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Difference Maker

People making a difference: Garry Delice

He rose up from poverty to earn a college degree. Now this educator roams Haiti's back roads, urging students to live their own dreams.

By Amy BrackenCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 6, 2009

Garry Delice (standing) searches out promising students in Haiti’s high schools as part of a program that provides tuition, housing, and expenses for exceptional pupils.

Amy Bracken

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Miragoane, Haiti

The water is too murky to reveal its depth, and the SUV seems poised to drown. But the driver, Garry Delice, plows confidently ahead. It's just another river to cross on just another journey through the Haitian countryside. When he reaches the other side, his crisp white-collared shirt is still clean and dry.

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Mr. Delice continues his drive along a rocky and rutted mountain ledge. Locals on mule and foot stop to stare at a motorized vehicle on their back-country road. But they smile at Delice's disarming wave and cheerful Creole greetings – "Good afternoon, Madame! How are you, Monsieur?" followed at times by, "Is there a high school in your village?"

Delice is on a treasure hunt, driving to Haiti's remotest corners in search of brilliant young minds. He is national director of a scholarship program designed to help some of the country's smartest and most impoverished students join the less than 1 percent of Haitians who have earned a college diploma.

The Haitian Education and Leadership Program (HELP) covers tuition, housing, and living expenses for exceptional students in pursuit of that degree. To find these kids, every spring HELP delegates distribute application forms at more than 100 schools across Haiti.

Delice himself attended a public high school in the southern Haitian town of Jacmel, where he lived in a classic gingerbread-style house with his mother, grandfather, and younger sister. His grandfather supported the family selling coffee and cotton to exporters. His mother found occasional work as a tailor.

"My mother always said that she would have had a better life if she had been able to complete her education," Delice says. Neither his father, a bus driver in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, nor his mother made it past elementary school. "She always pushed me to read good books, and she was severe in monitoring my performance in school," he says.

After high school, with just $2 to his name, Delice took the three-hour bus ride to Port-au-Prince to attend the state-run teacher's college. He had no idea where he would stay. Eventually, friends at the university housed him and lent him money.

After graduating in 1990, he took two teaching jobs. One was at a lycée, or public high school, in Croix-des-Bouquets, a dusty town north of Port-au-Prince. The experience left him awed by the ability of students to excel in spite of hardships. “Their parents didn’t have enough money to feed them every day, and sometimes they couldn’t pay for public transportation to school,” he says.

"I cannot find an answer to how such people can be so intelligent. I was a history teacher, and sometimes I had the impression they were eating my explanations. They didn't have books. They didn't have anything. But when they took the [national standardized] baccalaureate test, they easily passed."

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