Many of us have stood sighing, hands on hips, in front of a problem we felt compelled to wade into. But where to start? Do we focus on the clean up of the aftermath? Or do we attack the problem at many angles, all at once, to satisfy immediate needs? What if there was a blueprint for getting to the problem at its origins? Turns out there is!

In this article, we’d like to point you to an astounding success story out of Haiti; The Haitian Project. This brilliant group of thought leaders have rolled up their sleeves and dove in at the source of the poverty and unrest around them.

They have some amazing insights for us all when it comes to grappling with our own problems and they give the world a blueprint for problem-solving.

After spending quite some time researching The Haitian Project, one question stayed front-of-mind:

What kind of future do we want? One where we are always playing catch up and stamping out fires? Or one where we have created systems to keep the fires from starting in the first place?

It appears that the founders of The Haitian Project believed in the latter.

Three decades ago they reasoned that a lack of education was at the source of most social problems and it doesn’t take long to buy into that logic if you really think about it. All the most vexing problems in our world start with a lack of education.

Give that a moment of thought.

Here’s just a small sample of the barrage of topics in the negative news cycle: poverty, pollution, hunger, substance abuse, homelessness, violence, the spread of disease, government corruption, etc. What would a world look like on all those issues if we infused all children with a fulsome education?

Well, it might just look like the outcomes we’re seeing from the Louverture Cleary School in Port Au Prince, Haiti! 

In a country where all of the struggles listed above are common, less than 5% of students graduate from high school. But the efforts of the Louverture Cleary School, a part of the Haitian Project, are increasing this in monumental ways; turning that 5% graduation rate into a whopping 98%!

In the early 1980s, a group of parishioners from St. Joseph’s Parish in Providence, Rhode Island founded The Haitian Project (THP) to provide humanitarian aid and relief to the people of Haiti. In 1987, they opened the tuition-free, Catholic, co-educational secondary boarding school, that educates academically talented and motivated students from families who cannot afford the cost of their children’s education.

With the goal of forming Haiti’s future servant-leaders, the school is now a robust institution educating 350 students each year and running one of Haiti’s largest university scholarship programs. Here’s just a peek at all the transformation made possible…

“The Louverture Cleary Schools Network will be a full frontal attack on poverty at its source.” — Patrick Moynihan, President of the Haitian Project 

So why the uncompromising language in that quote? I suspect the school’s track record answers that question. Just take a look at these jaw-dropping statistics! 

  • 20% of students in Haiti can pass the Baccalaureate exam, which high school students must pass in order to attend university. But Louverture Cleary School has a historic pass rate of over 98%!
  • Only 2% of Haitians have a college degree and yet 76% of Louverture Cleary grads go on to get a college degree. Many are earning 12 times Haiti’s per-capita income.
  • Having come from families struggling to get by on less than $1,000 a year, Louverture Cleary grads earn an average of $12,000 per year, just several years out of university. 

It doesn’t take a wild imagination to consider how a 12 fold increase in annual income might keep you from joining the angry mobs in the street. Instead, it might put you in a position to calm your neighbors and take a positive leadership role in your community.

Not only that, but this increase in annual salary would also keep you from having to cook over a wood or charcoal fire, which would help reduce deforestation, landslides, and erosion. And your children would not live a life of desperation, so their chances of falling prey to substance abuse, disease, and violence decrease. 

But let’s let the students tell us in their own words how this model has transformed their lives. 

This is “Education Plus“!

So what makes this model send ripples through society? Some might say it’s the religious underpinning, but I suspect its actually something more transportable to any culture in the world. This statistic may be the most important and telling: 

Nearly 70% of college graduates from Haiti leave the country, yet 90% of Louverture Cleary alumni are either at university or working in professional careers in Haiti.

The students from a learning framework like this stay at home, helping to build the foundation of an educated nation, built by and for Haitians themselves. That doesn’t happen by accident. It appears to come from the deeply held notion that service to others is a prerequisite for a good life.

Could this be at the heart of the success story here?

In most of the poorest countries in the world, the first thing one does with their education is to abandon the sinking ship. This “brain-drain” is one of the saddest quandaries in the developing world. Yet for each newly educated person, as an individual, it’s rational to want to go as far as opportunity will carry you.

But when children are brought up to know their best personal future includes being a part of something greater than themselves—perhaps striving for some tangibly brighter, shared future with their family and neighbors—then this model, with its brilliant statistics seems transportable.

“Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.”
—Roger Lewin

The notion of “giving back”, and most importantly, holding up the tent poles for your friends and family, could form the base of an education pyramid in any school, secular or non-secular, around the world. It’s Education Plus Service to Others.

In fact, maybe this notion needs to be spread into the world’s richest countries as well. 

I was recently in a deep conversation with a very good-natured, fortunate, American millennial and I asked him what “success” looked like for him. As I listened to his 5-year plan and beyond, with all the typical trappings—big house, fast cars, many man-toys, wife, kids, dog—I was a bit saddened by the complete absence of the impulse to “give back”. Seems his early education and college degree may not do much in the way of lifting others up. And sadly, I don’t think he is unique in forgetting to add being able to  “give back” as a qualifier of success.

