Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | January 15, 2013

We’re back! ;) And we’re opening 2 new libraries in Haiti!

In August, 2011, the Parliament Foundation of Quebec announced its decision to award Universal Learning Centre a second grant of books in French.  This second grant is slated for sites in Ouanaminthe and Ferrier, Haiti. The grant resulted in a gift of 18,000 books in French. ULC-Ouanaminthe will hold approximately 15,000 of those books and ULC-Ferrier will hold the remaining 5,000.

Ouanaminthe is a northern border town with over 250,000 residents.  With the help of the Mayor Rony Pierre and a handful of wonderful local business leaders, we located a fantastic site near the town center, on a major thoroughfare.  The leased facility is nearly 2,500 sq ft with a nice sized yard in the back (perfect for a playground!).  Ouanaminthe has received recent international attention as the government of Canada committed $4.2 million to renovate and improve the police headquarters, the largest stronghold along the northern border.
Shelving and furniture is being made by local carpenters for both ULC-Ouanaminthe and ULC-Ferrier.

Shelving and furniture is being made by local carpenters for both ULC-Ouanaminthe and ULC-Ferrier.

Ferrier is just a 30-minute drive from Ouanaminthe but is significantly smaller and very different. The dusty little agricultural town has an estimated 20,000 residents. The proximity of Ferrier to Ouanaminthe will allow patrons to travel periodically to ULC-Ouanaminthe to access the larger collection.  There is just one road into Ferrier, and it is unpaved.  We were pleased to find a site near the main street, with great foot traffic, offering easy access to the community.
At both sites, the landlords made renovations to suit our needs, and our locally hired carpenters have built shelving and other furniture using local products.  The site in Ouanaminthe is pre-wired for electricity, and so ULC-Ouanaminthe will have electricity to a certain degree, but will require a generator for those times when the utility is unavailable, which is a fairly regular occurrence.  The town of Ferrier offers no electricity so ULC-Ferrier will require a generator and wiring.  Evergreen Electrical Contracting of Mansfield, Texas will provide electrical engineering and project management at both sites after we secure funding for the electrical projects.
Ferrier, Haiti

Ferrier, Haiti

While in Haiti this summer, the team interviewed candidates for employment at the new sites.  We were impressed with the level of enthusiasm from the candidates, and in fact, from each of the community members with whom we spoke.  From the pool of candidates at each site, we selected two individuals to manage each library.  One month prior to opening, the new staff will begin setting up the libraries to receive the books, and will begin public awareness campaigns to establish relationships within the communities and begin to attract visitors to the new sites.
The new staff will be trained during the upcoming trip prior to hosting grand openings at the new sites.  Training will include such basic information as how to navigate and maintain the Dewey Decimal System, as ULC sites are the first libraries the community, and therefore our staff, have experienced.  However, volunteers traveling with ULC offer expertise in areas such as management, education (k-12 and higher), academic research, event planning, marketing and finance, and will share their expertise with the new staff at new staff training to ensure a well-rounded training program.  Staff from ULC-Pilate as well as the ULC-Haiti Logistics Manager and ULC-Haiti Regional Manager will attend the training to supplement their knowledge.
Rubens Jean-Baptiste, the new Logistics Manager, with Founder Jacques Jean

Rubens Jean-Baptiste, the new Logistics Manager, with Founder Jacques Jean

In addition to training the staff, among trip goals are to install the 18,000 books and to conduct needs studies to ascertain from the community what their perceived areas of need are.  The trip is planned for February 2013.  Expected guests at the grand openings include:
  • Haitian Minister of the Diaspora, Daniel Supplice
  •  Mayors from both Ferrier and Ouanaminthe
  • Internationally acclaimed musician and candidate for the Haitian Senate Jacques Sauveur Jean
  • Delegate of the North East Department and representative of President Martell
  • Superintendent of Ouanaminthe
  • Leadership from international NGOs based in Ouanaminthe
  • School principals, clergy and local business leaders
Minister of the Diaspora, Daniel Supplice

Minister of the Diaspora, Daniel Supplice

If you are interested in traveling with us, please email  We would be thrilled for you to travel with us and can always use the help!
Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | October 31, 2012

Reminder & News

Just a reminder as we’ve had several people subscribe to the blog this week….  I’m sorry to tell you newbies that we no longer use WordPress on a regular basis.  Nothing against WordPress — I really love the tool!  But our website was redesigned in the last year and it has a blog feature which is easier for us to manage and maintain than having a separate account on WordPress.  So please check us out at and while you’re there, please be sure to like us on Facebook, subscribe to our newsletter and to our YouTube channel!  There are many ways to keep up with us and we hope you’ll do that so we can share exciting news like this:

18,000 books are en route to Haiti even as I type!!  Go read the blog post on the website for more details!  We’re excited and looking forward to grand openings for the two new sites.  Maybe you can join us on our trip to install the books and set up the centers!!  

Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | July 9, 2012

Blog Relocation & Other News

We’ve been so busy at ULC that we haven’t put much energy into the blog.  Hopefully we’ll do so in the next few months, but please note that we will be blogging directly from our website from now on, not on WordPress.  We have loved WordPress and highly encourage people interested in blogging to sign up for a free account, but our website has blogging capabilities and it was decided that we should concentrate our efforts on the website rather than putting time into formatting posts twice, once for the site and once for WordPress.

Enjoying story time! We started with about 20 kids and ended up with 78! Luckily, we had just enough snacks and toothbrushes/paste (related to the story) for each child!

As we transition, we will post short notices on WordPress to let our subscribers know we’ve posted.  That is one thing the website doesn’t allow for, subscribers to the blog.  We will, however, be starting a newsletter, so if you’d like to be added to the list, please go to the website and sign up.  The sign-up is located at the very bottom of each page of the website.

This cutie came to check out what we were doing at the new ULC-Ferrier site. We were inspecting it to determine what renovations need to be done.

Also, please “like” us on Facebook as we update it frequently and have posted hundreds of pictures.  We can be found at

Our recent trip to Haiti is documented on Facebook already.  We had many successes, including getting renovations started on our 2nd site (Ouanaminthe) and our 3rd site (Ferrier).  While there, we were offered a beautiful space in Cap-Haitien, so that will likely be library/learning center #4.   We have also opened up discussions about collaborating with JP HRO in Port-au-Prince, and were received by the Minister of the Diaspora, who would like to see a library/learning center in his hometown of Mirebalais.  There is SO much going on in ULC right now!  We hope you will log onto Facebook or sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss any details.

Watching from next door as we inspected the new ULC-Ouanaminthe site!

Hope you enjoyed the pictures!  See the actual sites on our Facebook page!

Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | January 13, 2012

Pointed Questions Welcome!

In response to yesterday’s post, Book for Your Buck, I received a comment that brought some light to the need for transparency.  Thank you to that reader for asking us some pointed questions.  It was enormously helpful, so much so that I’ve decided an additional blog entry was in order, solely devoted to answering those questions.  PLEASE take a few minutes to read our answers, and then do me an even bigger favor and respond back with more questions.  This is exactly the type of “conversation” we want to be having with people who are interested in ULC.  We are more grateful to you for making pointed questions than you can ever possibly know.  

1) Why does ULC not list a physical address? 

We have no official offices here in the U.S. other than my own home, and because we don’t have very much “hard” correspondence, I simply have chosen not to get a post office box yet because it’s just an added expense.  Would it help if I rented a P.O. box?  That seems so anonymous, but I guess not listing an address is even more anonymous.  If you think that it would be better, I will take your advice though.  We’ve been thinking about it for a while but hadn’t wanted to spend the money yet.  Maybe it’s the right time.

I’m also thinking that I need to work on our WordPress format a bit.  I realize it has less information on it than our website, and perhaps blog readers don’t tend to look for the website after reading a blog entry.  I’ll see about making a link to our website more prominent.

2) Can we confirm ULC’s IRS 501(c)3 status?

You may definitely verify our status with the IRS.  It is in good standing.  If you email me at, I will share our most recent IRS990 (from 2010) via Google Docs.  And, your question brought something to my attention:  our website does not have our Employee ID Number (EIN) listed, and it probably should.  I’ll check with our attorney to see the legalities of posting it.  In the meantime, if you’d like to know what it is so you can check our background, again, please email me.  I am more than happy to provide it.

3) Why is ULC not registered with GuideStar?

You’re right, we are not registered with Guidestar  Honestly, until recently, I did not know about Guidestar, and then it was only brought to my attention because someone on LinkedIn accused us of having violated our 501c3 status.  The accusation was completely unfounded, but stemmed from an organization with a similar name that was listed on Guidestar and who had indeed violated their 501c3 status.  That organization <ul>is not us</ul>.  But, if you search with the correct spelling of our name, we do turn up in their list (here’s a link:  <a href=”; target=”_blank”></a&gt;)  I did not realize that I needed to register until I did the search just now.  I will definitely go do that, and thanks so much for bringing up this question!  I was under the impression that Guidestar got their info directly from the IRS and that I didn’t need to do anything.  If I’m not mistaken, our 990s don’t show because we bring in less than a certain amount of money each year, but I could be wrong.  In 2010, we brought in less than $50,000, by the way.

In looking up Guidestar, I’m realizing that there are many resources like Guidestar, such as Charity Navigator.  I will look into which are the most reputable and see about getting us registered on all appropriate sites.  Thanks for pointing that out.  I hadn’t realized the need!  If you have suggestions in addition to Guidestar, please let me know.

4) How do you know the money is really going where we say it’s going?

This is such a tough question because I know even with a 990 form, it’s hard to trust a small, unknown organization unless you have a personal connection.  And until this year, we really have kept our network very tight to us.  We had not branched out and asked unknown people to help, so we had not had these questions come up.

