Lee Cohen, a second-year graduate student in the Sustainable International Development (SID) program at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis. Each SID graduate student is required to spend his/her second year on-site for a practicum, often working directly with a local NGO. Lee is working with an NGO in Les Cayes that evaluates education, and will be collecting data on teacher salaries and other key indicators.
Previously, he was New York City Teaching Fellow, where he taught High School English and earned an MS in Education from Pace University. He also taught English in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, while writing for the Vietnam Economic Times. He studied creative writing and earned a BA in English from Eugene Lang College, part of The New School.
I had originally thought we’d be hiking. On the drive up from Cotes de Fer to Gris Gris, a town perched on top of a mountain range in the south-east [sud-est] region of Haiti, the priest/navigator/host told me he’d be able to drive me to all six schools. The impending hike, which I’d been worried about (a previous hike, due to several factors, one of them involving dehydration, had resulting in me losing my two big toe nails–another story), was a non-issue.
Gris Gris is the prettiest area of Haiti I’ve traveled to so far. There’s a nice, dry heat during the day, and cool mountain breezes at night that make you want to curl up under the covers, a sensation not often felt here but much appreciated. A few items of note:
- • The priest was amazing. All he talks about it how to improve the schools he oversees. Some of that talk results in him asking us for more money, more supplies, which is to be expected. The more interesting talk results in him bouncing ideas off us, of thinking about creative ways of dealing with the severe poverty that completely cripples this area of the country. There is really no work here. Paying 30 goudes tuition for a child to attend school (roughly 75 cents) is an extravagance many parents can’t afford, especially when they have 4 or 5 or 10 children. And it’s never “just” 30 goudes. It’s the books, and pencils, and uniform. All told the bill can run up to $10 a year, per child. If you’ve got 6 kids, $60 a year for education ain’t going to happen for a lot of families. [Incidentally, there's some great literature on how "birthing order" effects children's educations. Ie, if you're the first born child, you're much more likely to attend school and stay in school--the costs for a family haven't gotten out of hand yet. If you're the 4th or 5th child born into a family, your prospects are dim. See here for more info.]
- • I was given a chicken as a gift. I have named her Gertrude Stein, or, Gerty, for short.
- • The schools there seem to be doing significantly better, in terms of student achievement, then schools that receive more funding and are located in more populated areas. It’ll be interesting to uncover why this is. I’m confident that I’ve collected the data necessary to discover why this is.
- • A lot more people there speak some English. Overall educational levels appear to be higher. Unemployment, however, is everywhere. Sustenance farming is typical. A little commerce. Several community members have received micro-credit loans from Fonkoze–according to the priest nearly all have defaulted on their loans.
- • Skin tones are much lighter than in other areas of Haiti. I was told this was because the French particularly liked this part of Haiti, and there were many French settlers there. Can’t say I blame them for liking Gris Gris
Some photographs from Haiti and his trip to Gris Gris:
To learn more about Lee, visit his personal web blog. The Master of Arts in Sustainable International Development has an innovative professional curriculum that includes a Year-in-Residence studying with senior researchers and development practitioners, and a second-year field project, internship, or advanced study applying and evaluating methods and models of development. The Heller School of Social Policy and Management also provides various scholarships for prospective students in the SID program.