On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the nation of Haiti, changing the lives of Haitians forever. Over three million people were affected, none more so than the children.
In a country that, according to the Central Intelligence Agency and Columbia University, already had a literacy rate just over 50 percent, nearly 4,200 schools were destroyed by the earthquake. According to the Republic of Haiti, a mere 1.1 percent of the students who attend school in Haiti go on to receive a university-level education. One of those students is Phillipe Seck.
Seck is a senior at Springfield College, where he is studying Health Science. The story of how Seck came to the school is an interesting one. While taking a lot of science classes in high school, Seck came across the physician’s assistant career field.
“The first thing that attracted me was the money and how much they make,” Seck said.
Seck talked about how his family struggles at times financially and that education plays a part in that. However, his family has been steadily improving, beginning as agriculture workers with no education to now making strides into the middle class.
Upon seeing how much a physician assistant makes annually, Seck admitted that he searched for schools that are famous for successfully sending students out into every career field, and Springfield College popped up.
“I sent my application and then Springfield ended up giving me the best financial package,” Seck said.
It was an instant fit for both Seck and the school. Seck talked about how he loved the New Student Orientation for accepted students, the green grass, and how nice everyone is here.
Seck fits in well, wearing headphones around his neck and a booming smile everywhere he goes.
The senior began attending school in the United States in 2008. He was living in Brockton, Mass. at the time of the earthquake and attending Brockton High.
“Everyone was in shock,” Seck said of the earthquake. “The most impactful part was when I went back to school [Brockton High] where there are a lot of Haitians, they were all crying [and] depressed.”
Seck ‘s mother, Marie Ange Senat, lost her business in Haiti and all of her life savings. Fortunately, Senat was in Brockton visiting Phillipe at the time of the earthquake, and if it was not for her, they may both have added to the over 300,000 lives that were taken (according to the New York Times).
The center of the earthquake struck the town of Leogane, just 16 miles from the capital of Haiti, and where Seck grew up, Port-au-Prince. Seck, an only child, was raised solely by his mother in a suburb of Port-au-Prince, the commune of Petion-Ville. That is where he spent the majority of the first 17 years of his life, attending a school named Saint Therese De L’enfant Jesus.
“Education was getting really expensive and my mom just wanted to get me to a safer environment and get me into the American [education] system so I could see how it works and get a little bit of high school experience,” Seck said.
A third of Haitian children never even attend elementary school, where a huge problem is the lack of qualified teachers and school supplies. However, that is not due to a lack of desire.
“There is a lot of respect for education with just a few facilities,” said Deborah Alm, Springfield College director of International Affairs and good friend with a professor who regularly visits and teaches in Haiti. “The people recognize the need for education and they want their kids to be well educated, but they are challenged by a lack of resources.”
This is true for Seck and his family. Seck described his private education in Haiti as no bigger than a regular house. Many school days were interrupted due to violence in the country.
“You would be in school one moment and the next moment class would be cancelled and your parents would have to come pick you up,” Seck said.
Seck was able to overcome the educational challenges of Haiti through a tremendous work ethic and the great example set for him by his mother and aunt, Anathalie Deurant. Seck described Deurant as the smartest person he has ever known.
“When she was in school she had to skip grades because she was just way too smart,” Seck said.
His mother, while staying in the U.S. after the earthquake, enrolled at Massasoit Community College and took some business and English classes.
“My mother is one who likes to work,” Seck said.
Seck has carried these hardworking qualities with him through school and now here in America. A friend and co-worker of Seck’s, Ryan Dearing, described Seck as the epitome of a hard worker, always looking for a task to complete. Seck plans to return to Haiti at some point to help his mother out, who has now re-started her business.
“She did a great job raising me,” Seck said. “She showed me some really key values like how family is everything, always be polite and respect your elders. It is in the culture.”
Culture is another thing that has helped Seck overcome the challenges he has faced in his life. Upon graduation in the spring he says he wants to see everything.
“I have big plans in a sense that I want to go discover the world,” Seck said. “I want to try new things, exotic foods, [and] be a good handy man.”
Seck has already seen life in Haiti and the United States, something not many people can say. He also wants to continue meeting new people and eventually go visit Asia.
Seck has gotten a head start on this in his brief four years at Springfield College. He has been a part of multiple extracurricular clubs dating back to his time at Brockton High.
However, he goes the extra mile to try and meet new people and get different cultures of people to get to know one another.
“He’s very kind and on several occasions has asked if there were ways for the international students and Multi-cultural Affairs to connect,” Alm said. “I think he enjoys having the community of people from different countries around, and he’s curious about other places as well.”
Seck has already gotten to know people and cultures from all around the world. In high school, he attended school with students from Asia, Cape Verde, Haiti, Belgium and Germany. He can also speak three languages quite fluently (French, Haitian Creole and English) and enjoys reading Japanese comics.
While Seck may be graduating college soon, his journey is just beginning. He has overcome the challenges of the struggling Haitian education system. He has also adapted to life in a new country, including having to live out of a living room while staying with his uncle in Brockton.
All the while, Seck has continually worked very hard in and out of the classroom. Alm recalls always seeing him working in the Multicultural office as well as attending international student functions, and describes Seck as optimistic, saying his personality reflects that of the people of Haiti: warm and generous.
Attending college in a country that sometimes views education as a birthright may have seemed daunting, but Seck has excelled. Before settling in the United Sates, he described his visits to the country as a child as some of the most exciting times.
For a young man who has already overcome so much, the most exciting part of his journey is still yet to come