What I can say is this:  We do not have crazy high overhead like some of the large nonprofits were reported to have during coverage of the disasters in Haiti and Japan.  We pay no salaries other than the three in Haiti, and the combined total of those three salaries is $450 USD per month.  We have no office space outside of Haiti, and we use few office supplies, so I usually just pay for those out of my own pocket.  The overhead in Haiti is minimal.  The space we have in Pilate costs us about $1,300 USD per year to lease, and now that we’ve received a donation of a 2-acre parcel of land, we will be able to phase out of the leased facility as we build our own structure.

Every penny of the donations we have brought in to date has gone directly to the facility in Pilate, to fund the shipping, to rent and renovate the facility, to pay the staff, and to begin construction of the guesthouse that will be used to house volunteers and interns.  In the next 12 months, the figures will change as we begin construction of a permanent structure in Pilate, lease and renovate facilities in Ouanaminthe (which means hiring more staff), and establish some programs like a bookmobile and educational enrichment programs at the learning centres.  We also plan to hire a consulting librarian who will move to Haiti from the U.S. and travel between our sites to train staff and help establish strong infrastructure in the centres.  We also need to hire a development professional because we will be going from under $50,000 per year to a budget of $500,000 per year and will need professional help to raise that amount of money.  And, last but not hopefully not least, we will be targeting a grant to fund the executive director’s salary and a librarian, both of which will be well under the industry standard.

Again, thank you to the reader who pointed out areas we needed to address.  We are facing some significant growth this year, so your critique, questions, comments and opinions are very helpful!  Please keep it coming! 

(Our blog was originally started on WordPress, and we will continue to post to both WordPress and our website for the time being, although the plan is to eventually move the blog entirely to our website, 

Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | January 12, 2012

Book for Your Buck

It’s been two years since the earthquake that wreaked havoc on what was already the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.  Billions of dollars have been pledged (although reports indicate that less than half a billion has actually been distributed) to the nation of Haiti.  But still, an estimated half million people homeless or living in tents, facing the daily risk of cholera, hunger, assault, sexual trafficking, and many more evils than you and I can fathom.  Kathy McCullough, who spent time in Haiti after the earthquake, does a wonderful job of painting a picture in her blog today, The Haiti Earthquake’s 2 Year Anniversary.


As for me, today on this 2nd anniversary, I’m stuck on one of the questions from my post yesterday, “Your Turn!”   The question was whether you prefer investing in “band aids” or “solutions.”  I understand the desire to see something immediate.  I have that instinct myself.  I see something awful, I want to do something quickly and immediately to change it, even if that means something that is temporary.  Like providing a meal to someone without.  A solution to a belly that is hungry now, but in the long run, what does it do to alleviate the root cause?

That’s one reason working for ULC is an exercise against my nature, because ULC does not focus on “band aids” but rather on long-term solutions to the problems facing Haiti.  Sometimes I struggle with this because, while it feels great to deliver 25,000 books to establish a centre, it also frustrates me that the centre doesn’t just immediately start humming with hordes of visitors and dozens of activities for the community.

What I remind myself of everyday is that it takes time, money, and above all commitment from people who are not always naturally inclined to invest in long-term solutions that show less “bang” at the onset, but of course, people who always want to get “bang for the buck.”  ULC will never be successful at offering activities for local children, workshops for local professionals, or resources for local teachers and healthcare workers if we spend our time, money and effort on “band aids.”  A band aid cannot stop a hemorrhaging wound.  What ULC does is to offer educational resources that will have a ripple effect in ways that may not be immediately obvious, but will have an impact for generations to follow.

Students at ULC-Pilate

After the 15 questions from yesterday, I ask you one simple question today.  Do you have a dollar?  That’s what it costs us to ship a book to Ouanaminthe.  The books we were awarded from the Parliament Foundation of Quebec (all in French, which is why we can’t generally accept books from American sources) will cost us $25,000.  That may sound exorbitant, but it’s actually competitive.  The first shipment, to Pilate, we split the costs.  Now, the Parliament Foundation has begun to receive so many requests for books from across the world that they have changed their policy and no longer fund shipping.  So, to get the books they’ve committed to Ouanaminthe by July, we need to raise $25,000 now.

I’m not the best at asking for help, actually I’m horrible at it.  And I’m even less comfortable asking for money.  But I ask you this:  do you have a dollar?  That’s all I ask.  If the answer is yes, please click here to be directed to our website where you can make a donation online.

If not, do you have a garage or attic full of unwanted items?  Or a closet full of clothes you don’t wear?  If so, please contact me about hosting a small fundraiser for us.  It’s as easy as a one time, weekend yard sale or a trip to the local consignment shop.  For more ideas on how to support ULC, please check out our posts from several months ago, Guerrilla Fundraising! and Guerrilla Fundraising, Part 2 .

