Spaghetti for Breakfast: Sarah Muffly in Haiti

By Sarah Muffly, M.A. International Educational Development (Expected February 2013) contact:

This summer, I spent five weeks in southwest Haiti, as part of an internship for the Earth Institute’s Millennium Villages Projects. I worked in the Millennium Village site of Port-à-Piment with the Education team led by our partner organizations, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

In the news, stories about Haiti often discuss the devastation of the 2010 earthquake and the cholera epidemic that followed it, and they often include the phrase “poorest country in the Western hemisphere.” While Port-à-Piment and the area surrounding it certainly experience poverty, the region was not as badly affected by the earthquake or by cholera as other parts of the country.


Upon landing in the capital, Port-au-Prince, what struck me first was the intense heat and humidity; after all, I was in the Caribbean in the summer! Port-à-Piment is about a day’s drive from Port-au-Prince, so right away I was treated to Haiti’s beautiful coastal landscape during the drive. There is an old Haitian proverb, “behind these mountains are more mountains” and one look at the landscape explains its origins.


In Port-à-Piment, I worked in a bustling office with employees of UNOPS and CRS, as well as other interns from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. I was lucky enough to live with one of my colleagues during the majority of my stay. My room and board included two meals a day; lunch was usually goat with rice, and breakfast was often bread and fruit. About once a week, however, we had the typical Haitian breakfast dish of sautéed spaghetti with Spam, onions, and ketchup for extra flavor. Yum.

Exploring Haitian cuisine was also a part of one of my professional projects in Port-à-Piment: analyzing the school meals program organized by CRS. In this program, which had only begun a few weeks before I arrived, schools are given a certain amount of money per student. With these funds, school directors and parents’ committees purchase local foodstuffs (often potatoes, yams, carrots, and other root vegetables) to use in the meal served to children. I conducted interviews with the school directors, parents, teachers, and children, to gauge the early performance of the program. While some of those interviewed described problems relating to paperwork and the practical challenges of running the program, all interviewees said that they were happy that the program had started and that they wanted it to continue. At the time of the interviews, school directors had noticed a marked increase in attendance, and teachers said that their students were able to focus much better after having eaten. For many children, the school meal is their first of the day, so the program has nutritional advantages as well as educational ones. It remains to be seen how the program will continue benefit students and communities, but I am confident that there are positive results in the future.



The other major project I worked on involved piloting a literacy assessment method. The unique aspect of the process was the way in which test results were collected and organized using Android mobile technology. My colleagues and I went to several schools in the area and assessed a total of 50 children in the 3rd year of primary school. The tests, which involved reading aloud text in Haitian Creole, were administered to children individually in the presence of a parent or family member and the school director. Students were marked at one of 5 levels: no reading, letter level, word level, paragraph level, and story level. Students’ scores, along with basic information such as name, age, and sex, were recorded on survey software developed by the Earth Institute for Android phones. Once I was in a Wi-Fi zone, I was able to send the scores to a colleague in New York, who created a spreadsheet of all the data. What was especially useful about this process was that the software allowed the test results to be organized and analyzed virtually instantly. For me, it was also exciting because my concentration within International Educational Development is Language, Literacy, and Technology, so this project was an ideal example of the intersection of these three elements.



UNICEF-TC Study Published

By Gita Steiner-Khamsi


TC participants (names listed from left to right): Andrea Ahlert, Erin Weeks-Earp, Amritpal Sandhu, Raisa Belyavina, Saima Gowani, Katherine Batchelder, Gita Steiner-Khamsi, Latika Young, Ann Wiley, Ghazala Mehmood, Kate Munro, Dan Cooper.

The six-country study, Teachers: A Regional Study on Recruitment, Development and Salaries of Teachers in the CEECIS Region, is published. The study developed and applied a new methodological tool for measuring teacher shortage in the Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States (CEECIS) region. It measured overt teacher shortage (unfilled/ vacant teaching posts) as well as covert teacher shortage (teachers who have burdensome teaching loads or teach additional subjects for which they were not trained, teachers who are retired, teachers who are part-time university students, etc.) at the school level. The study was carried out as part of a two-semester course, International Education Policy Studies, and was co-taught by Professor Gita Steiner-Khamsi and Philippe Testot-Ferry (UNICEF CEECIS, Senior Regional Advisor). The Teaching Assistants for the class were Erin Weeks-Earp (doctoral student in CIE) and Erin Tanner (UNICEF CEECIS).

As with previous courses that had a mixed composition of class and a mixed instructional design (including distance learning and a field component), the UNICEF-sponsored course enrolled UNICEF staff, government officials, and university lecturers from the six countries. Such courses have been offered almost annually since 2002. The first few courses were co-sponsored by the Open Society Institute. Later on other co-sponsors also expressed interest, and different types of collaborative agreements have been made with the World Bank, Inter- American Development Bank, I*Earn, and most recently with USAID. These kinds of courses are very popular with students in the IED/CIE programs, and they are admitted based on individual interviews. For example, in the UNICEF CEECIS co-sponsored course only one in five applicants could be admitted.

The six mixed research teams (half in New York, half in the CEECIS region) collected and analyzed data on recruitment into teaching, teacher shortage, salaries as well as work condition of teachers. Their national studies were published in English and in the national languages of the following countries of the CEECIS region: Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Uzbekistan. The comparative regional study is available online: education_1465.html.

UNICEF CEECIS sponsored the research teams and additionally covered the cost of travel and accommodation to present the study at the congress of the World Council of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES) in Istanbul. The collaboration was mutually beneficial: UNICEF staff and their institutional partners in the participating countries had the opportunity to study teacher-related issues and policies in their own country and across their region in depth. In turn, the TC students were able to bridge theory and practice in policy studies and apply research methods to a topic (teacher quality) that is currently experiencing tremendous attention by think tanks, governments, and non-governmental organizations.