Growing up with a strong sense of her Haitian identity and deep belief in the value of education, Nedgine Paul seized as many opportunities as she could to learn languages, develop intercultural competencies, and understand different systems of education and associated socio-political, economic, and historical pressures. Studying on summer programs in Arles and Salamanca, she refined her French and Spanish language skills while solidifying for her the importance of community and context, lessons which would open doors and prove immensely useful as she launched her career in global education development. Coming full circle back to Haiti, Nedgine co-founded Anseye Pou Ayiti, a local non-governmental organization (NGO) that leverages collective action to train educational leaders in existing schools and bring about education equity throughout Haiti.
IES Abroad: Why did you decide to study abroad in Arles and then again the following summer in Salamanca?
NP: The main factor was refining my language skills. My family instilled a sense that one cannot be close minded, and that means interacting with other cultures. I appreciate that IES Abroad gave me the opportunity to do a summer program. Spanish and French were two languages that I had wanted to keep up. I was looking high and low for a program that had substantial time in-country. Through IES Abroad, I had time on my own, with our groups, in classes and cultural immersion activities, and in a homestay. The programs were an all-inclusive, integrated experience that I appreciated.
IES Abroad: What are some of the most influential memories from your time in both Arles and Salamanca?
NP: In Arles, I was excited to be living in a community that had an immigrant population. Actually, one of the courses was about the cultural migrations of France and the immigrant populations, and it was just so powerful to actually come into contact with families and individuals who had had that experience and could add the cultural lens to my linguistic learning. To be truly immersed in a language includes taking in so much of what makes the context unique and authentic, and so that was a highlight, for sure. In Salamanca, I loved the fact that we were really integrated into what it was like to be part of the university atmosphere. But more than that, IES Abroad did such a great job at integrating cultural exposure, just like in Arles. So, whether it was seeing a bullfight for the first time face-to-face, meeting with local students and families, visiting some really amazing cultural sites – that for sure was a highlight.
IES Abroad: After graduating from Yale, you worked for organizations committed to increasing access to education. Were there lessons learned from studying abroad that you were able to apply as you launched your career?
NP: Knowing languages opens doors. I can’t say that enough, and it is one of those lessons that my parents instilled in me. I am just so grateful that I had a window into that reality early on in my career. That was important because a lot of the work that I did was pulling at global education trends and being able to dig deep into materials that were not necessarily written in English all of the time – either French or Spanish. A lot of the cases I worked on were in the Americas region, so, knowing the language was such a benefit.
The other thing I would say was the power of context and community. I love that it wasn’t just sitting in a class learning a language for either IES Abroad experience but really exploring – how did Spanish evolve, and why is it a little different if you are in Salamanca as opposed to in Madrid as opposed to in Barcelona, for instance. And I loved that a lot of the courses integrated a social, cultural, and political lens on our discussions. One of the things these experiences have encouraged me to do as an educator is start first with context and communities. So often in education, we think we know the solution when actually we are so much closer to getting at real education equity if we are doing it alongside community members and hearing from people whose voices are often unheard.
IES Abroad: Already on an exciting path having worked for Achievement First, the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, and WorldTeach, why did you decide to pursue your graduate degree in International Education Policy from Harvard?
NP: One of the things that I was introduced to at Achievement First was that there was a whole group of people around the world who believed that someone’s zip code or place of birth did not have to determine their destiny as related to their capacity and academic success. That was thrilling for me because you have this incredibly difficult challenge in Haiti about how where you are born, in many cases, determines access to quality schooling and your pathway to professional careers. I sought to receive my Master’s degree because I wanted to understand what it would look like to take work of equal educational opportunity internationally, specifically back home. I enrolled in a Master’s program that was geared towards helping me understand the global trends across countries that looked very different from the U.S. and some very different from Haiti, so that I could really understand who is out there talking about not a silver bullet but the really difficult and messy job of fixing a broken school system. That is what the Master’s degree equipped me to do and think about, though the real life experience really helps you put the study into practice, which is what happened as I planned for and launched Anseye Pou Ayiti.
IES Abroad: What inspired you to focus your efforts on Haitian education and development?
