Originally: The students and us

I was pleased the students had shown some signs of life. I was wondering what had become of them. I know that not hearing the sound of their voices does not mean they are not expressing their views. And I had almost forgotten that their silence is often far more eloquent than their words. Besides, they must think that no one listens or even hears them. Or that those they are addressing are too disconnected to decipher and get their message. Unless they are simply too old, as one of my daughters kindly reminded me. The good old generation gap!

It is true that students seldom win wars. But in all parts of the world, at historic moments, they have often helped win decisive battles that have changed the course of history. Even in Haiti.

Nevertheless, I am quite concerned that in Haiti, students have never truly benefited from the victories they have helped to win. Admittedly, after each battle won, there are always some cases of individual rescue efforts. But in general, the students? situation has never fundamentally improved. If there are any examples that refute this claim, I would appreciate hearing about them.

Some historical milestones

Indeed, we still credit the 1929 Damiens student strike with having fired the warning shots announcing the impending end of the US occupation. But it seems that the organizers of this strike were considered, even after the occupation, as marked cards to be watched closely. Something the Vincent and Lescot governments did zealously.

In 1946, students were in the vanguard of the movement that would bring about Lescot?s downfall. But as soon as he was toppled, all kinds of maneuvering left them divided. After three days of glory, the situation quickly turned into a nightmare for those most committed to the cause. Just weeks later, some were forced to leave the country, most never to return.

I don?t know the full story of what happened in 1961 or 1962 with the Union Nationale des Étudiants Haïtiens [National Haitian Students Union] (UNEH). But it is said that treason, corruption, and repression reached unparalleled levels. I would invite the UNEH “survivors” to share their experiences with our current students, to share some lessons from the past. It seems that UNEH was an extremely active association that was quite well organized for the time.

In 1986, the National Federation of Haitian Students (FENEH) devoted all its energy to fighting for university autonomy, with mixed results. The struggle continues, but FENEH has been scuttled. In 1991, after the coup, students were among the main victims of the repression. In 2003, they were more actively involved than all the other sectors in the GNB movement. They were also its primary victims. The events of 5 December 2003 are just the tip of the iceberg.

When their elders are unable to put in place an acceptable political system, students often feel compelled to intervene in order to offset the democratic shortcomings and weaknesses of these same elders. How many battles would have been lost if students hadn?t devoted all their strength and all their youthful conviction to the cause? Even going so far as to risk their future. But once the battle is won, they return to their classrooms even worse off than before. With the impression that they were simply cannon fodder.

For a true student struggle

Students must make sure things go differently with the next government. In these times of campaign promises, very few candidates do not declare education to be a priority. But this is simply electioneering. So, what does this mean in a country where a million children between four and fifteen do not go to school? A country where more than one half the population is still illiterate? What does this mean when the education budget continues to meet only a fraction of its needs? It?s up to the candidates to provide answers and the students to assess them!

Students must exert pressure to make education a true priority. To equip schools, colleges and universities with laboratories, libraries, computers. To move the teaching of science and technology to the forefront. They must push to have the budgetary allocation for education consistent with the challenges to be addressed. Yes, more must be spent, but above all, it must be better spent. Major investments are needed.

Students should invite the sociopolitical sectors whose struggle they have always supported to fight alongside them. This time, as part of their own agenda. It is not enough for these sectors to say that by fighting with them, the students are also fighting for themselves. The proof is that once the battle is won, they are abandoned to their fate. Until the next time.

Reaching the millennium goal for education

Students should know that all the international organizations currently present in our country claim to want to help us reach, among others, the eight millennium goals set by the UN. One of these goals is education. The OAS, the UN and its agencies, the IDB, the World Bank, USAID, even the IMF, they are all there. Each takes credit for a program here or there aimed at these objectives, and we end up with a scattering of resources and no tangible results in attaining the millennium goal. At the same time, they seem to have already accepted the fact that none of the millennium development goals will be reached in Haiti. There are even those who have already begun developing arguments that would recast a major failure as a minor success.

Why wouldn?t students get ready to take the next government to task on the issue of education? Why wouldn?t they mobilize to ensure that the goal for education is reached and even surpassed, with the support of all, including foreign partners, regardless of their critical position with respect to the international community?

I have the feeling that this mobilization would force the next government to allocate sufficient budgetary resources to education. It could also arm them with better arguments to convince their various partners ? who in many cases demand nothing more than to be convinced ? that by pooling all of the resources available for education, this millennium goal will be reached, naturally with the involvement of students at all levels.

It is high time for Haitian students to win a true victory. For themselves, and for the entire country. This is not a wish; it?s a necessity.