Authors of New AAAS Report Seeking to Build Global Partnerships for Haitian S&T

The lead authors of the new AAAS report Science for Haiti presented their recommendations to representatives of government, universities, and NGOs, urging them to support Haitian-led efforts to build the nation’s science capacity.

In a presentation at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C., the authors outlined the report’s seven strategic goals and more than 40 specific recommendations developed in a set of workshops with Haitian science and education leaders and their global colleagues. What’s needed, they said, is a long-term effort to strengthen science and science education, and a commitment by international science organizations, donor and aid groups, and others to establish partnerships that will help Haitians to meet their goals.

Alan I. Leshner, the AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of Science, called the report “splendid” and urged that its goals and recommendations be pursued and realized.

Science for Haiti report
Science for Haiti report

“Science should not only be interesting and provocative—it also should be working for the betterment of humankind at all times,” Leshner said. “And I can think of few places that need that kind of focus more than a country that has just been through a natural catastrophe.”

Haiti, one of the world’s poorest nations, was shattered by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on 12 January 2010. The quake killed 222,500 people and injured more than 300,000. Hundreds of government buildings, research facilities, and educational institutions were destroyed or badly damaged. Hundreds of thousands of people remain living in temporary camps.

In the weeks after the quake, AAAS and its Caribbean Division began reaching out to Haitian scientists, engineers, and educators to discuss future collaboration. The report is the result of workshops and discussions in Puerto Rico and Haiti involving over 100 scientists, engineers, educators, and government leaders from Haiti, Puerto Rico, Canada, Rwanda, and the United States.

The project has received support from the AAAS International Office; the University of Idaho; the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras (UPR); and the Association of American Geographers (AAG).

The 20 October presentation of Science for Haiti was part of a broad rollout of the report to leaders in Haiti and the United States, including scientists and educators in the Haitian diaspora. It was delivered to Haitian leaders in business, science, and education—and to a top adviser to President Michel Martelly—during meetings 19-20 September in Port-au-Prince. The meetings included one of the first gatherings of the newly formed Haitian Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology (HAAST).

The scientists and educators who developed Science for Haiti have described it as a roadmap for Haiti’s future strength and prosperity. Among the key recommendations, it calls for Haitian policies to build science capacity as an “integral element of social and economic development”; hiring and training of more teachers and improved science education materials and textbooks; and expanded engagement between Haitian and international scientists through research programs and collaborative partnerships in key disciplines.

Report co-author Gary Machlis detailed Science for Haiti to representatives of federal agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations.
Report co-author Gary Machlis detailed Science for Haiti to representatives of federal agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations.

HAAST President Fritz Deshommes, vice rector of research at L’Université d’État d’Haïti, said the report could play a critical role in guiding the nation’s earthquake recovery and its long-term human and economic development.

“In advocating the integration of science in the process of the reconstruction of Haiti, while assuring that Haitians lead their national science policy, Science for Haiti resolutely opts for long-lasting development of Haiti,” Deshommes said. “It offers the possibility of a vision for Haiti that is more rational, authentic and reassuring, one that is not limited to humanitarian aid nor condemned to perpetual dependence.”

Co-author Jorge Colón, AAAS Caribbean Division President
Co-author Jorge Colón, AAAS Caribbean Division President

The authors of Science for Haiti include AAAS Fellow Gary Machlis, professor of conservation at the University of Idaho; AAAS Caribbean Division President Jorge Colón, professor of chemistry at UPR; and Jean McKendry, senior researcher with the AAG. Machlis and McKendry traveled to Haiti last month to present the report.

At the Washington presentation, Machlis underscored the importance of Haitian leadership in the effort to build science capacity.

“We began our project and end our report under one principle: that Haitians must lead and the international community must provide support,” he said. “So when we present ideas, these are ideas led by our Haitian colleagues, and our position was to provide support to their leadership.”

Co-author Jean McKendry
Co-author Jean McKendry

Colón said the AAAS Caribbean Division views the workshops leading up to the report as the first phase of a partnership that will last at least 10 years. “We’re committed to the Haiti project for the long run,” he said. “We will be engaged with the Haitian scientists and the Haitian science community to help them bring up science literacy and science education.”

Among those attending the meeting at AAAS were representatives of the U.S. State Department; the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); the National Academies; and non-governmental organizations such as the Haiti Ocean Project; Ciencia Puerto Rico; the American Society for Microbiology; and the National Institute of Building Sciences.

“We, with several other organizations that are interested in buildings sciences, engineering, and related areas, have been working to develop science capacity within Haiti,” said Ryan M. Colker, an adviser to the Institute and director of its consultative council. “We certainly support the effort that AAAS and others have undertaken to really look at sciences broadly and are happy to provide input from the building sciences perspective.”

The AAAS authors welcomed the support offered at the presentation. “All of us in this room have an opportunity to go through this roadmap and figure out which of these goals or actions or objectives our institution could help support or advance,” Machlis said. “That’s the value of the roadmap—we all can find parts of it that will be useful. It’s a shared responsibility, but it’s also a collective opportunity.”


See the full report, Science for Haiti: A Report on Advancing Haitian Science and Science Education Capacity

Read related coverage:
A story on the 2010 workshops in Puerto Rico and Haiti that laid a foundation for Science for Haiti

A story on the report’s release in Haiti published in AAAS News & Notes (28 October 2011 issue of Science).