Saturday, September 24, 2011


(Antigua Observer) - By Joanne C Hillhouse

St. John’s, Antigua- The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association Education Foundation [CHTAEF] is doing its bit to help the Haitian tourism industry recover via a special Haiti Fund and the related Help and Hope Project.

Several Antiguan hospitality experts are involved as facilitators in the project that started in 2010.

Jumby Bay executive housekeeper Sonia Abbott-Geber, Sandals Grande pastry sous chef and Caribbean Pastry Chef of the Year Marine Bowers (a past CHTAEF scholarship recipient) and Hermitage Bay executive chef Dezi Banhan will be in Haiti between September and October of this year to share their knowledge.

They will be joined in Port–au-Prince by professionals from Jamaica and Barbados in administering the hospitality training to Haitian students. CHTAEF trustee and Haiti project leader Louise John noted that when she reached out to Caribbean professionals, with both knowledge and training ability, Antiguans were among the most ready respondents, “totally on board and ready to fly in as soon as possible.”

The project aims to deliver education and skills training to hotel school students in Haiti, where the hotel school along with a number of hotels, students and staff were lost and suffered loss as a result of the quake.

The project, which also envisages helping students seek higher education outside of Haiti, relies on volunteer support from professionals in the region. It was initiated after Agnes Pierre-Louis, general manager of Le Plaza Hotel and director of the Haiti Hotel and Tourism Association — in addition to being one of the project’s major drivers — sought help from the CHTAEF.

John indicated that activities to date have included four months of intensive training to bring the students up to speed with English ahead of English- speaking volunteer facilitators being brought in.

Ideally, following the training on the ground in Haiti they’d like to send the participating students to Caribbean hospitality institutes and have them return to Haiti empowered to not only work within the industry but coach others.

“Two students are at Bachelors level and we hope to support them through the UWI Tourism & Hospitality course as the government has offered them positions within the tourism master plan programme supported by the Presidential Advisory Council on Economic Growth & Investment, chaired by former (US) President Bill Clinton,” John noted.

Of the 40 who began the programme, only 26 have endured so far. “This reduction is a fairly normal attrition rate in hospitality institutes as young people realize the profession demands a second language, long hours and exacting standards,” John informed us.

But, she noted, the demand for quality staff is certainly there given the coming and going of NGO staffers, diplomats, and business people in Haiti. In fact, John reported that at a September social attracting attendance from hotel managers, “18 of the students were offered positions based on their English fluency, understanding of core hotel principles, self-presentation and confidence.”

John reported that the participants have been both determined and enthusiastic, indicating that the project has given them hope in a very bleak time. The project leaders have found this, and the success they’ve been able to achieve to date, to be encouraging.

“If you think about the millions of people still living in tent communities and the minimal rubble clearance in Port–au-Prince, the enormity of the situation stymies any action,” John stated. “Yes, our project is very small but it is happening and positively growing the lives of the participants and their families.”

Notwithstanding the programme’s success, however, it is running short of funds, and is in danger of stalling as of December of this year as a result. John requested, therefore, that readers be directed to the website where they can donate by clicking the Haiti Donate button.

“We have paid for the programme thus far with donations from Arabic and European attendees at the International Hotel Investment Forum, Dubai & the Caribbean Society of Hotel Association Executives,” John explained.

“We desperately need funding for the Caribbean regional educational institutions component. Unfortunately many of the overseas agencies and groups currently in Haiti are only interested in new stand-alone ‘branded’ projects rather than partner with an existing successful initiative.”

Among those that have not yet contributed any funds, as they would have hoped, are the Caribbean Tourism Organization and Caricom, John noted.

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