Many Hands Lighten the Load

Nedgine Paul Deroly and her team at Anseye Pou Ayiti are revolutionizing the Haitian education system by training a cadre of local “teacher-leaders” who are fostering a passion for learning within their students and re-introducing Haitian traditions to the classroom.

Nedgine Paul Deroly, Co-Founder and CEO of Anseye Pou Ayiti

Gonaïves, Haiti 

Nedgine Paul Deroly, APA
Nedgine Paul Deroly is triggering a movement of education justice in Haiti with her organization APA. Photo by Anseye Pou Ayiti.

Nedgine Paul Deroly entered kindergarten in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, at the abnormally young age of three years old donning bright hair ribbons–a staple for Haitian schoolgirls. But unlike many children in Haiti whose formal education ends after an average of only five years, Nedgine has spent her life immersed in education. Now, she is laser-focused on promoting local solutions in Haiti to overhaul a damaged system.  

Growing up, Nedgine was a star student and when her family moved to the United States, her teachers and family nurtured her passion for learning and history. Her knack for history, especially pertaining to that of her home country, led her to a bachelor’s degree in the subject at Yale. 

Nedgine was always taught by her parents and teachers that Haiti’s educational system was once the backbone of society. In fact, education was enshrined in the earliest Haitian constitutions after the Caribbean nation’s revolutionary founding in 1804 when it became the world’s first Black republic. 

However, Nedgine learned that less than 30% of students in Haiti reach the 6th grade, less than 1% reach university, and only 20% of teachers are formally trained. Nedgine believes that brutal colonial rule has decimated Haiti’s educational system.

According to Nedgine, Haiti’s once-rich curriculum has been infiltrated by control and oversight tactics informed by past colonial systems—methods of instruction that are reliant on rote memorization, corporal punishment, and the demonization of Haitian Creole.  

As Nedgine’s passion for education grew into a professional vocation, she became determined to change these staggering statistics for Haitian youth. There is a Haitian Creole proverb that embodies her strategy for change: “Men anpil, chay pa lou,” or in English, “Many hands lighten the load.” This reimagined system is hinged on collective action and a new generation of educators who are restoring the country’s original, pre-colonial model of education.   

In 2014, Nedgine established Anseye Pou Ayiti (APA) to reintroduce the principles of Haiti’s pre-colonial educational system and ultimately improve educational outcomes for all Haitians. APA is recruiting and training hundreds of passionate educators known as “teacher-leaders” who are instilling hope and love for Haitian culture back into thousands of students. APA also integrates trauma-informed healing into the curriculum, so that both teachers and students have the tools to recover from both colonial rule and natural disasters and think toward the future. Lastly, APA’s curriculum promotes civic engagement and the country’s native language of Haitian Creole to empower young people to become local leaders.  

From Problems to Solutions

Nedgine argues that Haiti’s tumultuous past has conditioned many to believe that the country has more problems than solutions. Raising the visibility of solutions through quality education, as opposed to just the publicity of problems, is a fundamental part of how APA harnesses education to change mindsets about what Haitians are capable of.  

“I wasn’t a fan of compiling problems—we knew what the problems were—but of compiling the solutions and then being put in touch with other young Haitians like myself, who said, ‘Let’s do something together,’” Nedgine explained. 

But, because only one-fifth of teachers in Haiti are formally trained, the overwhelming majority of teachers are not given the proper tools to educate, much less inspire, their students. So, APA recruits and trains outstanding local educators through its highly selective two-year fellowship program. This new generation of educators known as “teacher-leaders” are the solution bearers, catalyzing and sustaining a love of education while investing in solutions in their communities.  

By recruiting fellows who have lived experience with education inequity in their own communities and promoting them as the champions of change, Nedgine and her team at APA are transforming who qualifies as a leader. These recruits are leading the charge to transform the education system by acting as civic leaders both in and out of the classroom. 

