Ashoka Israel Fellow Shai Reshef recently arrived in Haiti to welcome the first Haitian youth into his University of the People—the world's first tuition-free university. Over the next three years, UoPeople aims to educate 250 Haitian students, providing Haitian youth with the skills they need to rebuild their country. The first semester begins with 16 students, men and women ranging in age from 20 to 29. They have access to the online courses at UoPeople, as well a local hub, called the Student Computer Center, which offers computers, satellite internet connection, furniture, electricity, back-up generators and guards—all incredibly limited resources in Haiti, supplied by UoPeople partner Haitian Connection Network.
Upon arriving in Port-au-Prince, Shai met the first 16 incoming students. Shai writes about this experience in a recent piece in The Huffington Post, and highlights one of the students in particular named Elysée. Here is an excerpt:
"As one of our incoming students Elysée notes:
'After high school, I could not go to university because it was too expensive. Every day, I would stand in the street talking with my friends about what we would do if we had money. We hoped that 2010 would be better, but then the earthquake destroyed everything, houses, businesses and many lives. Since that day, I have been sleeping in the street, under a tent, and nobody cares about my education anymore. University of the People is better than food and a tent. And education is even better than a visa or a green card.'
... Haiti is a well of untapped potential, but access to food, shelter and medical care has understandably taken precedence over access to education. UoPeople is helping to change that picture."
To us here at Ashoka, Shai's expansion into Haiti is an exciting next step in his journey to make education more accessible around the world. You can follow his progress and learn more about his work in the following places: