by Maryse Panette-Kedar
In a deeply Christian country like Haiti, the presence of Israeli flags in the Village of Zoranje has not gone unnoticed. The flags that adorn the Ecole Nouvelle Zoranje are a testament to the financial commitment of so many individuals and Jewish communal organizations. But perhaps more importantly, they indicate the Jewish community’s willingness to give their time, support, solidarity and their no-nonsense approach to problem-solving in the wake of a national catastrophe.
Founded in 2005, PRODEV works to increase access to quality schools in underserved communities, believing that education is the only solution for Haiti. With the displacement of hundreds of thousands following the January 2010 earthquake, our organization began a new initiative to bring education and structure to the children living in the temporary camps scattered throughout Port-au-Prince. Seeking partners for the endeavor, the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC) had a unique approach. They recognized our efforts and asked how they could support our work, recognizing the importance of allowing our Haitian-led organization to identify the needs of the displaced and formulate strategies to address them. They respected our familiarity with our nation and its people, even in the wake of such a catastrophic event, and worked actively to build our organizational capacity to accomplish our goals as effectively as possible.
JDC proved to be a crucial partner in the construction of a network of tent schools, called Kay Timoun, or “The Children’s House.” With their support, the network grew to fourteen schools, serving hundreds of children well into the summer of 2010. As we began to address some of the long-term needs exacerbated by the quake, JDC worked with us to build permanent schools to continue serving our young students. Today, with their support and the help of many others, our students continue to build their own skills and sense of ownership of their country, with the goal that they will one day constitute a new generation of leaders.
Our students regularly participate in collaborative projects with visiting JDC Entwine volunteer groups, including a recent agricultural initiative to provide recent graduates with sustainable employment. This also marks the fourth year that PRODEV has hosted JDC Jewish Service Corps fellows. These young professionals make a yearlong commitment to live in Port-au-Prince and work alongside our Haitian team to further our organizational mission. They serve as an enormous resource for our organization by teaching English, working in our community center in Zoranje, contributing to fundraising efforts, and working with partners and visitors to increase our international presence.
As our communities here continue to move forward, we are deeply grateful for the strong relationship we have built with the JDC and with Jewish communities around the world. Through your actions you have shown that the Jewish concept of tzedakah extends well beyond the giving of charity. If anything, it is the pursuit of justice. Haiti is grateful, and we thank you.
Maryse Panette-Kedar is Founder and President, Progress and Development Through the Youth of Haiti (PRODEV).