Throughout the two years of fellowship, these teacher-leaders learn from ongoing pedagogical training, leadership development courses, and individual coaching. APA facilitates continued professional development for their network of alumni ambassadors as well, making sure to prioritize sustainable, community-based solutions for their beneficiaries. Equally as important as quality education is the integration of healing for Haitian students. To address the trauma that many Haitians have experienced and internalized, APA teams up with local social workers, psychologists, and therapists to intentionally integrate healing into classrooms. 

Over the past five years, 230 teacher-leaders have been recruited for the two-year APA fellowship, teaching over 11,000 students across 90 partner schools. 

Three teacher-leaders: Pictured (left to right) are Phabiana, Ruth & Dewenty. Taken during an APA group workshop. Photo by Anseye Pou Ayiti

Classrooms led by APA’s teacher-leaders have an 85% average passing rate—more than double the national average of 41%. To deepen its community-wide approach, a parent leadership cohort and school leadership cohort were added in 2019 to APA’s programming. 

Additionally, APA has five rural partner communities where they focus more broadly on community engagement, working not only with teachers and students, but also developing fellowship programming for parents, school directors, and other civic leaders to be a part of their movement. The local response is encouraging, reflected in the exponential cumulative growth in fellowship applicants. By 2025, Anseye Pou Ayiti is positioning itself to equip 50,000 civic leaders. 

Reintroducing Haitian Creole and Civics

Student group work during 2019 summer school sessions in Gonaives. Photo by Anseye Pou Ayiti

To further transform the education system, APA is bringing Haitian traditions back into the classroom, reverting the language of instruction from French back to Haitian Creole and re-introducing civics as a cornerstone of the curriculum. Nedgine said, “There’s something really powerful about revaluing and reusing what is core to our own culture including our folk stories, legends, proverbs that build collaboration and critical thinking skills.” 

By reinstituting Haitian Creole as the language of instruction, APA is reviving pride in Haitian culture and reversing stigmatization of the language, which was previously banned in classrooms. Nedgine explained, “Haitians have a right, anywhere and everywhere, to speak their mother tongue with zero disdain or inferiority.” 

Next, APA is reintegrating civics into the core curriculum to equip future generations to be active citizens. Furthermore, Nedgine believes that education, identity, and civics are interconnected and must be taught as such.

“[Civics] is not a subject on its own. You can teach math by integrating civics. 

You can teach social studies and science by making sure that by the end of the lesson, there’s something about civic action, a civic responsibility…something that’s embedded. Then, before you know it, it’s not about civics being its own subject, but rather it becomes the holding space of everything that you’re teaching in a school,” Nedgine explained.    

APA’s comprehensive approach comprises training a new generation of local teacher-leaders, promoting trauma-informed healing, integrating Haiti’s original language of Creole, and an emphasis on civics. Collectively, these strategies are addressing and transforming deeply held cynicism about what Haiti is capable of and uniting civic leaders to instigate an education overhaul. Through a reimagined education system, Nedgine and her team at APA are “scaling deep,” shifting the dominant mindset of Haitians that their country holds more obstacles than assets.  

Students in Sarazin (Mirebalais, at one of APA partner schools) during a morning flag raising ceremony. Photo by Anseye Pou Ayiti
Students in Sarazin (Mirebalais, at one of APA partner schools) during a morning flag raising ceremony. Photo by Anseye Pou Ayiti

Many Haitians are ready to return to a collective action-centered approach and support an education system that mirrors it. Ruth Joseph, a teacher-leader from the 2017 cohort said, “I urge us all to work together for our country to change. Our collaboration is essential. It is I, you, them, all of us who must contribute to the work to reach the level it should in Haiti.”  

According to Nedgine, APA is not just an organization; it is a movement to overhaul the Haitian education system. “When you invest in people, in their capacity, and in their skills development, it’s maybe not quick, but it’s the investment that pays off,” Nedgine said.  

By Audrey Lodes