Your gift will touch the lives of many, and will have an impact that will outlast you and me.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | January 11, 2012

Your Turn!

As you’ll remember, yesterday’s post, ULC’s Essential Questions for 2012 was our response to 14 questions I found on Nonprofit Nate’s post, 29 Questions for better philanthropic conversations.  We have had a fantastic response to the post, with a nice spike in our subscriptions to prove it.  Thank you for reading!

Today will be a continuation, but now we turn the tables.  Now it’s your turn.  Below are questions I copied from Nate’s post.  I know most of you don’t tend to comment on our posts, but I’m asking you for a big favor.  Please help us understand your motivation for supporting causes, whether ours or others, so that we can improve what we offer our supporters and ensure that we live up to their hopes and expectations.

Don’t feel obligated to answer ALL the questions (although I’d love to read your answers!).  If you’d rather, feel free to pick and choose.  Not all of them may be applicable to you.  But do please share your thoughts with us.  It means a great deal to us.

  1. What’s the largest impact you’ve had on the world?
  2. The world needs band aids AND solutions to social problems. Which do you prefer to invest in and why?
  3. How do you plan on teaching your children about philanthropy?
  4. Are you hoping they (your kids) have the same community values or different ones?
  5. What’s been your best giving experience?
  6. What’s been your worst?
  7. What person has had the most influence on you and your life?
  8. How do you and your spouse/family make your philanthropic decisions?
  9. Do you prefer to give a little to several organizations or more to a few?
  10. What are your top 3 philanthropic interests and why?
  11. How long do you usually stick with an organization or issue?
  12. If you could volunteer full time – what would you do?
  13. How do you define success?
  14. What lead to you being successful?
  15. How can we give others those same opportunities?

If you’re not comfortable posting your responses, of course you may always email me at, although I think your responses will be helpful to other nonprofits who might happen on this blog, so please consider posting your comments below.  Thank you so much for your help!

Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | January 10, 2012

ULC’s Essential Questions for 2012

The first blog entry of the New Year, I’m afraid to say, is coming to you already 10 days into the new year!  Sorry for the delay.  We all at ULC hope you had a wonderful holiday season and that your new year is off to a fantastic start.

To start the year off, I thought I’d answer a list of questions listed from a blog I read this morning, 29 Questions for better philanthropic conversations by Nonprofit Nate. (Thanks for breaking my writer’s block, Nate!)  Of the 29 Questions, 14 were aimed at organizations while the other 15 were directed at individuals, so let me answer the questions from the perspective of our organization.

1.  What motivates your employees and staff?

Before answering, let me first say that we do not have paid staff here in the U.S., although we are currently working on grant opportunities to fund a consulting librarian and to fund salaries for the executive director, a communications specialist and a development officer.  The only staff we have are the three who work at our library in Pilate, Haiti.  What motivates those of us doing unpaid work for ULC is a passion to make a difference in this world, to help those less fortunate, and to be part of something at the grassroots level that has the potential to have an enormous impact.  While I don’t know that I feel entirely comfortable answering for them, I believe what motivates our staff in Pilate is a desire to improve not only their personal situations by having a decent income, but to improve their professional knowledge base in a very unique organization which allows them to develop a wide variety of new skills.

2.  What does the organization look like in 5 years?  10 years?

This past fall, our board of directors developed a new strategic plan.  (If you’d like to read our plan, please email The board determined:

I.     To establish four fully functioning community-based libraries in Haiti

II.     To assure organizational sustainability

III.     To advocate for public policy that supports our mission

Now, that is not in a five year period, but rather a three year period.  So, in the next three years, we will open three more libraries and bring the facility in Pilate to a position where it is more equipped to fulfill the needs of the community.  One way we will be doing that is to build a new facility to replace the small leased space we have now.  Another way will be to establish a Book Mobile program to help get books out to remote areas surrounding Pilate for people who cannot make it in to town easily.  Each of the four facilities will offer enrichment programs to the communities the learning centres are to serve, programs that will be purely based on the community’s specific needs.  For example, in Pilate, we determined through a survey of school administrators and teachers that there is high need in the area of math and science methods for teachers in the area.  Based on that need, we have put together a committee of curriculum developers and educators who are designing a curriculum plan for workshops to help teachers develop their skills in teaching math and science.  The goal is to create a “Train the Trainer” program so that local teachers can lead the workshops for their community rather than having “outsiders” leading the workshops.  In these next three years, in addition to establishing public libraries, we set those libraries on the path to becoming true learning centres for their communities.

In regard to the second and third goals, we will assure our sustainability by continually strengthening our infrastructure with appropriate policies and practices, by developing our board and other supporters, and by investing in our site-based staff’s development and training; and we will advocate for public policy through partnerships with like-minded organizations and through strong public relations that allow us to clearly articulate our message.

