Tuesday, January 12, 2010. This is a date ingrained with profound sadness in the lives of Haitians. It is the day a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, the most powerful the country had witnessed in 200 years, rocked the island nation, leaving in its wake more than 200,000 people dead, and an estimated 2.3 million others homeless.
On this Tuesday afternoon, Ambroise Jean-Louis, 29, was from a routine visit to a community hospital where he prayed with the sick and often gave alms. He was just home holding a plate of food when the tremor struck.
Ambroise had run out of the house when the whole land seemed to ‘dance’. Four years later, the then fourth year student of Contemporary History at the University State of Haiti compares the catastrophe that razed down almost every fibre of infrastructure in Port-au-Prince to the dark history of Rwanda sixteen years before the Haitian quake.
Coincidentally, Ambroise found himself in the very country he was fascinated about following the 1994 tragedy that was the Genocide against the Tutsi. He has been among six students from Haiti who arrived in the country in January 2011, on a joint scholarship programme at the University of Rwanda.
He wanted a second degree.
The scholarship programme, a partnership undertaking of the Governments of Rwanda and Haiti, through Haiti-Rwanda Commission, last week yielded fruits when Ambroise emerged the best graduate from the College of Arts and Social Sciences’ School of Sociology.
When the dean of the school called out Ambroise’s name, he described him as “one of the few international students with a particularly unique talent” and asked him to the tent for a special acknowledgement from Dr Mike O’Neal, the chancellor.
The Haiti-Rwanda Commission is an initiative formed in 2010 in the aftermath of the earthquake to harness lessons from the Rwandan experience in Haiti’s rebuilding process and expand the informal partnerships existing between the two countries.
The Commission, which has a coordination unit based in Kigali, also serves as a bilateral mechanism for, drawing on joint efforts to promote health and social wellbeing that were ongoing prior to the earthquake. It is responsible for the implementation of projects to further bilateral cooperation between the two countries.
Worth the choice
When Haiti was hit by earthquake, Ambroise says everything was destroyed. There were no schools, no hospitals, no hope... nothing.
But then the HRC scholarship came. He took it without hesitation.
“My trip to Rwanda was my first ever to Africa. I had other scholarship opportunities, but I ended up here and, looking back, I am convinced I made the best choice because I have learned a lot from this country,” Ambroise says.
The Haitian grew up looking up to revolutionaries for role models. Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro... name it. But “not until I got to be part of Rwanda did I realise how Africa is blessed to have a man like Paul Kagame. He is such a great patriot, so he is my role model.”
“When I was young, my father said he would do anything for his children to study. I am glad I have learned from the best source, I will tell my family of how wonderful Africa and Rwanda, specifically, is a place to learn from, because we share the same social catastrophes,” he says.
Before the earthquake hit Haiti, Ambroise never imagined himself in Africa, due to a lot of stereotype and myths he heard about the continent.
“There are a lot of bad things talked about Africa. In Haiti, when you hear of Africa and its people, you think of this jungle where there is a lot of cannibalism and all those sorts of things,” he says.
“I really enjoy Africa, I have travelled around the region, I have good friends from Uganda, and Burundi. “I came to learn from Rwanda, not to stay in Rwanda. I am glad that I have a big package to take back home.”
Among the six students on the scholarship programme, only Ambroise and three girls stood the test of culture shock. Wendy Bianca Jean-Ulysse graduated alongside Ambroise, while Nicolentsia Bateau and Stevenson Beaubrun will be graduating next year.
The two other boys in the programme, Ambroise says, had a “few challenges adapting to the country,” forcing them to go back home.
Didi Bertrand Farmer, the chair of Haiti-Rwanda commission, told The New Times that having one of their beneficiaries as one of the best graduate of University of Rwanda’s maiden graduation means a lot.
“The objective of HRC is to offer the best leadership education programme for future leaders of Haiti. Having one of our students performing so highly is a great thing for us,” Father said.
She revealed that the Government of Rwanda offered 50 more scholarship placements for Haitian students.
“Ambroise was among the first group and we have been offered 50 more scholarships. We are working with Haitian government so that they can send those students,” she added.
The full scholarship includes school fees, accommodation, food and monthly allowances of about Rwf90,000.
AMBROISE'S LESSONS FROM RWANDA
The sociology graduate, whose focus is to contribute toward rebuilding the new Haiti, points at Rwanda’s leadership model as the best suitor for his homeland’s re-development agenda.
“Above all, my main point of appreciation is the leadership model in Rwanda. Of course, you can find people in leadership roles almost everywhere you look. The Rwandan model teaches me a transformational leadership that gives me an inspiring vision of the future. This can help me motivate my fellow Haitians to achieve something positive for the future Haiti we all look forward to,” he said.
Ambroise, who has undergone a two-year intership at Rwanda Governance Board, told The New Times that the internship placement at the institution familiarised him with how local leaders apply humility and hard work to implement Rwanda’s development objectives.
“In Rwanda, they do not simply have the responsibilities of a leader, but they apply both humility and hard work to lead effectively. After having a good exploration in Rwanda, I feel now is a great time to start. I am a young leader, but I feel that I have the potential to do a lot for my country,” he said.
Ambroise said he has gained positive educational and leadership experiences in Rwanda, asserting that he has seen “a lot of constructive changes” at firsthand after the cataclysmic 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
“I have been impressed by the fact that Rwanda has found a way of rebuilding systemic human actions where both individual and collective transformations to fostering positive expectations for the country’s over-ambitious goals hold accountable,” he said.
Ambroise could not hold his gratitude to the Governments of Rwanda and Haiti, the Haiti Rwanda Commission HRC, and the University of Rwanda for enabling him achieve his education goals.