The Design of a Better Future in Haiti

Professor of Art & Design Chris Smith standing in front of a large video screen
July 12, 2022
By Danielle Filjon, '22 | Photography by Zach Thomas, '00
Motivated by the many tragic events and disasters that have shaken the nation of Haiti, Flagler College Assistant Professor of Art & Design Chris Smith has started using his knowledge of graphic design and virtual learning to better the lives of Haitian students looking for marketable skills.

“It's easy to say that we care about people,” Smith said, “but it's another thing to actually do something about it.”

Smith has been involved with an organization called Foundation Pierre Smith Mondelus (FPSM) for two semesters. FPSM is missioned with reaching out to Northern Haitians to equip them with valuable trade skills, education and resources to build up Haiti's economy in the wake of ongoing civil unrest and natural disasters.

“The idea is to enable them to stay there and work from a distance or work locally instead of leaving Haiti,” Smith said. “To create opportunities for them to build up the economy and their lives with their families.”

Through Zoom, Smith teaches Haitian students skills in graphic design that can be carried into their professional careers and give them an opportunity to better their lives and their country. Smith is not paid to teach, nor do the Haitian students pay for the course. They are provided with laptops and software at no cost to them.

“The students are in the age range of 18-30, and they are grateful to have this opportunity. You can really see that. They have such an eagerness to learn,” Smith said.

Inspired by Anthony Bourdain's show “No Reservations” and Sean Penn's relief organization Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) based in Haiti, Smith knew that Haiti was in dire need.

“I was watching Anthony Bourdain's show and they had an episode based in Haiti, and it showed the town of Port au Prince, and it was pretty striking,” Smith said. “Bourdain ran into Sean Penn who described his relief organization in Haiti. My wife and I were so impressed by that, we looked at each other and said, ‘We have to do something. We have to donate to Sean Penn's organization.'”

Smith felt the urge to contribute to the cause for help in Haiti, but it was by chance that he was connected to FPSM.

“Shortly after we had watched the show, I got an email out of the blue from FPSM to volunteer in relief efforts in Haiti,” Smith said.

A former international student of Smith's had recommended him to work with FPSM, and the organization happened to reach out at just the right time.

“It was noteworthy, and so unusual,” Smith said. “It was almost a sign for me to take part in the work they are doing there.”

Smith's courses are designed to mimic similar coursework from the Flagler College graphic design program, but the Haitian students do not earn a degree or certificate, only experience and a portfolio that they can take into their professional lives. The class meets twice weekly via Zoom for class sessions and has projects to complete as coursework.

“The course teaches the students the basic graphic design software, and the course lasts the same amount of time more or less as a semester at Flagler, except I don't grade them. I just give feedback on their work,” Smith said. “I encourage the students to gather the work they do in the course into a professional portfolio so that they can hopefully gain future employment.”

Smith said today it has become easier than ever to create remote teaching opportunities, especially since the pandemic.

“With Zoom, it is so easy to work with people at a distance that there's no reason not to do something like this. I already have all of the course materials and resources,” Smith said. “The great thing about working with these students is that they are so thrilled to be doing this and eager to learn, it makes it so worthwhile.”

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