NEWTON, MA | March 12, 2008
First Lady Laura Bush was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti to see in action an initiative that is providing young people with basic education, life skills, and vocational training throughout the island nation. Bush visited with 25 students and teachers involved in the program known locally as IDEJEN, run by Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), a U.S.-based nonprofit development organization. IDEJEN is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
EDC’s Guerda Previlon welcomed the First Lady who visited two classrooms where she saw first-hand what educators are doing throughout the impoverished island nation to reduce an illiteracy rate estimated at 50 percent. The program addresses the educational and employment needs of illiterate young people ages 15-24, partnering with Haitian non-governmental agencies and others to provide these young people with new opportunities for economic and social participation. The project operates 44 youth centers across the country, each providing students with an education in basic reading, writing, and mathematics. Students also receive lessons in health, nutrition, conflict-resolution, and other life-skills.
“Educating its young people is one of the best things a country can do to ensure its continued development,” said Bush.
In her 35 minute visit, Bush met with graduates of the programs who learn a marketable trade, receiving training in such areas as the decorative arts, ceramics/pottery, small appliance repair, and sewing. She was particularly impressed that young women are learning trades more traditionally pursued in Haiti by teenage boys, including construction and auto mechanics. Students in the IDEJEN program are also given support to pursue new options, whether it is starting a business, participating in income-generating activities developed by the center, continuing non-formal basic education, or returning to primary school.
Bush said she was glad to learn that many graduates who have landed jobs will finish their education. “A lot of them are using part of their pay from their new jobs to continue in school,” said Bush. “And I think that’s really important for students to realize they need to keep going, to study more, and really to complete school,” she said.
The IDEJEN program reaches 2,200 children, more than half of them girls, with plans to reach more than 13,000 children by 2010.
While in the Haitian capital, Mrs. Bush met with President Rene Preval and visited an HIV/AIDS clinic, before traveling on to Mexico.