I’m not sure we can afford that omission here in the U.S., with the largest generation in history—70 million millennials—about to take the reins.

The Template for Transformation:

Here’s how the Louverture Cleary School folds real community service into the foundation of what one does:

Students collectively conduct over 1,500 hours of structured community service each week within the campus and in the greater community through THP’s various community outreach programs.

  • Work Hour / Netwayaj (clean-up): Louverturians carry out work projects like burning trash in the incinerator and planting trees and they clean the campus every day after school.
  • Teaching: Louverturians mentor and teach in LCS’ Koukouy Sen Kle (Fireflies of Saint Clare) Early Childhood Development program, where 60 local children aged 3-10 receive meals, school lessons and structured play time each day.  They also help with Ekòl Ankourajman, the LCS’ afterschool literacy classes, for over 70 children and adults in the neighborhood
  • Translating: Louverturians are fluent in four languages—Kreyòl, French, English and Spanish—and use these skills to translate for foreign doctors in local medical clinics.

Seems like the poorest and most desperate areas around the world might have something to teach the rest of us.

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The blueprint for us all?

The blueprint I see here for the rest of us is knowing where to start at a problem.

In those moments when we are rolling up our sleeves to dive into problem-solving, I suspect The Haitian Project demonstrates that it’s best to start as low in the “supply chain” as possible.

Have you heard of the word “supply chain”? To many, it’s an arcane term relegated to the business and manufacturing world. But recently I’m seeing it applied more broadly in corporate social responsibility initiatives and beyond. The idea is that everything thing we own goes through a chain of events to get to us. These days, the goal is to make sure each of those steps is sustainable, environmentally friendly and ethical. This is the new evolution of “Supply Chain Management.”

And it’s new because not that long ago, no one was the least bit concerned about the waste, pollution or human toll taken by manufacturing. But now, the supply chain is under a microscope.

So what if we looked at problems as if they had a supply chain (which they surely do) of events that produces the bad outcome?

Here is a simplified supply chain to illustrate one of Haiti’s often talked about problems: deforestation. Substitute the words “leads to..” for each arrow:

Image: a supply chain of events leading to homelessness

Source: Ever Widening Circles

Many would attack the problem of Deforestation in that chain, by planting trees, safeguarding the few that remain, and educating the public about why trees hold the soil.

But after several long conversations with thought leaders from The Haitian Project, I see that would be satisfying an immediate need impulse. The Haitian Project is playing the long game. They are getting at the source of the problem by educating people so they can get out of poverty and don’t have to cook with wood or charcoal in the first place. Additionally, their education provides them with the skills and knowledge to execute more sustainable—and profitable—agricultural activities.

It’s rather obvious when you look at it that way, but you still need the fortitude to look at those barren hillsides and unflinchingly commit to a solution that starts at the heart of the problem – education – and may take decades to right itself.

Deforestation, like civil unrest, is a downstream problem. Education is the UPSTREAM solution. —Patrick Moynihan

Let’s take one more look at how a lack of education is almost always at the heart of things.

Pick the problem that most tugs at your heartstrings and see if you can spot a supply chain analogy that points to the fact that if we educate children, we can solve problems before they snowball:

Poverty: In impoverished countries, “a woman’s income-generating potential goes up 20% with every grade level she achieves.”, therefore transporting any future children to new levels of opportunity. 3

Health: Each year, 2 million children die from diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia, most of which are preventable if people were educated about cause and effect, and the science behind simple handwashing with soap. 4

Pollution: When it comes to problems as sweeping as our depleting ozone layer (climate change), or as close to home as dumping garbage in the local river, it is “environmental literacy” (education) that will inspire the environmentally responsible behavior we need from every individual on the planet. 5

Wildlife conservation: Countless global disasters point to the fact that we are inextricably connected to the fate of landscapes and creatures around us: Desertification, landslides, water scarcity, wildfires, etc. When we educate children about the conservation of wildlife habitats, we empower them to protect their own surroundings, thereby eliminating all the “downstream” tragedies.

Child Labor: Because they were born into families without education, there are “218 million children between 5 and 17 years in employment, worldwide. Among them, 152 million are victims of child labour; almost half of them, 73 million, work in hazardous child labour.”  6

Spread of HIV Aids: Almost 30% of women with only primary school educations think that HIV AIDS can be spread by supernatural means.  7 Of note—throughout more than 30 years of operation, The Haitian Project has never had a student contract HIV or tuberculosis.

Political Oppression: The average poverty rate among the citizens of the world’s 8 current dictatorships is an astounding 57%. (the low being Turkey at 21.9% and tied for the highest – at 82 % each- were Venezuela and Syria). 8  A society defends democracy and votes wisely when enough people feel the benefits of an educated society. Better-educated nations are more likely both to preserve democracy and to protect it from coups and dictators. 9

You get my point. That list could be endless. Education changes everything, at the source.

