not sure what I need to do. He said “We are waiting for you in Fondwa.”
This week, I am headed down to Fondwa to teach math for a month. I was told to be prepared to be caught unprepared. Internet permitting, I hope to post a follow-up to this when I get to Fondwa with more pictures from the ground.
A month is not exactly a long time. But I hope that any help is better than no help at all — they are short on teaching staff after the quake. Personally, I have been inspired by humanitarian groups like Doctors without Borders and Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health. I can’t save lives as a doctor, but I can teach! A long term hope is to be able to build ties in Fondwa, and perhaps do this on a yearly basis. I believe that academics have a lot to contribute in making this world a better place beyond hanging out in our ivory towers.
I asked Fr. Joseph what else I can do to help, he said “Tell your friends about us, and ask your friends to come too”.
Sean has kindly allowed me to use this blog to publicize the plight of the community at Fondwa. They are still trying to get basic services in. Their main needs are monetary donations, temporary housing, clean water and volunteers! They are especially looking for long term volunteers for six months of longer. They are also looking for a President for UNIF — I am serious — if you are interested or know anybody who might be interested, email APF below.
If you like want to volunteer, the best way is to contact APF directly at email@example.com or go to the APF homepage. If you like to donate directly to APF click on the link to my blog for the bank information. If you want help out Haitians to help themselves : support Fonkoze’s microfinancing efforts by helping out here.