When UF alumni Bertrhude Albert and Priscilla Zelaya were undergraduate roommates at the University of Florida in 2009, they never imagined their careers would involve making a global impact together.
But the duo, recently awarded the 2022 UNESCO-Hamdan Prize for Teacher Development, have more than fulfilled their own dreams. Through the nonprofit they created together, the two have helped a generation of teachers in Haiti transform their teaching methods into effective student-centered strategies that cultivate critical thinking, collaborative and creativity in the classroom.
“UF prepared me for the work I do today, and it broadened my way of thinking and opened my eyes to research and finding solutions to improve the world,” Albert said. “I truly believe that education is the key to unlocking the bright future that Haiti has in store.”
Albert and Zelaya met at Chi Alpha Campus Ministries before they became roommates and quickly realized they had a lot in common. They were both first generation students, and they shared a passion for Haiti and its people. Albert, who immigrated from Haiti with his family when he was eight, studied English. And Zelaya, who had previously traveled to Haiti and was a Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship recipient, studied elementary education and teaching. They both earned a doctorate in agricultural education and communication with a specialization in extension education.
After Haiti was devastated by an earthquake in 2010, Albert and Zelaya organized a trip to the country with 19 other students to distribute food, clothing and shoes in the city of Cap-Haitien. Inspired to do more, the pair gathered feedback, conducted research, and decided to put their UF training to good use in the area they care about most: education. It was then that they co-founded the nonprofit P4H Global, formerly Projects for Haiti, which is now Haiti’s largest teacher training program.
Since the organization’s inception, P4H’s 40 full-time employees in Haiti have worked with 8,000 educators in outdoor classrooms, working under shady trees or in simple schools with dirt floors and sometimes wading through rivers or walking long distances to class. Among other goals, the three-year program encourages teachers to avoid corporal punishment and instead focuses on research-based teaching methods that prepare students for long-term success.
Recent social unrest and insecurity in Haiti has resulted in the closure of the majority of schools in Haiti, which is why P4H Global has focused on teacher mental health.
During such a troubled time, Zelaya said, it brought some hope to be one of only three international winners to receive the USESCO-Hamdan Prize, which is awarded every two years to support the improvement of the quality of teaching and learning.
“Receiving this prestigious international recognition has been a huge source of validation for us,” Zelaya said. “It was so timely during such a stressful time. It reminds us that positive things can still happen even in turmoil.
November 14, 2022