Faculty of Education students walk for social justice in Haiti

Teacher candidates in York’s Faculty of Education left the classroom and went for a walk on April 4, hoping to raise funds to build a new school in Haiti. Braving the wind and rain, students from the off-campus site at the Catholic Education Centre in downtown Toronto are attempting to collect $7,000 to support the work of Solidarity Haiti, an organization that mounts educational and social justice programs in the desperately poor central-American country. 

Above: The team of York Faculty of Education students who walked to raise money to build a school in Haiti

Beset by economic and social problems, the average lifespan for Haitian men is 47 years and just 49 years for women. The country has one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world and has an unemployment rate of 70 per cent.

But the school building project can make a difference, says Maureen Mohan, a member of Solidarity Haiti. Mohan spoke to the teacher candidates at a social justice workshop following the student’s walk. The construction of schools in Haiti not only provides work for the community, it also offers a  foundation on which Haitian children can build a more promising future. 

The campaign to raise funds for the school was spearheaded by York Faculty of Education student Pamela Farrell, who has experience working on similar outreach initiatives. Over the past couple of years she has been involved with the organization Friends of Haiti as a volunteer assisting in fundraising activities to build schools in Haiti. Her inspiration came from a family friend, Fintan Kilbride, a former high school teacher at Neil McNeil secondary school, who created Students Crossing Borders, a cooperative education program that introduced students to the realities of living and working in less developed countries and to the responsibilities that privilege brings.

“As teachers, we have a responsibility to advocate for the less fortunate and to be agents for change while promoting social justice in our classrooms,” said Farrell. “Project Haiti was a great way for us to raise awareness and to become empowered to take this experience to implement social change in our classrooms next year.”

Farrell said the funds raised will have a tremendous impact on a community in Haiti because $7,000 can build a one classroom school that can accommodate many different classes in various shifts throughout the day. Schools are also used as health clinics and community centres.

Paul Axelrod, dean of the Faculty of Education at York University, attended the workshop and congratulated the students for their contribution to raising community awareness and funds for the Haitian project. “It’s a modest ‘globalization’ initiative that can have a huge impact by effecting change in the community,” said Axelrod.

Donations to Solidarity Haiti can be sent to the Dean’s Office, Faculty of Education (S855 Ross), on York’s Keele campus.