It had been 28 years since UMass Boston alumnus Patrick Gaston last stepped foot on the university's harborfront campus- and it was Haiti that brought him here.
Gaston '83 is president of the Verizon Fund and in January was appointed senior advisor and executive in residence to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.
The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund is a nonprofit organization founded after Haiti’s devastating January 2010 earthquake, when President Barack Obama asked former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to lead a major fundraising effort to assist the Haitian people to “build back better."
Gaston, a native of Port-au-Prince, said he was drawn to reconnect with UMass Boston after reading “To Build Anew," an article in UMass Boston, the alumni magazine, which featured the work being done to help rebuild Haiti's educational system by professors like Alix Cantave, associate director of the Trotter Institute.
“I’m blessed to be back and to see such a remarkable university at work, under the guidance of the best possible leaders like Chancellor Motley,” Gaston said.
On April 19, members of Boston’s Haitian community, including former state representative Marie St. Fleur, joined Chancellor J. Keith Motley, leaders from the university's Trotter Institute and Africana Studies Department, and Haitian students in welcoming back Gaston with a reception and public forum, "Visions for Haiti: Perspectives from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund and UMass Boston."
Gaston, St. Fleur, and Cantave spoke at the forum, answering questions about what they see as obstacles to Haiti's rebuilding efforts, and what their own experiences in the country have taught them.
Gaston stressed that good leadership is the most vital lever to the successful reconstruction of Haiti.
"In the past three months I have been inspired and challenged in a way that has been unprecedented," he said of his work with the fund, adding that he is looking at areas like technical and vocational training, and job and business creation as means to rebuilding the country and its people. "There are 10 million people in Haiti. Eighty percent are not working."
Gaston also shares UMass Boston's mission to “bring Haiti back better” through investments in the nation’s educational infrastructure.
UMass Boston has been doing work in Haiti for more than 17 years.
Cantave spoke of the university's current work with the country, most importantly through the Consortium for Rebuilding and Improving Higher Education in Haiti. UMass Boston leads this network of major higher education institutions that are collaborating to help rebuild the higher education system in Haiti.
UMass Boston also partners with the State University of Haiti National Institute of Administration, Management, and International Studies (INAGHEI). The university houses the Haitian Studies Association, a Summer Institute in Haitian Creole, and the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network, created to advise Haitian American elected officials and improve relations between the United States and Haiti.