By connecting opportunities from New York to Haiti, a village grows

What is sustainability? What is development? How do these terms intersect, and how are they applied in different global contexts? SUNY is exploring this interaction in new ways that have the potential to impact how we view development challenges in communities around the world. How do communities meet their independence goals and provide all the components—food, clean water, shelter, healthcare, education—their residents need not only to survive but to be healthy and thrive?

Collaborative partnerships guided by local communities hold the key to exploring sustainability. A new and exciting SUNY project that underscores this example is now making its way to Akayè, Haiti, thanks to a recent partnership between 10 SUNY schools and five not-for-profit organizations that together are creating a Sustainable Village & Learning Community (SVLC) in the island nation. In addition to SUNY’s and not-for-profit involvement and support, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded a critical grant to launch the project and has pledged to remain involved in the mission to help Haiti grow.

Haiti has a remarkable history, and Akayè has provided the setting for achievements throughout Haiti’s fight for independence in the 1800’s  Despite many hardships, Haiti has many community success stories. The arts—music, song, dance, and drawing—continue to flourish and reflect Haiti’s rich culture. There are also potential opportunities to within the hospitality and tourism industry to draw more people to the country’s beautiful shores.

Together, with critical local partners, SUNY is working to implement a sustainable model of education and social sustainability, inspired by a community in Lebanon. While visiting Lebanon, Nassau Community College nursing professor emeritus Dr. Carmelle Bellefleur witnessed accessible learning environments, and wondered if these communities could be a model for Haiti.

"Working in Haiti is an extension of how SUNY collaborates with other educational and cultural institutions to better fulfill its mission of education, research, development, and services," said Dr. Bellefleur. "New York State is home to the largest communities of Haitian decent in the country. Working in Haiti is in service to the diverse student body, faculty, and communities SUNY embodies. As a nurse and professor of nursing at Nassau Community College, giving back to our communities in the U.S. and in Haiti has been central to my career, and a personal and professional endeavor."

Inspired by her trip, Dr. Bellfleur, who previously lived in Haiti, generously donated 40 acres of land in Akayè, Haiti, which led to a partnership with SUNY and the idea for building a SVLC.

SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson and Board Chairman Carl McCall shake hands with Haiti officials in Akaye, Haiti

Chancellor Kristina Johnson and Board Chairman H. Carl McCall meet Haitian officials in the town of Akayè.

What is a SVLC?

SUNY and its partners created the SVLC concept, and its foundation lies in working with local community partners in Akayè to develop a model for sustainable community development. There will be elements of many sectors in the project, such as a vocational and technical training school, a health center, a hospitality and culinary arts center, and a community center. To plan all of this, expertise from SUNY-ESF’s landscape architecture program has been critical in determining a master plan for phase one of the project. Stony Brook University, Upstate Medical University, and Nassau Community College will contribute their specializations in health sciences, public health, and nursing, respectively, to keep the community healthy. SUNY New Paltz, University at Buffalo, and Buffalo State College will provide mental health services and social work assistance that focuses on human rights and trauma expertise, and will foster community vitality through the performing arts. To foster growth in the global sense, University at Albany will bring expertise in international development. Finally, Purchase College will document the experience through film as a template for future efforts driven from the success of the SVLC. The documentation process is another way for us to tell the story of our sustainable living community and the positive changes that will take place.

For SUNY, students will benefit from experiencing hands-on educational opportunities and professors will benefit from learning about global enterprise and having the ability to conduct research. Outside of SUNY, the SVLC can be a model for other less developed regions in the world or those struck by natural disasters, and other institutions of higher education. This effort will extend the global footprint on global education and human sustainability because of its international scope and innovative take on development sustainability.

Another one of the goals of the SVLC is to discover opportunities for economic growth and how to expand and thrive. Assessment led by SUNY shows there is a huge need for human-centered care within Haitian communities to achieve this goal. This care will put a focus on health and wellness – disaster mental health and elements of social work – to ensure that minds and bodies of local inhabitants are  healthy. To make any lasting effects sustainable, American staff members cannot be the only ones with a say in the construction of the SVLC. This gives us the need for community-led development.

Making sustainable living last

As the project continues, in addition to the 10 aforementioned SUNY campuses, additional SUNY schools will play roles in the development of the SVLC based on the school’s strengths.

Through this project, SUNY will help the people of Haiti learn and grow, ultimately without the assistance of external forces. Community-led decision making and partnerships are integral to sustainability, and this approach will help our SVLC empower the individuals and communities involved in the process as we all work hard, together, to ensure that the community’s vision comes to life in Akayè.

Published October 2017