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USF graduate student plans to return to Haiti and build a school

NORTH TAMPA — For now, Jean Francois Dujour spends his days in classrooms at the University of South Florida, studying and teaching French.

In time, he hopes to have classrooms of his own back in Haiti, the homeland never far from his thoughts.

After finishing his master's degree, Dujour plans to start a school so he can give to other Haitians something he says is invaluable: a good education. Getting that, he said, can be the reason a person solves problems instead of causes them.

Haiti's "lack of education results in a lack of responsibility," said Dujour.

That's why, he said, there are so many children living in the streets back home.

Dujour, 34, already owns a plot of land there for his school. He envisions modern technology and teaching techniques that go beyond books and blackboards.

His dream for Haiti is far from the country's reality today, nearly 10 months after the earthquake that crippled the nation, the earthquake Dujour remembers well.

• • •

Dujour taught English and French at a few schools in Leogane, just west of Port-au-Prince. On Jan. 12, a few minutes to 5 in the afternoon, he had finished an English lesson for adult students. He paused to end the class with a common prayer.

Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...

While Dujour prayed, the room and everything in it started to shake.

An earthquake.

The students ran out and he followed them. Outside, he watched the building he fled collapse. This is the end of the world, he thought.

His walk home took awhile. A layer of dust from the rubble settled on top of all he saw — the cracked and crumbling buildings, the debris and the bodies. Friends and strangers stopped him in the streets.

Some told him that "they just lost their wife, children, mother, father," he said.

He thought of his dad and his brothers and sisters — 10 in all.

Each of them survived, but their homes were destroyed. They took shelter at a local nursing school. The next day, Dujour and friends found a way to get e-mail up and running. He sent notes to CNN and the U.S. Department of State.

About midnight, he said, somebody told him the earthquake might cause a tsunami. One of his brothers, a pastor, gathered people for prayer. A tsunami never came. But in the next days, help did. A charter plane dropped off medical supplies, water and food like cookies and cereal. Dujour's family still had some rice and beans and meat.

"We shared," he said.

But Dujour couldn't eat. "I lost my appetite."

He thought about his wedding to his fiancee, Manoucheka Demas, scheduled for a few months later in Georgia where she still lives. He already had plans for two years of graduate school at USF, after participating in a six-week program there in 2009 for teachers from Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The place where he lived all his life lay in ruins, but he had to keep his commitments. He left Haiti a couple of weeks after the earthquake, married Demas in April and, in late summer, moved in with her cousins, who live in Brandon.

But he knew one day he would need to go back to Haiti. "My work," he said, "was not done yet."

• • •

Mark Amen, academic director for the Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions at USF, remembers Dujour from the six-week program last summer. Students studied democracy, diversity and pedagogy.

"We had the opportunity to work with teachers from Haiti, all of whom, including Jean Francois, are remarkably dedicated to advancing secondary education in their country," said Amen, who co-wrote the grant that made the program possible. "After the earthquake, his commitment is even stronger."

In August, Dujour started school at USF, where he is working on his master's degree in French. He also teaches some classes as part of a teaching assistantship.

"He takes any hint you have about teaching seriously and incorporates it in his lessons," said Roberta Tucker, the school's French graduate program director. "He's learned how to use technology in the classroom. He's worked hard at it."

Classmate Jose Similus said he knows why Dujour is so committed.

"He is someone who wants to prove something, especially to his countrymen," said Similus, 33, who is also from Haiti. "He is a serious, motivated educator who has great dreams for Haiti."

Dujour plans to graduate in 2012 and move back to Haiti.

"Kids are suffering now because they lost parents (in the earthquake) who could afford to pay tuition," he said. Many people "fell into delusion" after the trauma of surviving and others have physical disabilities in cities that aren't equipped to accommodate them, he said.

But Haitians continue to adapt.

"They are a brave, brave population."

And a joyful one.

"Nothing can keep them from joy," Dujour said. "Not even a big earthquake."

Arleen Spenceley can be reached at (813) 909-4617 or aspenceley@sptimes.com.

USF graduate student plans to return to Haiti and build a school 09/30/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 30, 2010 4:30am]
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