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I have been an elementary and secondary school teacher and administrator. Currently, I am a faculty member in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. My M.Ed. and Ph.D. had a focus on the educational and linguistic experiences of children who moved from other countries to Canada.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Building nests in Haiti: A simple way to conceptualize the idea of sustainability

I was part of a lunch meeting yesterday with colleagues from a number of different departments in the university. We wanted to spend some time talking about our international work (Turkey, Ghana, El Salvador, Jordan, Lebanon, Haiti) and the concept of sustainability. I found it a fascinating meeting as I listened to how others understood the idea of sustainability.

In my work in Haiti, I have equated sustainability with: living on after an initial investment was complete. We have tried to do this by designing initiatives in cooperation with local participants (reciprocity, resipwosite in Creole) and in a way that can be supported through local means and that make sense in the context. An example of this was the Digital Mentoring Project. We used tools that were already familiar (cellphones) but with a novel approach (connecting principals - across Haiti - in a professional learning community through their phones). The initiative was completed in 2014 but principals continue to use the framework to problem-solve and to share resources.

When I have talked about the concept of sustainability with partners in Canada, the US, and in Haiti, I have tended to use the words capacity-building instead of sustainability. What we are doing in Haiti is investing in social capital, the ability of people to achieve well-being through social interactions. We have done this specifically through supporting an improved educational environment. Thus, the work we have been doing in investing in teachers and principals, through workshops on school leadership, supporting special education services for children, building opportunities for girls in engineering, and supporting teachers' knowledge of science and mathematics, is building the social capital of educators in northern Haiti.

Is it sustainable? Yes, because it is building individual and collective capacity.

I often use a Haitian expression to describe the capacity-building work we are invested in - it probably provides a better description of sustainability than I can in just a few words:

Piti, piti, ti pay pay, zwazo fe niche.
Little by little, straw by straw, the bird builds its nest.

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