MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Since the earthquake, thousands of relief workers, health professionals, and military personnel have been moving in and out of Haiti. Among the many challenges they face, one of the toughest may be the language barrier. So, Duke University created a last minute course for those heading to Haiti.

North Carolina Public Radios Leoneda Inge reports.

LEONEDA INGE: The class is called Haitian Creole for the Haitian Recovery.

Ms. LAURA WAGNER (Student, University of North Carolina): (Foreign language spoken)

INGE: Laura Wagner is preparing students for an upcoming test in Haitian Creole, the language of all Haitians, which is a mix of mostly African languages and French.

Unidentified Groups: (Foreign Language Spoken).

INGE: Wagner is a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of North Carolina. You can still see bruises on her left arm and the limited movement of her fingers as she strolls about class. Wagner was in Haiti during the earthquake living with the family she was observing for her research.

Ms. WAGNER: And I was living in a house that collapsed. And I was inside it and I was rescued pretty heroically by some friends. And now Im back here for a while until I figure out the best way to go back to Haiti.

INGE: A lot of Wagners work centered on the life of a woman who lived in that house. She died when the house fell. Wagner hopes the class at Duke helps volunteers respect and not just pity the people of Haiti.

Ms. INGE: Id like people to go in with a nuanced and human view of Haitian people as something other than objects of help and intervention.

INGE: Wagner and others teaching the class say one of the best ways to help sensitize relief workers headed to Haiti is to introduce them to the language.

Mr. REGINALD PATTERSON(ph) (Student, Duke University): So, if it was just the chairs, it would be (foreign language spoken), but because youre qualifying with this phrase, thats why...

INGE: Reginald Patterson is a Duke doctoral student and was on an airplane leaving Haiti just hours before the earthquake. Thats one reason why romance languages professor Deborah Jenson chose him to help teach the course. Jenson organized the Haitian recovery class after the earthquake and continues to get calls from people wanting to sit in.

Professor DEBORAH JENSON (Professor of Romance Languages, Duke University): They all have different plans or ideas of how this is central to their learning or to their upcoming activities in Haiti.

INGE: Relief teams of doctors and soldiers from Fort Bragg have also solicited Jensons help before heading to Haiti.

Unidentified Man: Yes, so I think you would say my brother first, so you would say (foreign language spoken).

INGE: Duke Freshman Amber Biven(ph) says she's glad she enrolled in the class.

Ms. AMBER BIVEN (Student): And I love how theres just a diverse mixture of people in the class, like we have freshmen. We have Ph.D. students, graduate students. We have faculty members. We have people who arent even in school who are taking this class. And I just love how we all have come from different backgrounds, but, you know, I guess the commonality here is that we want to help.

INGE: Florida International University has launched a similar course on weekends. Because of requests, Duke is considering offering its recovery course again in the fall.

For NPR News, Im Leoneda Inge in Durham, North Carolina.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.