We are back! … but never really left

Photo: © Maxence Bradley

We’re back … both uFondwa USA

and University of Fondwa (UNIF)

We know you did not hear much from us during the 2018-2019 academic year, but we were working hard. It was a year of stabilization, future planning and building capacity for both uFondwa USA and UNIF.

uFondwa USA, established to work in solidarity with UNIF by raising funds, forging partnerships, and providing tax-deduction and due diligence for U.S. donors, is strengthening. We have reliable financial statements, a knowledgeable board, and a consultant we provide to UNIF to serve as a liaison between uFondwa and UNIF and as an expert in international development. We take all our leads from UNIF, a Haitian institution, who has their own talented Board and their own strategic plan.

In Haiti, a UNIF Executive was created to navigate the complexity of UNIF’s structure and to bring stability to its governance. This Executive created new procedures for financial management and reporting, reformed the UNIF Board of Directors making the university more independent and encouraging Directors to be more active and accountable. UNIF also began a comprehensive “diagnostic” of the university, that included scheduled debates with students, student surveys, interviews and workshops with professors, review of rural Haiti and job markets, and a 300-household socio-economic survey of Fondwa. The goal of this complex work is to analyze UNIF and its challenges, as well as, to generate solid data on the state of their community and rural Haiti.

All this analysis will aid UNIF’s strategic plan for the future. 

The Academic Year 2018-2019

  • 158 classes were offered to 108 active students
  • 23 students were sponsored by scholarship supporters, and the remaining 85 were non-scholarship students
  • 83.4% of the students passed, with first year students finding higher education an initial challenge
  • UNIF’s “Beyond the Walls” program placed 39 students in summer internships throughout the country
  • Three students presented senior theses and graduated, with another 23 expected to do so in 2020.

Ludsonde Lafontant (center) with UNIF Board members

UNIF’s Newly Appointed Rector is Ludsonde Lafontant

Ludsonde (LuLu) was born in Port-au-Prince, but came to Fondwa at the age of 12 to live at the APF orphanage, where he grew up under the care of Sister Simone of the Sisters of St. Anthony of Fondwa. He went to primary and high school in Fondwa, and then to Cuba to earn his bachelor’s degree in Agronomy. Upon graduating with his degree, LuLu returned to Fondwa to work with UNIF and the Association of Peasants of Fondwa (APF) for three years. Everyone in the community were very pleased and proud when LuLu earned a scholarship to complete his Masters in Agronomy in Brazil, where he specialized in smallholder farming and completed his thesis entitled, “Quality of Local Seed Conservation in Different Conditions.”

After securing his Masters degree, LuLu returned to Fondwa in 2017 to work at UNIF as a professor, where he soon became the Dean of Agronomy. During the in 2018-2019 academic year, he joined the UNIF Executive Committee and was named Rector.

LuLu speaks Creole, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, and is also learning English.

Speaking about UNIF, LuLu states, “I work for UNIF because I believe it gives people in rural Haiti the ability to see that they can achieve a quality professional training to advance their lives…I  also work for UNIF because I feel like it is a chance for me to give back to the community that raised me, to the community that gave me so much as a child.”

LuLu identified the following priorities for the near future:

  • Make UNIF more sustainable and independent.
  • Facilitate excellent communication between UNIF and partners.
  • Revise the UNIF curriculum to better realize our mission of sparking development in rural areas.
  • Write a five-year strategic plan for UNIF in collaboration with partners.
  • Develop a full manual of procedures.
  • Reinforce local and international partners.
  • Ensure that UNIF works more closely with the Fondwa peasantry.

Haiti’s Recent Political Crisis

How does the political situation affect the work at UNIF?

The protests in Haiti are seeking government accountability, and, in the absence of any reliable forum for voicing their grievances, many peaceful protests have broken out across the country since September asking for the resignation of the President. There have also been violent factions that have entered, and other peaceful protests have sadly become violent.

These protests mainly block the national highways between major cities. Because Fondwa is located on a road between two major cities (Port-au-Prince and Jacmel), it has been affected by the protests.

The largest problem is for students who live in Leogane and Jacmel (approx. 40% of student population), who would be unable to consistently, and safely, come to school. The same for some of our part-time professors.

This is another reason why it is urgent we create safe and sustainable housing in Fondwa for our students and professors, so that UNIF can continue to function even in the wake of political chaos in the cities.

It is also a major challenge because businesses in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel are often closed, including banks, internet providers, etc., so internet can be unreliable at best, and maintenance slow.
However, UNIF’s full-time staff is still on hand, and hard at work:

  • Harvesting the yields on our farm (sweet potatoes, black beans, peppers). Part of this is for the Sweet Potato research project led by Ricot Scutt and Ludsonde Lafontant, in collaboration with UEPG.
  • Helping senior students with their theses.
  • Planning and preparing for the upcoming year, with classes beginning December 3.
  • Finishing the Diagnostic, including most especially the 300 Household Survey. We have collected the data and entered it into a database. Now we are cleaning the data to prepare for analysis.

Your Donation Makes a Difference

Your donation to UNIF through uFondwa USA provides education that will dramatically improve the quality of life and capacity of rural communities across Haiti.