WINNER 2015 BEST GLOBAL PROJECT AWARD! One of the few places that provide affordable access to education are the local, state-run primary school (L’Ecole Nationale de Cité Soleil) and secondary school (Lycée Nationale de Cité Soleil). Families only pay fees to cover uniforms and books, making the Lycée the only option for many families seeking to provide a secondary school education for their children. However, the school can only physically hold so many students and every year many families are turned away and have to make the decision to pay for private school or stop their children’s education.
The earthquake that hit Haiti in January of 2010 made the situation worse: the state primary school in Cité Soleil was completely flattened, and the Lycée was so badly cracked that students and teachers feared to go inside of it. The Lycée attempted to move forward by building a series of temporary shelters out of sheet metal in the schoolyard. Not only were these uncomfortable – they were baking hot and extremely noisy – they were also smaller. The Lycée was forced to reduce its numbers even further, meaning even more families were shut out of an affordable secondary school education for their children. For four years, nothing was done for the Lycée, even as the reconstruction efforts lurched forward in the rest of the country. The residents of Cité Soleil took this as another sign that they were second-class citizens at best, pariahs at worst. The untouched, unaided school symbolized how isolated they felt from the rest of Haitian society.
The Miyamoto Initiative
In 2013, Miyamoto Global Disaster Relief embarked on an initiative to rehabilitate the Lycée Nationale de Cité Soleil. The goal was to make the school safe for students and teachers without fearing it would fall in on them in the next disaster. But how could anybody make such a structurally unsound building earthquake resilient? With Miyamoto International’s decades of experience, they developed a plan to retrofit the school to international seismic standards.
Not only did they say this could be done, Miyamoto provided its expertise pro-bono, recruited dozens of Haitian businesses to contribute the resources and funds and engaged an experienced firm to carry out the work. After many months of planning and several months of active construction, in October of 2014 the Lycée Nationale de Cité Soleil was able to re-open its classrooms for the first time since the fateful day of January 12, 2010.
This was a unique initiative, primarily because of who was involved and how they were involved. A banner with the logos of the Haitian corporations who supported the rehabilitation of the Lycée told the story. As mentioned earlier, many residents of Cité Soleil felt neglected by the private sector because of the lack of investment in the commune. In addition to this, many felt disempowered by the heavy presence of NGOs, as if it was a statement they were charity cases, not worthy of investment, but of pity. When certain residents saw the project banner full of the logos of Haitian companies, they expressed excitément. The common perception is that no company would have their brand associated with Cité Soleil, yet here they were, putting their logo on a project to restore one of Cité Soleil’s most important institutions. Some interpreted this as a message that these companies were willing to invest in the futures of young Soleyans — that these companies believed they had the potential to be more than the thugs they are often stereotyped to be. Additionally, by engaging publicly in this initiative, these companies were showing a degree of corporate social responsibility that is often not seen in Cité Soleil.
Photos courtesy of Marie Elizabeth Arago