D.C. Youth Immerse Themselves in Haitian Life

Barrington M. Salmon | 8/1/2012, 5:18 p.m.

Neither Javien Davison nor Kierra Adkins has ever traveled overseas before but that all changes when they fly out of Washington, D.C. headed to Haiti.

The pair and 13 of their companions comprise a group of D.C. youngsters who will be in Jacmel near Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince for two weeks as part of the Washington Program for Global Kids. They left the District on July 30 and are set to return August 11.

"It's my first time abroad and I'm excited, scared and nervous. I want to take in the whole culture," said Kierra, a 17-year-old junior at Bell Multicultural High School in Northwest. "I want to be a journalist and I think this will help me in that career."

Kierra, a Southeast resident who was introduced to the program by her teacher Elizabeth Hill, said she is interested in youth education, and while in the Caribbean, hopes to learn about how much access people have to jobs and to learn to what extent that access is gender-based.

Eddie Mandhry, director of the D.C. program for the past two years, said the students - who will be traveling under the banner of the Global Gateways Program - will work with 15 Haitian counterparts on a film project with the Cine Institute.

"They will collaborate to create a film from the Haitian perspective of life after the earthquake, poverty, employment, reconstruction, health care, sanitation and other issues that are so important to people," he said. "The video will be used to inform and educate."

While there, they will also be immersed in Haiti's rich and vibrant culture and political history, and learn about different dimensions of the Haitian economy.

The program offers young people the opportunity to examine global issues and create change through peer education, social action, digital media, and service projects.

The Haiti trip is the culmination of the Global Gateways Summer Institute, a six-week program in which 25 District students spent four weeks at Howard University's Bunche International Affairs Center, exploring international and domestic policy issues. Students visited the U.S. State Department, the World Bank, and KPMG, where they learned about forensic auditing. And they toured other companies and agencies linked to issues they discussed in classes.

This part of the institute, Mandhry said, is designed to introduce them to a range of international careers and options.

"We're exposing them to role models in places of power and the private sector," said Mandhry, 36. The key part is making sure that they're prepared about what they're going to encounter and make them aware of what they'll see."

Global Gateways was launched in the summer of 2011 through a partnership between Global Kids and Kimberly McClure, a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State.

In 1791, Haiti became the world's first black republic and the first independent nation in the Western Hemisphere after it won independence in 1804 in a revolt of enslaved Africans against Emperor Napoleon, France and other European powers.

The country, one of the poorest in the region, suffered a devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010. More than 300,000 died, more than half a million people were left homeless and about 75 percent of Port- au-Prince was leveled. Estimates of the total cost of the devastation runs between $8 billion and $10 billion and about 635,000 men, women and children still live in tent cities as the national government under President Michel Martelly struggles to restore a semblance of normalcy more than two years after the natural disaster.