The City of Knowledge, a fool’s errand or audacity of hope?

To those of us who invariably feel a pang in the chest whenever the following expression is formulated: “the poorest in the Western Hemisphere,” or any other embarrassing epithets toward our nation of birth but always hoping to lend a helping hand may start dreaming of a better tomorrow by partnering with a guild of professionals from various disciplines, under the banner of GRAHN (Groupe de Réflexion et d’Action pour une Haïti Nouvelle).

Breaking the existing mold, this citizen’s rally has no use for partisan politics, however it prioritizes the infrastructure, placing institutions above personalities, prizing competence and professionalism as necessary ingredients for lasting development. GRAHN not only aspires to the germination of  pertinent intellectual queries but also the pursuit of  trailblazing efforts by promoting innovation via practical solutions to acute and chronic problems.

Since education plays a vital role for the formation of competent cadre, GRAHN has in short order established ISTEAH, a graduate school offering Master’s and Doctorate in various fields of study; The Haitian Academy of Sciences and lately SYNTHÈSE, a large digital database of scholarly publications about Haiti from the world over. GRAHN was able to achieve this since its creation in 2010 after the horrible earthquake that glaringly and sadly exposed the limits and limitations of the public sector in managing the massive destruction of the country’s infrastructure and the myriad problems after the seism.

GRAHN intends to benefit society above all. It wants to create new and efficacious methods. In so doing, it allows a new concept and tries to establish a new paradigm where the average citizen will have the tools to control his own destiny. This led to the idea of an incubation center, a smart city where knowledge will be the common currency, built, conceived according to international standards. This will be a nexus of schools, research centers, producing university graduates, technicians, professionals. Pure Sciences, Applied Technologies, Business Administration, Commerce, Health Sciences, Vocational Institutes will all be part of the offerings.

In a good example of meritocracy, any individual needing furthering his skills and competence will have the opportunity to do so by taking the appropriate classes, as is common fare in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong where commerce is the engine of economic growth, generating numerous business activities and jobs. The City of Knowledge will be patterned after Silicon Valley and the Infosys campus in India. These two models rely primarily on gray matter and its creative tendencies, risk taking, essential tools for entrepreneurship, time-tested solution against poverty with its creation of companies and its corollary, employment.

The fundamental issue that needs to be faced heads-on is access to education at all levels and above all the reduction of illiteracy, the bête noire against economic health. The emphasis on infrastructure mandates a minimum of amenities taken as a given in any developed society:

❖     Healthcare. The City will have a Community Health Center, collaboration between AMHE and GRAHN. This center will not only be centered on primary care but will also offer specialized services through Centers of Excellence in mental health, screening and treatment of sickle cell anemia, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases such as TB, HIV and a major effort against eye ailments. Medical research will also be part and parcel of the center’s activities.

❖     Availability of potable water, electricity, high speed Wi-Fi.

❖     A program of modern urbanization. Waste/sewage treatment. An innovative approach would allow use of organic waste for composting and the methane generated as a source of fuel for cooking. Ecology will be given utmost priority.

The City of Knowledge could be this oasis. The experience could have a ripple effect and serve as a model for other localities.

Reynald Altema, MD

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