Edward J. Brennan P’06, P’09, chief executive officer and chair of DFS Group, sat on a rickety plane flying thousands of feet above the Haitian countryside next to a nun he had met by chance only minutes earlier. While Brennan discussed with her the plans he had to build a school for 150 pre-kindergarten through fifth graders in Haiti, the persistent nun had other ideas. “Ed,” she said, “think bigger.”
That nun was none other than Sister Mary Prema, Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta – a title previously held by Mother Teresa.
“Sister Mary told me: ‘If you can do more, please do it. The need is so great in Haiti,” recalled Brennan while speaking with students at HWS earlier this month. “And suddenly I was thinking – what more can I do?”
The idea for a 150 student school soon expanded into a plan for a long term sustainable educational facility in Saint-Marc designed to educate 750 students from pre-kindergarten to secondary school. And that’s how Hand in Hand for Haiti was born.
“We decided we really needed to build something from the ground up,” said Brennan of the project. His partners include Olivier Bottrie, president of The Estée Lauder Companies Travel Retail World Wide, and Martin Moodie, founder and publisher of The Moodie Report. “This is our opportunity to actually do something hands on, not just give money to a charity and let someone else do the work.”
Roughly 80 percent of the children in Saint-Marc live below the poverty line, with 50 percent of children not attending school – that’s about 40,000 children. “We have an obligation to help rebuild Haiti,” remarked Brennan. “There are a lot of children in Haiti in need of help, and you have to give back to your community – even if it’s one person at a time.”
The school will include a clinic on its extensive grounds, providing medical care to the students. Hand in Hand for Haiti has already begun forming partnerships with various charities to provide the best education and health care available. One such partnership is with Smile Train, the world’s leading cleft lip and palate charity, to provide surgery for children in need of the procedure. Students at the school will also receive two meals daily. “For many students, this is the only food they will eat all day,” explains Brennan.
With a dedication to academic excellence, Brennan and his partners have been consulting with the French Lycée in New York to create a curriculum for the school that will stress the teaching of the French, English and Creole languages. The amount of academic rigor required of the Lycée’s program calls for a highly dedicated staff and support system, and Brennan is seeking the help of HWS students to fill these roles.
Brennan spoke to members of the Education and Francophone Departments in order to garner interest in teaching with Hand in Hand for Haiti. “We look forward to partnering with HWS, to working to provide internships and jobs assistant teaching,” said Brennan, “We’re focusing on the Colleges to supply as much staff as possible.”
Teachers will be provided with housing and intensive training. Teaching positions require a two year commitment; however, the school will remain open during the summer months to continue to provide food and health care, and summer interns will be essential.
Although Brennan relayed the hardships endured by the people of Haiti, especially following the devastation of the January 2010 earthquake, he also spoke of brightness in the impoverished country. “I’ve been to Haiti six times now, and every time I leave feeling more and more hopeful,” said Brennan. “To spend time with the people there, the kids, to see the smiles on their faces – it’s amazing. There is a spark in their eyes, and hope on their faces.”
During his visit, Brennan was also presented with the HWS Career Services award, recognizing his significant effort in support of students through The Salisbury Center for Career Services and Professional Programs. Thirteen HWS students have held internships with Brennan and DFS Galleria around the world, including Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi.
“At the Colleges we talk often about a world of experience and living a life of consequence,” said President Mark D. Gearan. “Mr. Brennan is a model for our students. We greatly admire his initiative, and believe he is truly making a real difference.”
For more information on Hand in Hand for Haiti, visit the project’s website.