NP: I am driven a lot by my faith and my belief in equity and social justice, so I don’t think it is by coincidence that my past led me to where it did including the IES Abroad experiences. It has set me up in ways that I couldn’t have charted myself. When I was quite young, I traveled back and forth to Haiti with my family and visited with peers who were just struggling to get access to quality schools because they knew education was powerful. And yet they didn’t have access to high schools in their communities, within rural communities in particular. That lit a fire in my belly from early on, during my teenage years, spurring me to study the history of education in Haiti as an undergraduate, and then the fact that I was able to be exposed to the world of global development as an adult further reinforced for me that social transformation is possible.
IES Abroad: When did you found Anseye Pou Ayiti and how did it materialize?
NP: I love that our co-founder is brought up in a lot of conversations, because he was there from day one. His name is Ivanley Noisette. He is Haitian American, has a human rights background by training, and he is currently in law school. He has been an integral part of our development. In terms of how we started, I use the phrase “slow and steady” because we took a very deliberate, inclusive approach to developing the organizational model several years before launching. I never would have thought that I would be a social entrepreneur. Yet I am forever grateful to be part of this movement for change, because I am surrounded and working alongside allies every day.
About five or six years ago, we came together – myself and Ivan and a few other people that we called a “brain trust” – because we wanted to sit and understand what exists in Haiti, what has existed in Haiti, and what is Haiti at its best. If we are really looking to redefine quality education via collective action and make it truly accessible at all, we asked: what has worked, what hasn’t, and where can we go with this. We took a few years to really think this through, going back and forth to Haiti, having a ton of conversations with community members, students, parents, and families. All of that culminated into a business plan, and subsequently a theory of the problem, theory of change documents, and all of the different nuts and bolts that go into making an organization tick. We were officially an organization as of late 2014. Our board was in place at that point for a few months, and then we officially launched all of our activities for Anseye Pou Ayiti’s first fellowship cohort in January 2015.
IES Abroad: What is your vision for Anseye Pou Ayiti?
NP: Anseye Pou Ayiti is a movement rooted in the belief that Haiti can be a global leader again through education equity. We believe that we can equip a powerful network of education leaders and allies who are redefining effective leadership based on collective action, who are proving that education equity is the foundation for real freedom and social justice. We know it is through collective action and education equity that we are going to show a Haiti that is for Haitians and by Haitians, and that is truly celebrating our culture, customs, and community. That is our big vision 10 to 20 years out. That is the “what.” And then there is the “how”: every year we recruit a cohort of teacher leaders locally. We are placing them in existing schools to fill gaps, or to have them continue as teachers if they are already there. We have sustained training over a two-year fellowship program that focuses actively on pedagogy and leadership. Last but not least, we are building a network of leaders who are operating in multiple sectors yet always as active advocates of education equity, whether they are psychologists or policymakers or long-term career teachers. That “how” is based on this big “what” vision that says we can redefine effective leadership here in Haiti by truly changing the game of education.
IES Abroad: What has been one of your/Anseye Pou Ayiti’s most satisfying accomplishments to date?
NP: I would say it was matriculating our first cohort and seeing them through what was an intensive summer program of training, because, to be honest, this is a big leap of faith for so many of us. Yes, there are allies in Haiti and abroad. Yes, there are partners. Yes, there are people saying, “Go! Go! Go! You can do this!” But until you have people who can sign up and say, “This is risky. This is the first cohort – but I am signing up, and I will be one of the strongest advocates Anseye Pou Ayiti has ever seen,” that inspires me to keep pushing forward, every time I see this group of 30 teacher leaders together, because they took a chance, and they are incredible trailblazers for this mission.
IES Abroad: Considering the difference in level of access to education that Anseye Pou Ayiti is striving for versus the access to international education that IES Abroad is striving for, do you feel that studying abroad is an important component of one’s education?
NP: Study abroad is a privilege. I can’t tell you how many people I meet who are very eager for a chance to study abroad only to come back stronger for their country. With that lens, it is critical and transformative, and I am excited for how study abroad can become more accessible and closer within reach, whether it’s through shorter term trips or mutual exchanges. It goes back to what my parents instilled in me – and they are correct, in my opinion – regarding the importance of being exposed to different peoples, cultures, and histories so we can become truly critical thinkers. While technology can and must play a role in modernizing education, I hope we never overlook the power of sitting face-to-face or in relationship with someone who is pushing on your frameworks or your existing mindsets, so that critical thinking and global citizenship can truly evolve. So yes to study abroad!