Students plan project to tackle Haitian poverty

OUTREACH: Children crowd together in Cite Soleil, Haiti, a location University of Miami students are targetting to pilot a new program aimed at increasing opportunities for education. Eighty percent of the populace in the community is illiterate. COURTESY SOLEY UNI

While many University of Miami students spent their fall break weekend lying on the local beaches or taking brief trips home, three students came up with a plan to tackle the poverty and lack of education in an underserved community of Haiti.

In March, juniors Kristina Rosales and Austin Webbert and senior Ligia Vidal first conjured up the idea for the project, called Soley Uni, when a Latin American Studies class trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republican gave them the motivation to make a difference in the lives of many underprivileged Haitians. The project targets the impoverished community of Cite Soley, located in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.

“[The people of Cite Soley] are looking for opportunities to advance themselves,” said Rosales, the project leader of Soley Uni. “A lot of them are looking to learn whatever they can through any means they can find.”

The project leaders returned over fall break to make further progress, meeting over 50 students throughout the community that want to serve as student leaders.

The students want to help create facilities where young Haitian adults can come together to become educated and to empower themselves through community organization. Through collaborative efforts with college-aged students in Cite Soley, the University of Miami students hope to encourage the development of higher education for many eager Haitians.

“Together, we want to make it an environment where people want to go and want to learn,” Rosales said.

The community has a population of approximately 300,000; about 80 percent of those individuals are illiterate. The project leaders seek to remodel Cite Soley’s community center in order to provide functional meeting areas, classrooms and a library.

Currently, the community center holds about ten people and has very limited resources to provide adequate education. From a young age, most Haitians must learn from textbooks written in French, though most only speak Creole at home.

In order to facilitate change, the project leaders in Miami have developed many long-term ideas for the program. They ultimately hope to take steps to send UM student volunteers to Cite Soley and spread the project to more countries.

“The whole concept is that it is an experimental test project,” Webbert said. “Hopefully, it can be replicated across the Caribbean.”

Before the group can move on with their developments, they are trying to raise both money and awareness of their project to their peers at the University of Miami and aspire to form an on-campus organization to aid the program.

The project leaders believe that an on-campus Soley Uni organization would be unlike others, as the leaders pride themselves on the fact that they have contacts in the Haitian community, enabling participants to have a personal connection with Cite Soley residents, rather than simply raising money to send overseas.

“It’s a constant dialogue with [the student leaders],” Webbert said. “Others don’t know the situation as well as the people actually living there.”

“Whatever is established is something that they need and will use,” Rosales said.

Soley Uni be having its first awareness event on Dec. 4, during which the leaders will explain the projects to be launched in the near future.

Join the Facebook group, found by searching for Soley Uni: Support Change in Site Soley (Haiti) in order to learn more about the project and stay updated on group events.

Site Soley, Haiti:

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November 19, 2008


Alexandra Fruin

Contributing News Writer

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