Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 02/2/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
The Haitian Class of 2013 graduated from the University of Winnipeg Friday.
When an earthquake killed close to 300,000 people in Haiti three years ago, the U of W rallied to help. It brought five students whose educations had been literally shaken to a halt to Winnipeg to complete their studies. One is still studying and four graduated Friday in an emotional convocation ceremony held especially for them.
"Education is the greatest gift you can give to a country," said Jean Widny Pervil after receiving his bachelor of business administration degree. The 27-year-old's studies in Port-au-Prince and plans for the future ground to a halt on Jan. 12, 2010.
"The world held its breath to watch the devastation unfold in Haiti," said Lloyd Axworthy, president of the university and Canada's former foreign affairs minister. He set up the Haitian Students Task Force in response to that devastation.
"The suffering seemed unbearable," said Axworthy, who'd visited Haiti many times before the quake.
For, Pervil, it nearly was.
"You wake up in the morning asking 'Why am I still alive?' when all your friends passed away,' " he said in an interview after the ceremony.
He recalled attending classes in Port-au-Prince on the day of the quake. Pervil left his faculty building and was in a classroom on the second floor of another building when the earthquake struck. It withstood the quake but when Pervil went back to his faculty building, it had collapsed, killing his dean, many professors and students.
On top of his shock and grief, Pervil said he had lost hope for the future. His education came to a halt. His university was gone. His country, which was already struggling to get back up, was knocked down once again.
Within months of the quake, things started looking up for Pervil when he was presented with an opportunity.
Studying in Winnipeg.
He'd never heard of the place but jumped at a chance to compete with many other university students for one of five coveted scholarships to go "overseas" and continue studying at the University of Winnipeg, he said. There was an exam, and their grade point average, course of study and plans for the future were taken into consideration, said Pervil, who made the cut. He hopes to further his education, then return to Haiti and join a university faculty.
"All our human resources are gone," he said. "We're good assets," Pervil said with a nod to the other three grads, Samy Archille, Helena Lafleur and Jaquet Duval. The fifth student, Vanessa Laurent, is expected to graduate in the coming months.
They had their cost of living, tuition, as well as post-traumatic stress counselling provided by the university, said Pervil.
The "holistic approach" the university took to helping them is what Haiti needs to rebuild, he said. "I want to work with my community and get back on track," said Pervil.
In Winnipeg, the whole community pitched in and supported the Haitian visitors, said Axworthy. Students held fundraisers, faculty and staff took the Haitians under their wing and so did expat Haitians in Winnipeg, he said.
In return, the students from Haiti have been "great teachers," said Neil Besner, U of W vice-president of research, recruitment and international.
"Your achievements are an inspiration to others," he said in addressing the grads.
"I've been here 25 years and attended a lot of convocations," Besner said after the tearful but joyous ceremony. "This is one of the most moving ones."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2013 B1
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
More than 300 drivers caught speeding in school zones
Man dies after vehicle rolls into water-filled ditch
Jets sign first-round draft pick
Wasylycia-Leis unveils four key pledges, but not all details
Sanders promises to 'turn over all the rocks at city hall,' engage citizens
Havixbeck would phase out malathion for biodegradable pesticide
Alleged pool peeper deemed mentally fit
Deadly drunk driver wants sentence reduced
Two teens arrested after truck stolen
Steeves takes aim at Wasylycia-Leis
Sex assault on teen earns handyman 3 1/2 year sentence
Rockin' CEO to speak/play at news cafe
Public to get look at six options for Lake Manitoba outlet
Bombers adding three board members
Police looking for two missing girls
Bowman pledges to finish rapid transit if elected
Toronto-area cyclist killed near Brandon
Weather forecast holds a mixed bag for back-to-school students
New fines coming for speeding past emergency vehicles
Ottawa's fiscal whims won't help new mayor
CUCM CEO announces retirement
Labour faces new challenges
City confidential: How Winnipeg's election campaign is shaping up
Roommate hunt led to decades of volunteer service
Book 'em? These days, students more likely to use online resources
Elementary schools get reduced-speed zones
Mighty tree of paranormality