A Haitian proverb says that the goat’s business is not the sheep’s business. Put simply, one should mind one’s own business. But in light of continued poverty and political strife in Haiti, University of Texas Health Science Center professor Ruth Berggren said that it may be time to “turn that proverb upside down” in favor of Haitian unity.
Berggren moderated Thursday’s panel discussion “The Imprint of Haiti on One’s Life,” which featured Haitian students and health leaders. The seven panelists had a wide range of cultural and familial backgrounds, hailing from both small Haitian villages and the nation’s capital.
When describing their childhood experiences and hopes for the future, the panelists emphasized Haiti’s natural beauty, sense of community and untapped potential, in addition to its poverty and violence.
Belle Verwaay ’14 described the challenge of adapting to life in Miami after leaving Haiti at age 13.
“I thought so much was taken for granted,” Verwaay said.
Her roots influenced her decision to orient her academic career around bettering the lives of Haitians. People should use their education to improve their community, Verwaay said.
Manuela Rodriguez Tu’14 emphasized her rural village’s community bonds and natural beauty.
While the end of the Francois Duvalier regime was “a dark place in history,” Rodriguez still remembers Haiti as a beautiful country.
She reiterated the importance of education for Haitians, and added that Haiti should improve access to capital for entrepreneurs and human resources.
Daphnee Charles, a graduate of the Haitian Education and Leadership Program, said she often skipped lunch as a child in Haiti in order to save money for schoolbooks, but has become more resilient and capable of dealing with adversity as a result of her experiences.
Charles expressed concern for environmental issues, particularly flooding problems, prevalent in Haiti, and shared the harsh conditions Haitian political officials often face.
“If you get into politics in Haiti, at some point, you’ll have to leave the country with all your family,” she said, referring to its history of violence and government corruption.
Yves-Marie Duperval ’14, who attended three months of classes at an engineering school in Haiti, said he felt lucky to receive an education because many Haitian children do not have the same opportunity. He stressed the poor quality of the Haitian education system.
“Some people who are studying electronics have never seen a transistor,” Duperval said.
The issues Haiti must address cannot be solved through financial donations alone, and the country must develop a stronger educational system, Duperval said.
“Free stuff is just going to last for a month,” he said. “Education is lasting for a lifetime.”
Duperval hopes to see a change in Haiti’s international image. Online photos reflect the nation’s poverty, as foreigners who have Internet access post photos “trying to prove a point” to raise money for their organizations, he said.
Nathalie Rouzier, a junior at Northwestern University, said she remembers Haiti as a violent country.
She recalled not being allowed to wear school uniforms outside in order to avoid attention.
Rouzier said she will use her education, a privilege most Haitians are denied, to help level the playing field in the country.
Scott Dowell, director of the global disease detection and emergency response division at the Center for Disease Control, also spoke on the panel.
Symposium and panel organizer Amita Kulkarni ’10 said she thought Thursday’s panel discussion was the most intimate of the three in the conference thus far.
“I think their stories really resonated with the audience members that attended,” Kulkarni said.
Audience members said they believed the panel highlighted important issues.
Kristen Jogerst Med’17 echoed the speakers’ sentiments that Haiti has untapped potential.
“There are so many smart Haitian people,” she said. “They just need the opportunity.”
Natalie Cantave ’16 said the discussion reminded her of her parents’ descriptions of their childhoods in Haiti. She wished that the panel featured a discussion of problems with Haiti’s health system.
Julia McElhinney ’14, who participated in other symposium events, said the conference reaffirmed the “power of conversation” because experts from each field combined different perspectives.
The event was part of “Haiti and Dartmouth at the Crossroads,” a Porter Foundation symposium that continues through Friday.
Cantave is a member of The Dartmouth staff. Kulkarni is a former member of The Dartmouth senior staff.