Looking past the three-year plan, we picture ULC opening learning centres in each of Haiti’s ten departments (states), having moved from our more fledgling “library” model to a “learning centre” model where the focus is on providing all types of learning for all types of learners.  We will have begun the shift from print materials to a virtual collection, as libraries across the world are doing.  We will have developed a clear, reproducible model for our organization and our learning centres. We imagine ULC as a nationally prominent NGO in Haiti by the end of the next ten years, and if all goes according to plan, by that point, we will be looking to other developing nations who might benefit from our model.

3.  What are your costs per client?

We see our “clients” as the communities we serve.  When developing our strategy for building libraries in Haiti, we consulted an architect and his team of professionals with experience in library design.  We came up with a tiered approach.  There will be four “tiers” or options when determining size of a library, based on this formula: 

Yes, this would mean that ULC has some major fundraising to do in the next year.  The facility in Pilate will be Tier 4, meaning that we will need to raise more than $300,000 for the project.  The centre in Ouanaminthe will be a Tier 2, although at least initially, we do not plan to build but rather to use space that we are hoping to be granted by the local government for our first ten years.  However, we will need approximately $85,000 for 2012 to ship the 25,000 books from Canada, to hire and train staff, and to renovate a facility.

4.  What sort of impact are you getting for that?

It’s easy to refer back to the size of the communities we serve (approximately 50,000 in Pilate and 120,000 in Ouanaminthe).  That’s the simple answer.  But in all honesty, the impact is far greater than that as we have the potential to affect generations to come and not simply the actual population.  I know it’s sort of a cliche, but this is a clear example of the trickle-down effect in that with even just one person who benefits from one of our centres will in turn pass that on to others.  Also, as time passes and we hone our services, we will be expanding our reach naturally with more targeted programs.

Immediate/short term impact can be seen more easily.  When setting up the initial library in Pilate, Founder, Jacques Jean and volunteer, Saskia Van Vactor, had a conversation with a student who was working on an art project in the library.  The child had been assigned the letter “z” in the picture alphabet the kids were illustrating and was stumped.  When a zebra was suggested, it came out that the student had never seen a zebra.  The simple act of pulling a book off the shelf and showing the kids a zebra remedied that problem and opened the doors of their minds to exotic animals in other countries.  Imagine the impact that tiny little gesture had on them.

Another examples of such direct, immediate impact the books in Pilate can have on the 640 card-carrying patrons include:

  • Enhancements for teachers’ lesson plans
  • Research for students working on homework assignments
  • Assistance for health professionals, parents and the community at large in regard to health concerns like cholera

5.  Summarize your strategic plan for me.

Rather than increase the length of this already wordy blog, I’ll simply ask that you refer back to question #2.

6.  Who’s doing similar-type work?

The small handful of libraries in Haiti are certainly serving a purpose, and many of them are private collections used for specific groups such as schools and churches.  Throughout the country, there are small libraries with extremely limited collections that sever specific groups.  To our knowledge there are no libraries that would live up to the commonly held image of a library.  In Port-au-Prince, there were more libraries than in the rest of the country, but the earthquake left many, if not most, of them in shambles.

The Haitian Ministry of Culture has a “Centre de Lecture et d’Association Culturelle” (or CLAC, translated as “Reading Centre and Cultural Association”) which has opened libraries in the past and intends to continue doing so.  To our knowledge of CLAC, in the past 10 years, they have implemented 10 libraries but we have not been able to get specific information about their locations or services they are offering. We expect to meet with government officials to explore and understand the scope of their work, but  as of this moment, we have seen a significant lack of library presence across Haiti. 

In Pilate, we have partnerships with nine local schools and distributed nearly 5,000 books for circulation in their classrooms and for use by their teaching staff.  This provides students and teachers immediate access to books they would otherwise not have available to them, and saves them trips to the main library that are often inconvenient due to their work/school schedule.

While ULC would certainly be happy to work with the CLAC and other ministerial agencies, ULC is a nongovernmental organization and very purposefully so.  We do not intend to be involved in politics as an organization, and are careful not to relinquish our independence by forging alliances with government organizations who would naturally need to control aspects of projects which we ourselves would prefer to control.

7.  How are you working with, or at least learning from them?

continue developing a relationship with the Ministries, especially the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Literacy.  We have plenty to learn from them in regards to what they’ve accomplished and what their goals are, and we hope to share with them our plans and to gain their support for our efforts.  We believe ULC and these Ministries complement each other nicely and hope that in the future we will have a strong, mutually beneficial relationship.

In regard to the schools we have partnered with in Pilate, we have conducted a survey of their needs and the state of their facilities to determine how best to serve them, and we continue to value the relationship we have with the administrators at those schools as well as with the superintendent of the region. 

Another way we are constantly learning include exploring partnerships with other nonprofit organizations, like the partnership we have built with Harvard Medical School Basic Science Partnership.  We are always networking with organizations, small and large, to determine how we might help one another.  We also have formed a Library Advisory Committee to help steer us in the right direction as we plan and then implement our plans in Haiti.

