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#214: Teachers ready to take new ideas back to Haiti (fwd)


Published Sunday, August 8, 1999, in the Miami Herald 
Teachers ready to take new ideas back to Haiti
 Ten graduate from tech program


 Like many original ideas, the decision to launch a technical training
school in Haiti to produce skilled workers for the country's sagging
economy began at a dinner table. The table just happened to be at the
U.S. Ambassador's residence in Port-au-Prince and the dinner guests
included a mix of prominent Haitians and Americans. Three years later,
their informal chatter has grown into reality.  On Friday, nine teachers
and the executive director of Haiti Tec, a 300,000-square-foot learning
center to be built on the outskirts of the Haitian capital, received
diplomas after completing a three-month training program at the
 Miami Lakes Technical Education Center. ``It was really an exchange of
experience and methodology,'' said Michelle Guillaume, executive
director of Haiti Tec, who shadowed administrators at three
 area technical schools during her stint here. She returns to Haiti on
Tuesday with a stack of files on handling budgets, scholarships and
public relations. ``It was another approach to learning,'' she said.
 David Lawrence Jr., former publisher of The Miami Herald and now a
professor at Florida International University, was at the ceremony to
tell the school's story. He recalled how the conversation at the home of
Ambassador William Lacey Swing boiled down to one key concern: ``What
does Haiti inevitably need?'' Education was the answer that came back
from Maryse Penette, Haiti's undersecretary of state for tourism, and
others gathered at the table, Lawrence said.  Unlike development
programs that get cooked up in Washington, D.C., or elsewhere, the
technical training school was not imposed from outside -- a factor
 that could be critical to its success, Lawrence said. ``This is what is
so singularly important about this,'' Lawrence said. ``If this works
 it's because Haitians made it work.'' A joint Haitian and American
initiative, Haiti Tec founders -- which include American Airlines, St.
Thomas University, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, The Miami Herald
and six Haitian business associations -- have raised more than
 $1 million so far. The target date for opening is January 2000 and many
forces -- including the U.S. military -- are in on the project. Lawrence
said he has secured a commitment from Gen. Charles E. Wilhelm, commander
in chief of the U.S. Southern Command, for U.S. troops to build the
school as a parting gift before their expected departure from the
Caribbean nation later this year. Lawrence and others involved in the
project remain hopeful that a technical school training up to 800
students per year in ``skills that are genuinely necessary,'' --
 such as air conditioning repair, automotive repair, electrical wiring
and plumbing -- can help reverse the rate of poverty in Haiti, where
unemployment tops 70 percent.  Rhony Desrogene, 34, one of Haiti Tec's
teachers that graduated Friday, said he believes the new school will
succeed where others have failed because of the Haitian public sector's
involvement in developing the curriculum. ``One of the biggest problems
is that technical schools in Haiti are not focused on the working
world,'' Desrogene said. ``There is no connection between the schools
 and the needs of the marketplace.''