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Concordia physics student leads a STEM outreach trip to Haiti

Celeste-Melize Ferrus and the Katalìs team inspire school-aged children to pursue science education
September 18, 2019
By Celeste-Melize Ferrus

The Katalìs team with the children after an amazing week of teaching and learning. | Photo by Elise Cadet The Katalìs team with the children after an amazing week of teaching and learning. | Photo by Elise Cadet

Celeste-Melize Ferrus is a Concordia undergraduate student in physics and the founding president of Katalìs Outreach. The student organization, which recently returned from Haiti, aims to inspire young people to pursue STEM education. 

'We had one goal: to inspire'

The idea of Katalís had been on my mind since I was a junior in high school back in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

I was fortunate enough to discover at an early age that physics was my passion, but a lot of children in Haiti are not exposed to science education, and many are not even taught how to read. The illiteracy rate there is higher than 50 per cent.

There are so many natural resources ready to be exploited for the country’s benefit, but the generation of tomorrow is not getting the training it needs to transform the country into the star it should be.

Three members of the Katalìs team. | Photo by Nathaniel Posesorsky Members of the Katalìs team. | Photo by Nathaniel Posesorsky

You have big dreams, but you never know if they're possible or when the time is right. When am I smart enough to teach someone? When am I knowledgeable enough to pass on what I know?

I had to go back to Haiti in August 2018 for the funeral of a family member whom I lived with for my three years in Haiti.

My first two years of university taught me how to turn negative energy into something constructive, and this was no exception. While helping with the funeral preparations, I posted on several STEM-related Concordia pages saying that I was looking to put together a team to go to Haiti the next summer to teach. The response was incredible.

Over the next year, the team and I raised over $15,000 through sponsorships and Concordia’s FundOne platform.

On August 25, 14 of us boarded a plane for Haiti with over 40 boxes worth of school supplies. We were bound for the small town of Bayonnais, over four hours north of the capital.

We had one goal and one goal only: to inspire.

An early morning hike to the top of a nearby mountain in Bayonnais. | Photo by Roland An early morning hike to the top of a nearby mountain in Bayonnais. | Photo by Roland

Our six teams set out to teach schoolchildren about physics, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, engineering and computers. We organized hours of demos and explanations every day, breaking up the kids into six groups and having them rotate through each subject.

We taught rocket dynamics, density, light absorption, osmosis, scratch code, emulsion and everything in-between.

The first day was hectic, but by the end of the week everything was moving smoothly. Every day was a lesson and you could say the kids taught us more about ourselves than we could ever pass on to them.

After one long, humid and sun-filled week, we left the kids with the ability to reach the world, thanks to 20 laptops donated to us by the Concordia Library, loads of coding guides from Kids Code and hundreds of textbooks from various donors.

We got to work with over 100 amazing kids, who told us that they wanted to be engineers, scientists and coders.

One child asked me on the last day, “Why are you doing this and what do you want from us?” I told them the truth: STEM is your gateway to leading this country to a bright future through innovation, and we want nothing but to see you be successful.

I’m not sure of many things in life, but after that week, I firmly believe that the Katalís slogan holds true: STEM is for Everyone.

The team says a warm goodbye prior to takeoff. | Photo by Roland The team says a warm goodbye prior to takeoff. | Photo by Roland

On the Concordians’ end, we all noticed how much happier everyone was than we had expected them to be. The kids were smiling, engaged and more than ready to beat us in every soccer match we challenged them to.

The week was an amazing experience for us all. It was incredible to see people who I had been sitting next to in classes for years suddenly open up and thrive and break down their walls in a foreign land. Fourteen virtual strangers left Canada as teammates and returned as a family.

Katalís made it our fight to fix poverty with skill-building, and increase representation of people from all backgrounds in STEM — minorities, immigrants, women, LGBTQ+ and students with learning disabilities.

Trying to tackle social issues is hard. You’ll never know if you’re good enough, and you’ll doubt yourself throughout the process, but the little wins along the way will power you over the next hurdle. Sometimes, change can start with something as small as posting on Facebook.

Find out more about
Katalìs Outreach, or make a donation to the organization through FundOne.

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