8.  What’s the best way for me to introduce my network to you?

Please email the Founder, Jacques Jean, at, or the Executive Director, Dana Jean, at  And, please be sure to link to us on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, and YouTube, by going to our newly redesigned website,   We would be happy to set up a one-on-one introduction or to speak to a group of most any size, such as a church, school or business.

Also, please be sure to share our website and social media links to your friends and colleagues.  It is hugely helpful to us in expanding our reach.

9.  What connections/introductions can I make for you?

Honestly, we are hoping to develop relationships with people we have seen who have passion for Haiti.  Namely, on our “short list” (in no particular order) are Sean Penn, actor and founder of J/P HRO, Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta of CNN; Paul Farmer, author and founder of Partners in Health; and Bill Clinton, founder of the Clinton Foundation and co-founder of the Clinton Bush Fund for Haiti which have both shown great successes in Haiti.  The passion and commitment this group has demonstrated in regard to Haiti is considerable and they have an energy that we believe rivals our own.  Developing relationships with such people who have an international spotlight would boost our visibility and thus increase our ability to fundraise.

Of course not many people have connections to the people on our “short list.”  What connections can you make for us if you don’t have our “pie in the sky” connections?  Introduce us to people you think have passion for education, an interest in Haiti and the desire to make a difference.  Introduce us to people you know who have resources to offer; of course financial resources are at the top of our list, but also talents and skills in areas such as construction, electrical engineering, international business, finance, and so on.  Introduce us to people you believe have the ability to influence others to bring them to our cause.  But more importantly, just talk us up to anyone who will listen.  It helps us build exposure and widen our audience, and we thank you for helping that way.

In addition to your personal network, please consider introducing our mission and organization to your local government representatives and school district representatives.  We would like to establish “sister” relationships between our learning centres in Haiti and libraries and schools based in the U.S. and Canada.  There are many other ways your representatives can be involved as well.  Thank you for talking us up to anyone you know or choose to approach.

10.  I’m making an unrestricted gift.  Where/how will you use it and why?

At this exact moment, if you make an unrestricted gift, we will use it for the transfer fee to transfer the title of the land donated to us in Pilate.  The unexpected fees could be a few thousand dollars which we had not planned for when budgeting.  When you make your gift, if we’ve already funded that need, we will use your gift in one of three ways:  1) to contribute to the guesthouse project in Pilate; 2) to establish permanent electricity and Internet connection in Pilate; 3) to help ship the 25,000 books from Canada to Ouanaminthe.    

11.  What sort of professional training does your staff have?

As I said, we don’t have paid staff here in the U.S. yet.  Our staff in Pilate was trained and continues for the time being to be trained by founder, Jacques Jean, and volunteers, Saskia Van Vactor, Michelle LeMenager, and Chris Barnicle.  However, we are currently working on a training video that will be used to fill in gaps of knowledge in areas of library science, management, and education.  The team, while experienced and qualified for our current needs, has no real knowledge of libraries in developing countries and therefore has limited ability to envision our end goal, which limits their ability in areas such as community outreach and enrichment programming.  Therefore, the training video will begin to provide them with that vision and to help them know how to position themselves to continue building our dream with us.

12.  What kind of turnover are you seeing and why?

We have not had turnover with our staff in Pilate and do not expect to anytime soon.  We are committed to this team and their development, and we believe they are committed to our mission.  We look forward to a long relationship with each of them.

13.  How does the organization define success – and are you reaching it?

Success is of course enigmatic as most people realize after reaching a goal they’ve set only to realize there’s then another goal ahead of them.  When looking back at our humble beginnings, we believe we are already successful.  When looking at our goals, we have not yet come close to success.  We define our success on a continuum which is ever evolving.  Are we satisfied with where we are today?  Yes.  Does that mean we have accomplished our goals?  No.  Do we wish were further along?  Yes.  Do we think we have it in us to get “there”?  No, we don’t think so.  We know so.  Perhaps we should define success as always believing we are doing what we can with what we have while doing what we can do do more.

14.  Can philanthropy solve this problem?  If so, how much money is needed?  If not, what else needs to happen?

To a large degree, yes, philanthropy can solve the problem of our wanting to do more.  In 2012, we will need to raise in the range of $500,000.  So of course philanthropic donations will solve that problem.  Also needed, however, is for us to continue building our network, to continue developing our board, staff, and other supporters, and to follow our Strategic Plan, which we have designed to lead us to the successes we’ve defined for ourselves.  

Thank you for the challenge, Nonprofit Nate!  Your 29 Questions for better philanthropic conversations were the perfect start to our blogging year and I hope that our answers have helped people understand us a bit better, or to at least open up the conversation as you suggested.  

Tomorrow’s blog, another steal from Nate:  the first half of the questions, directed at YOU, our supporters!

Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | November 22, 2011

Blog, Guilt & a Guesthouse

You may have noticed the lack of posts lately on the blog.  Sorry for that!  All I can say is that honestly, I have no desire to write for the blog when I’m writing grant proposals and web content all day.  I really wish I did because the blog is way more fun!  There is so much to tell you and it makes me feel guilty for not writing and keeping you all up to date on what’s going on with ULC!  I’ll do my best this holiday season to post details about all the goings on, but please forgive me for not being very consistent!I

So, just a short post today with some news about the site in Pilate, Haiti.


As you hopefully recall, we started construction on a guesthouse this year.  The 2-acre parcel of land was donated by Pilate resident Albert Jean and his brothers.  It’s a gorgeous, lush piece of land. Below, the hill leading up from the river is at the back of the property.

The guesthouse is about 60% complete, and we are fundraising to complete the construction which is more costly than we had expected.  Construction costs in Haiti are incredibly hard to estimate for many reasons, and despite diligent planning and cost reducing efforts, our project budget will probably be double what we expected.  We expect the main floor to be completed in the spring of 2012, depending on funding, and eventually we plan on building a second floor as demand requires.

ON A SIDE NOTE:  If you are interested in contributing to the efforts, please visit our website at to pay online or email me at for our mailing address. We do have IRS 501c3 designation so you will be able to use it as a tax deduction.  With the end of the year coming quickly, you may want one more chance to make a charitable contribution by December 31st, and we will be happy to help you out with that!  

Below, a picture of the construction as of last month.  The pictures were taken by Albert Jean, who happens to be ULC Founder Jacques Jean’s father, on a trip he took this fall.  He is kind beyond words and on each of his multiple trips to Haiti every year, has spent time checking progress, dealing with construction issues, and just generally being as helpful as he could possibly be.  He and his brothers had planned on building a home on this site but after the earthquake, they had a change of heart, deciding that ULC’s goal of building a new facility in Pilate to replace our leased space was more important than building themselves a vacation/retirement home.  We are so very grateful!


Below, another view of the guesthouse.  Notice the power line on the left side of the picture.  Not reliable in any sense of the word, this line provides no electricity and hasn’t in many, many years. Our guesthouse is the building on the right while the smaller structure on the left, just under the power line, was previously a government owned generator station which no longer functions.

Everyone’s really proud of this little gadget, a cement mixer and another generous gift from Albert Jean.  Other than the mixer, which hasn’t actually been used yet, there is little that the workers do requiring electricity.  No nail guns, no drills, no circular saws.  All work is done the “old-fashioned” way.


This bad boy is up next on our list of purchases.  We need a generator for many reasons, including construction, but what we are really excited about is using this for our Internet project.  Without it, we will not be able to establish an Internet connection, and really, what is a library without the Internet nowadays?!  It’s hard to accept that we have five laptops donated by Harvard University Basic Science Partnership that are sitting in the library without being used because we have no Internet, because we have no electricity, because we have no generator.


I’m not the most patient person in the world (anyone who knows me is rolling their eyes and shaking their heads about now) so it kills me knowing those laptops are not being used and that electricity and Internet should be a quick and easy project, but isn’t.  And I sit here pretty spoiled in my comfortable home, completely wired in to a bunch of technology requiring electricity (tv, laptop, iPod dock, not to mention the more necessary things like the fridge and the stove), feeling more than a little impatient, with undertones of guilt. I should probably get back to writing those grant proposals…

Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | October 31, 2011

Taken for Granted

Last week we had a power outage after a thunder storm.  For some reason, our block was out of power for about six hours.  I reacted in typical fashion by having a little meltdown.  It was a private meltdown, I didn’t inflict my irritation on anyone else, aside from an irritable phone call to my husband and some cranky texts venting to my mother.  But privately, I ranted and raved about the lack of electricity.  How would I flat iron my hair in order to head out and do what I needed to do for the day?  More importantly, it occurred to me, how was I going to make my morning coffee??   A morning without coffee?  GASP.  I paced the house.  I couldn’t log on to check my email (ok so I got it on my phone but that’s not the point), couldn’t check the blog, couldn’t do any of my ULC work, couldn’t check the status of the library book I had ordered and hoped to pick up that day.  My whole morning was a mess.  I was beside myself.  For Pete’s sake.  So I sat down to read, begrudgingly, a little restless as I looked up every few minutes to see if there were workers on the street.  Finally, I heard the power company’s truck outside and peeked out the window.  Sure enough, they were working on the lines.  It took them a good hour once they got started, but six hours into it, the power came back on and all was good as new.  Back to normal.

