Conference to address Haiti efforts
By Laura Weiss, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, February 20, 2013
From a young age, Belle Verwaay ’14 knew she wanted to serve her native country of Haiti, even as she moved away to attend high school in Miami. Inspired by the stark contrast in living standards between Miami and Haiti despite their geographic proximity, Verwaay decided to pursue a career in architecture to help rebuild Haiti’s infrastructure, especially in light of the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country.
In “Haiti and Dartmouth at the Crossroads,” a Porter Foundation Symposium that will run through Friday, Verwaay and other panelists will share personal experiences and discuss Haiti’s future. Interim College President Carol Folt will deliver opening remarks for the event, and former Haitian Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis will deliver a speech Wednesday.
Three discussion groups, held throughout the weekend, will focus on issues of economic development, education and health care. Each group will discuss a specific problem in Haiti and devise a plan to solve it by the end of the conference, said Amita Kulkarni ’10, a presidential fellow in global health at the Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science.
“The hope with this is it’s a productive meeting, and there’s an actual purpose that comes out of it,” Kulkarni said. “There’s been a lot of meetings on Haiti since the earthquake, and we want to make this one different in that we want to bring the right people to the table and actually have them work on concrete project proposals that could actually be implemented in the relatively short-term future.”
Groups will choose projects from a list of proposals and discuss how to implement their efforts during the conference.
Kulkarni said the conference found inspiration in discussions between Peter Wright Med’65, a DHMC pediatrician with experience working in Haiti, and conference participant Jean William Pape, director of GHESKIO, an organization that researches HIV/AIDS in Haiti.
Wright said he hopes the events will rekindle the College’s enthusiasm for service present after the 2010 earthquake and demonstrate how academic institutions can assist Haiti’s development.
“We’ve got an extraordinary group of Haitians coming up,” Wright said.
The participation of Haitian government representatives indicates that they believe the conference will be worthwhile, Kulkarni said.
As a panelist, Verwaay’s will raise student awareness about Haiti.
“The fact that it is a personal experience just makes it much more significant to me,” she said. “I can count on one hand the number of other Haitians that are at Dartmouth so it makes me really proud just to be there and to talk about my experience and how my future plans revolve around Haiti.”
Joining efforts to improve Haiti’s education system is the best way for students to help, Yves-Marie Duperval ’14, a panelist from Haiti, said.
While education can have a lasting impact on students, the Haitian system is currently sub-par, he said.
The symposium also includes arts events.
“We really thought it was important to have an arts component to the conference,” Kulkarni said. “Art and music are a huge part of Haitian culture and just being able to represent that in the conference was important.”
A panel addressing health care, housing and economic prosperity in Haiti after the earthquake will take place Wednesday evening in Filene Auditorium. On Thursday, events include a panel discussion about rebuilding Haiti and a poster exhibition open house on Dartmouth-Haiti initiatives. The symposium will feature a video address from former College President Jim Yong Kim.
Kulkarni is a former member of The Dartmouth Senior Staff.