Students reading outside a PIH-supported school in Cange, Haiti.

As the number of children enrolled in primary school around the world rises, inching slowly closer to the United Nations’ goal of education for every child by 2015, one of the poorest countries in the world remains frighteningly behind the curve on literacy. 

In Haiti, where 47 percent of people over age 15 are illiterate, Partners In Health continues to provide education as a critical tool against poverty and illness. 

A group of PIH supporters who recognize this link between education and a better livelihood  – recent college graduates – have pledged their support for Partners In Health’s education programs in Haiti. By signing the PIH Grads for Literacy, these graduates choose to provide the “luxury” of literacy to Haitians who need it most.

Grads for Literacy asks recent graduates to pledge to spread awareness to friends and family about PIH and its efforts to strengthen Haiti’s educational programs. As part of the support, many also donated part of their graduation gifts, or asked family and friends to make gifts in honor of their graduation, to Haiti education programs. 

The pledge bolsters PIH’s continued commitment to basic literacy education for thousands of Haitian children, teens, and adults – creating opportunities for better jobs and better advocacy for Haitians, by Haitians.

Providing education has always been a priority for PIH. Dr. Paul Farmer saw the power of education in Haiti firsthand, years before he co-founded the organization, while working with a group of Haitians who had lost their homes and land when a dam funded by international development agencies was used to flood the valley where they lived. 

With their livelihoods under water, most scrambled up the hillside to start over with few resources and almost no compensation for what had been lost. But those who did receive compensation for what was lost to the water had one thing in common, the villagers said: they could read.  

Being literate meant having the ability to navigate documents proving ownership, and had they all been able to read, the villagers believed they could have better advocated for themselves and demanded compensation for the property that was now underwater, they said. 

Today Haitians continue to recognize the critical link between education and empowerment. Jonas Attilus, a Haitian medical student living in Mexico City, was one of those to pledge his support for PIH literacy programs. Educating the people of his home country, he said, is the first step to eliminating Haiti’s problems with poverty and disease. 

“I have a lot of reasons to pledge for literacy in Haiti,” Jonas said. “An educated (person) knows that he needs to plan and run his own development without waiting for others. An educated person will always be part of a better world and not trying to worsen it by trying to survive. An educated person will respect the earth where he is living.”

“I pledge today with PIH because only education may save this country, mine,” he said.