As I was trying to think of some new ideas for the blog, it occurred to me how different my existence is to the people in Haiti and I had horrible pangs of guilt for having been so irritated at the power outage.  (I should probably admit now that I exaggerated my irritability in the paragraph above for the sake of a more dramatic post.)  I went for six hours with no electricity and painfully felt the clock tick by for every single micro second of it (ok maybe I’m still exaggerating).  Haitians, on the other hand, if they’re connected to the national grid, may have up to ten hours a day on a good day.  Unfortunately, only about 12% of people have that access.  Some access the grid through unofficial means, meaning they tap in, but have spotty success at best.  The people in Pilate and Ouanaminthe generally do not get anywhere near 10 hours of electricity per day, and average three or four hours a day.  Haitians with means use diesel generators, but diesel like any fuel is outrageously expensive and hard to come by.

Official and unofficial access to the grid

Thinking about how stark the difference is between life here in the U.S. and life in Haiti is sombering.  Sometimes I get frustrated by not being able to get progress reports via email from our library staff , or not being able to email them attachments with material for enrichment programs.  When we sent the 25,000 books last fall and a document was lost in the process, it was irritating to me that I couldn’t simply fax another copy.  But these irritations of mine are so minor when compared to what Haitians go through in their daily lives.  Imagine, those of you who are not Haitian or did not grow up in Haiti, the darkness imposed from not having lights in your house for lack of electricity.  How do you read before bed or play a game with your children in the dark?  Imagine not having a refrigerator because you don’t have the power to run it.  Where do you keep food safe from spoiling?  Imagine not having the ability to charge your cell phone, even though you are lucky enough to have a cell phone which are more common than land lines.  How do you charge your phone regularly in order to actually use it?

The point is, you don’t.  You don’t do much more than sit together in the dark telling stories after sunset.  You don’t keep food that needs to be refrigerated, making canned evaporated milk more common than fresh milk and making leftovers unheard of.  You don’t charge your phone nightly but rather you connect briefly when the electricity is on or when someone has a generator running, and you hope you can charge long enough to make those important phone calls to far away family.  When you live without, you simply do without. If it’s not available, it’s simply not available.  So you go on with life not realizing that somewhere out there is a spoiled woman in the U.S. complaining because she can’t access her email or check Facebook for six hours.

Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | October 21, 2011

Kreyol Ayisyen

Haitian Creole has a short but rich history,  having emerged in the 1700s when the island of Hispaniola was occupied by French and Spanish colonialists.  Haitian Creole is distinct from other Creoles, like the Creole spoken in Louisiana, although they are very much related to one another.  Haitian Creole has more of a French foundation whereas other Creoles may primarily have more of an English, Spanish or other influence.  Creole languages began like “pidgin” languages which were a hodge podge of bits and pieces from the languages represented at international points of trade, and were formed out of the necessity for people of different countries to communicate when trading slaves as well as goods.  Most of those “pidgin” languages function only in the context of the specific area where trade is going on.  Haitian Creole, however, became an important means of communication between the French and the African and native slaves they dominated, and continued to grow and develop after Haitians gained independence from the French.

Currently, Haitians grow up speaking Creole, with only about 5% being fluent in French, despite French having been the only official language of the nation until 1961 when Haitian Creole was adopted as an official language of the country as well.  Generally, French is used in all formal documents, particularly government and legal documents, although the practice of providing print materials in both French and Haitian Creole is increasing.  For some time now, there has been a movement to promote literacy in Creole as it is often learned only as a spoken language while French is taught in schools.  Interestingly, children often start school having had no French whatsoever.  Doesn’t that sound like the U.S. public school system in which non-English speaking students take classes that are taught in English, a second language to those students?   Non-French speaking students entering the school system in which classes are taught in a language that is not their native tongue.

The biggest distinction between the Haitian school system and the U.S. system for teaching non-English speakers, as far as I understand, is that non-English students in the U.S. system are pulled out of regular classes, with English speaking students, for a period of time each day to be taught English as a Second Language, while simultaneously taking classes in English.  The native language is usually not permitted in the U.S. system, so teachers do not communicate with students in any other language than English.  The programs are meant to be temporary (in general, two years or less in duration) with students exiting the program at a level of proficiency high enough to navigate the rest of their education.  Haitian students are not receiving instruction in French on a temporary basis, of course, and Creole is incorporated into the day to a certain extent.  Also, Haitian students who are not fluent in French are the majority, where non-English speaking students in the U.S. are not, and can often feel very isolated.

Haitian Creole fascinates me.  Here is a language that didn’t exist until the 1700s, was a melting pot of sorts for French, local dialects, and a variety of other languages, and it is already a fully developed, semi-standardized language with intricate rules of grammar and spelling.  In about 200 years, Haitian Creole evolved into a formal language spoken by more than 10 million people worldwide.  Something about that says to me that Haitians were determined to communicate on their own terms and not use the language forced upon them by French slave owners.  That probably shouldn’t surprise me considering that Haiti was the the first post-colonial black nation to gain independence.  Haitian determination is a force to be reckoned with, I can say from the personal experience I have from being married to a very determined Haitian.

If you want details about Haitian Creole’s history, I suggest:

If you’d like to learn a little Haitian Creole, this site is pretty interesting:

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