By Lisa Obradovich
All eyes were on Haiti after a massive earthquake rattled Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010. The already poor infrastructure crumbled, leaving the people of Haiti reeling with severe physical and emotional loss. Meeting basic needs and finding meaningful work soon became even more challenging to a populace where more than two thirds of the workforce does not have a formal job.
An influx of NGOs and humanitarian workers flooded Haiti in the wake of the disaster to assist with both short term and long term needs. Shortly after the earthquake, the NetHope Academy launched the inaugural NetHope Academy Intern Program in collaboration with local implementing partners l'Ecole Supérieure d'Infotronique d'Haïti (ESIH). This six month training program provides the technical skills, soft skills, and practical experience that unemployed but tech-savvy youth need to find employment. Significant focus is placed on bridging the gap between the theory learned in university and the practical experience required by employers, so that these youth can build the skills needed to succeed in the workforce. Since 2010, the program has provided highly coveted, quality IT resources to public and private sector employers along with much needed hope and opportunity for young IT professionals who would like to remain at home in Haiti. To date, over 80% of program graduates have found employment upon completing the program working at over 60 different organizations in Haiti including international NGOs, UN Agencies, ISPs, banks, and government ministries.
In a unique model that involves employers, educators, and the humanitarian sector, NetHope has fully transitioned the near self-sustaining Academy program to our original implementing partners at ESIH. Embedding the program in a university has created a win-win solution for ESIH, IT students from 13 local higher education and technical training institutions, Haitian employers and NetHope. ESIH charges a modest fee for students to participate in the program, similar to other courses offered by the school, and this innovative career prep course is financed by the students in the same way that they fund their traditional education.
The progress has not come without challenges. Many of the technology companies and NGOs that hosted the NetHope Academy students as interns and later went on to offer them full time positions have gone through hiring freezes or pulled out of Haiti entirely. However, the demand for skilled labor, particularly in the IT sector remains so high that we refuse to relent on delivering these much needed skills in Haiti’s job market. Marlène Sam, Haiti Program Director, sums it up by saying, “The NetHope Academy is a change making initiative which empowers young, qualified, motivated IT Pros, as the participants proudly like to call themselves, to fill meaningful ICT-related opportunities thanks to the program’s ability to create bridges between local employers and capable students.”
I have maintained close relationships with many graduates of our inaugural class and have been amazed by their progress over the last four years. Their experiences have proven that though the program may have a higher per-person cost than other IT training ventures, the high-touch approach yields commensurate results. Jude Antenor’s passion for learning and technology has not wavered since I first met him. In the video below, he shares his belief that education is the key to open all doors.
After working as an Intern at CHF international, Jude was quickly promoted to an IT Officer and spent two years there before working on assignment at International Rescue Committee and now on a USAID-funded project at DAI. He spends his days providing technical assistance to a diverse group of users along with providing training on Microsoft Office software. It is important to him to always show the user how to solve their problem so that they can learn and troubleshoot on their own in the future. Jude loves the challenge that comes with maintaining the computers, network and other technology equipment. There is always something to learn and the challenges he has faced have made him a more proactive and creative person.
Jude’s growth has not come only from his own efforts, but from those peers and instructors he met through the NetHope Academy program. He and his colleagues have remained in close contact and are quick to share lessons learned and professional opportunities with each other. Without the reference from a classmate, Jude would not have learned of his current opportunity. He credits NetHope Academy MCT instructor, Marc Michault, for constantly reminding the class to teach others what they know. This bit of advice has stuck with Jude, and he is constantly looking for ways to develop his ability to share his knowledge with others.
In the last four years, Jude has realized that it is critical to be a lifelong learner if you want a career in technology. If you aren’t constantly growing your knowledge, technology will leave you behind. His advice to students looking to become IT professionals is simple:
“Keep on studying! Don’t be afraid to engage in self-learning on the Internet. Most importantly, when you don’t understand, ask someone who can help you. Always help each other.”
Jude’s story is just one of the many from the young Haitians who have blossomed into confident, capable IT professionals. We are so proud of him and of his classmates, who have overcome great odds to be where they are today. Jude tells us that he and NetHope Academy are a never-ending story. We can’t wait to see where this adventure leads him, and his fellow graduates, next.