Cornell’s largest pre-health services career organization, PATCH, spent six weeks this semester working on an initiative to bring science education to a poverty-stricken elementary school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Students in the Cornell Pre-Professional Association Toward Careers in Health created 60 science kits with experiments for fourth- and fifth-grade students, as well as accompanying instruction booklets for the projects, that were sent to the Haitian school.
“We realized that, if we want to help, we have to do it ourselves,” said Sharjeel Chaudhry ’13, co-president of PATCH.
Chaudhry said that when he heard about the obstacles schools were facing in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, he felt that PATCH could offer assistance.
“A lot of support that has gone to Haiti has gone to Port-au-Prince. A lot of money has been raised by celebrities, but it hasn’t [reached the Haitians] who need it,” he said.
Chaudhry said that giving money to schools does not result in necessary improvements.
“Most of the time, if you give [the schools] money, they will use it on teachers, they will use it on used books,” Chaudry said. “[This] school is in the rebuilding process … With a brand new setting, it is easier to implement a brand new approach as well.”
The team decided to focus the content of the kits on teaching sustainability, as well as topics relevant to the needs and interests of Haitian students.
“Most of the projects are pertinent to the area,” Chaudhry said, and deal with scientific concepts, such as deforestation, that are relevant to Haitians.
Chaudry said the group performed extensive research to determine the focus of the kits.
“We bounced our ideas off of … doctors, school administrators there and, most importantly, off of Haitian students on campus,” Chaundry said. “There were two Haitian students … who really understood the cultural side of Haiti and implications of everything we do.”
Ensuring that the kits could be reused was another important part of the project.
“The big thing about these projects is that they are sustainable,” Chaudry said. “We tried to buy the high-quality, more expensive [item] so that it would be durable and last four or five years.”
Chaudry said it is difficult to quantify the project’s success at this point.
“Our best metric is self-reporting — asking [the students] what they got out of it,” he said. “Even if only two students in the entire class pursue science that would not have otherwise pursued science, we have been successful. $1,500 on two students is a solid investment.”
Chaudry said that PATCH plans to pursue the project again next year –– but with a different focus.
“We are looking to do the same project for schools in the United States,” he said. “We are looking to form a connection with schools in New York City with disadvantaged youth … [for example], 11th or 12th grade students who operate at a fourth- or fifth-grade level.”
Chaudry also said that the program may be adopted by natural disaster relief agency Humanity First to be used in schools in other countries recovering from natural disasters.
“Humanity First will gauge how successful they feel the project [has been],” Chaudry said.
PATCH students said they have learned a lot from working on the project.
“As Cornell students, we have been extremely privileged to have access to an abundance of resources here that have really facilitated our education, particularly in science courses,” said Chloe Michel ’13. “The Haitian students deserve an opportunity to utilize different scientific tools and run experiments just as elementary-aged students in other regions of the world have been able to access.”
For Martine Fleurius ’13, who hails from Haiti, the project served as an opportunity to help his native community.
“I felt a personal duty to be involved since the project was for the benefit of children in my home country,” Fleurius said.