By Bianca Silva
Nothing inspires Nedgine Paul Deroly more than making an impact in the lives of students, teachers and other education professionals. Her organization, Anseye Pou Ayiti (Teach For Haiti), according to Delroy, prepares students and teachers to become the next civic leaders of Haiti. The Haiti-based organization has even caught the attention of the Obama Foundation where she was selected as a fellow to build on the work she’s done thus far. Deroly speaks to The Haitian Times on the importance of education and its relevance in all aspects of Haitian culture.
What led you to create Anseye Pou Ayiti (APA) ?
In terms of founding and launching APA movement, I very much attributed it to what was planted within me and how I was raised.
I was born in Haiti and left at a young age, but my parents instilled in their three kids that no matter where you go and where you travel, you know where home is. This idea of home for me was Haiti and even when I moved to the United States.
When I moved to the the U.S., it was during a time when where there was a ton of discrimination and stereotypes about minorities and immigrants.
I’m grateful that at home, I had information that would counter the ignorance of those who just didn’t understand who Haitians were and what Haiti has done for the hemisphere and for the world. I very much think the roots of the APA movement, at least in terms of my involvement as co-founder began in my upbringing and in my love of history and in my love and curiosity for understanding our mighty nation, its early beginnings and its evolution in what has contributed to affairs as they are today. I also would add that I’ve been a lifelong educator. I’ve been a teacher and educator and am so grateful that I’ve had a chance to marry my love of history and education with the APA movement because we know that this movement is at its core understanding the greatness and the mightiness of our culture, our history and our identity as a people, and hopefully reigniting that to equip a new generation of civic leaders today.
Did you have an educational background before launching APA?
I did. My father. I’ll bring it back to my parents. He was a schoolteacher. I was one of those kids that loved school, and so, I think it was kind of a natural tendency and approach to then choosing to work in school systems right out of college.
My entire experience as a young professional to this day has been in education; from working in classrooms to working to start a school leader and principal residency program.
I had a chance to study international education policy as a graduate student for my masters degree so I could try and really figure out what has been done around the world to say: where there are things that are not working well, that doesn’t mean solutions are not possible and so I’m grateful that they helped me be exposed to other countries approaches to doing this work. At the same time, I always focused on going back home to work in education.
How did it feel being chosen by the Obama Foundation to expand on your work? Did you get a chance to meet the Obamas?
Oh my goodness, I did! It was an honor; an honor of a lifetime. When I first heard that I had been one of the 20 selected among 20,000 applications, for me, that was bigger in itself. One of the first words out of my mouth when I got a notification was: ‘Oh my goodness, I get to bring the Haitian flag onto this platform’ because I truly feel like whatever opportunity I have to be a vehicle or a vessel for lifting the Haitian flag loud and proud I’ll take it.
The other thing about the Obama Foundation Fellowship is that they’re specifically looking at civic leadership. They brought people: 20 different members of this first cohort from different sectors, different parts of the world but their focus is on: ‘What are civic leaders and what does civic leadership look like everywhere? How can we build civic agencies so that people want to get involved and want to make change happen in their corner of the world?’
What I love is that it shines a light on APA so that we can move away from what people tend to misunderstand about our work. They tend to think of us as teacher training. They kind of pigeonhole us in that way but I love that the foundation has shed a light on what we’ve always been about, which is civic leadership; transforming each community one at a time to a point where we then spread across the nation knowing that community change begins in the classroom.
Our definition very much is about how do you transform communities because what we know is what you want the community and then the greater society to look like if classrooms don’t look that way, it’s impossible for the community to look that way.
Who was your biggest role model growing up?
I have a few, it’s so hard. My parents were for sure, who together, I think represent what it looks like to never forget where you come from. My dad for sure has been a guiding light for me. The other is Emeline Michel, she’s an incredible Haitian songstress, you may know of her music. For me, who I think represents what it looks like to be an ambassador for the nation no matter where you go. She’s done it with music. I hope to be among those who’ve done it in education.
What advice do you have for those working in education and would want to provide more opportunities for students and teachers in the field itself?
In my experience and in the work of APA in Haiti, one of the biggest pieces of advice I would have is recognizing that education is so much bigger than what happens within the four walls of a classroom. We have to open our eyes to the reality that education is happening in neighborhoods, it’s happening at home, it’s happening at churches. We need to have a much broader definition of education and I would recommend two more things. I would recommend going beyond the academics. Academics are incredibly important and we’re grateful that at APA, we’ve seen academic measures go up three times higher than they have been in rural communities. Our teacher leaders are blowing it out of the water.
They’re doing incredible work academically but we put just as much emphasis on the mindset and the skill set that students need to be the powerful citizens that we need. And then the third piece would be to listen. Listen more than you talk. I worry sometimes that people who have great ideas are talking and doing more than they listen and I think that there is power and there is leadership and listening to the people who have experienced the injustices that you want to address. I just think sometimes people overlook people who have experienced oppression and injustice and we just kind of talk among the idea but actually, the visionaries and the solution bearers are the people who are in the communities and experiencing this and they have all the solutions. We just need to follow in line.