Image: Hundreds of Students line up to form the letters LCS

Source: The Haitian Project

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
—Frederick Douglass

Education Also Changes the Impulses We Follow

I’ll wrap up with the notion that perhaps we could find better solutions if we looked at problem-solving through the lens of the individual: the “ordinary person” in all of us.

Imagine yourself with three small children, no drinking water, and no idea where their next meal will come from. We would all be following our survival impulses. We would do whatever we need to do to get us all to the next morning and most of us would find some way to do that.

The problem is that “surviving scarcity” builds the muscles that relate to immediate planning only. There isn’t room for long term thinking, and a society that is largely functioning day to day is not going to be worried about problems like deforestation, healthcare, pollution, HIV AIDS, and government corruption.

Unfortunately, education usually gets lumped in at the same level with all those priorities, or worse yet, it is the first thing people abandon in order to alleviate more urgent, visible suffering. We could call this “the curse of the urgent, at the expense of the future.”

But the Haitian Project is flipping that equation. What happens with the Louverture Cleary School model, is that with education as a first priority; the students can see they have a future. They can make decisions with the impulses of someone who has a plan.

For instance, when a young woman can say “I have a plan,” then no one needs to tell her she shouldn’t get pregnant at age 15.  She says to herself every day, “I have a future and I can see it, and I am never going to let something like an unplanned pregnancy ruin it.

That may be the secret sauce! Once we educate children, then they know how the world works from a “big picture” perspective, rather than an immediate survival perspective. They then have the ability to see a brighter future and most will do what’s needed to protect it for themselves.

In 30 years, the Louverture Cleary School has only had 2 teenage pregnancies. This, in a nation where 32% of women who give birth are under the age of 20. 10

Thank you to Deacon Patrick Moynihan, President of The Haitian Project, and Colby Bowker, Vice President, for spending so much time educating me. (Education works!)

Everywhere on this planet there are amazing thought leaders, ready to teach the world a thing or two! Many are ordinary people with extraordinary passion and compassion, like Deacon Patrick Moynihan, a former commodities trader turned Catholic missionary. If you’d like to learn more about how laser-like vision works, take a look at a wonderful article about Deacon Moynihan’s leadership in the Boston Globe.

His $75 million plan would build nine schools over the next 10 years, creating a network that serves 3,600 students selected through competitive admission. The schools would be free, and their $13 million annual budget would include funds for about 1,200 university scholarships. – Boston Globe

If you’d like to learn more about The Haitian Project, check out their website! You can also follow along with what they’re up to by following them on Twitter.

Thanks for diving deep with us today here at Ever Widening Circles.

If you’d like to chat with me about the conversations I’m having with innovators all over the world, contact me. I’m eager to keep improving our efforts to change the negative dialogue about our times and we’ll need the help of other thought leaders to do that!

Meanwhile, stay curious, open and optimistic. There is a lot to be excited about.

~ Dr. Lynda

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Notes:

  1. “The LCS Network.” The Haitian Project, Inc., www.haitianproject.org/louverture-cleary-schools-network. Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  2. “Education Ends Poverty by Austin Wideman.” Vimeo, The Haitian Project , 31 Jan. 2018, vimeo.com/253659876. Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  3. “Facts & Statistics About World Poverty & Education.” Children International, Children International, www.children.org/global-poverty/global-poverty-facts/facts-about-world-poverty-and-education. Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  4. “Facts & Statistics About World Poverty & Health.” Children International, Children International, www.children.org/global-poverty/global-poverty-facts/facts-about-world-poverty-and-health. Accessed 1 Mar. 2019.
  5. Teksoz, Gaye Tuncer. “Managing Air Pollution: How Does Education Help?” Intech Open, IntechOpen, 26 Sept. 2011, www.intechopen.com/books/the-impact-of-air-pollution-on-health-economy-environment-and-agricultural-sources/managing-air-pollution-how-does-education-help-. Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  6. “ILO.” World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2013: Case Study: Karoshi: Death from Overwork, www.ilo.org/global/topics/child-labour/lang–en/index.htm. Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  7. “Education Plays a Crucial Role in Fight against HIV and AIDS.” World Education Blog, 29 Nov. 2013, gemreportunesco.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/education-plays-a-crucial-role-in-fight-against-hiv-and-aids/. Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  8. Shaw, Natalie. “Eight Current Dictators as of 2018.” The Borgen Project, 20 Mar. 2018, borgenproject.org/eight-current-dictators/. Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  9. Glaeser, Edward L., et al. Harvard, Springer Science+Business Media, 31 May 2007, scholar.harvard.edu/files/glaeser/files/democracy_final_jeg_1.pdf. Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  10. Clesca, Monique. “Child Mothers: Between Fragility and Bitterness.” UNFPA Haiti | Faits Et Chiffres Clés Sur La Situation Des Femmes En Haïti, Novembre 2017, United Nations Population Fund, 26 July 2017, haiti.unfpa.org/fr/node/26104. Accessed 3 Mar. 2019.

Dr. Lynda is a dentist, artist, global traveler, and philanthropist who looks for potential and shares it with the world.