Maggie’s Story: Accepting the Challenge and Honoring Her Dream
The mission of the University of Fondwa (UNIF) to transform rural Haiti through higher education by creating jobs, resonated with Maggie Bellabe’s dream to alleviate poverty in Haiti.
In April 2016, Bellabe heard UNIF’s founder and coordinator, Father Joseph Philippe, CSSp, on “Radio Mega’’, a south Florida radio show popular with Haitian Diaspora. While Father Joseph’s message initially peaked her curiosity to visit the University of Fondwa, it was the students who challenged her and compelled her to come back.
(Left to Right) Amongst her students in the middle of the second row, Maggie knew from an early age that she was born to “serve others.”“They were so eager for someone to listen to them, and work with them,” she recalls after meeting with UNIF students on campus in early 2016. “I made a promise to accept their challenge and return to Haiti.” In June, Bellabe was named UNIF’s Vice President of Administration and Planning and Interim President for the University.
Bellabe, born in Haiti, moved to the U.S. with her parents and one brother and five sisters when she was 20 years old. They made their new home in New York, Massachusetts, and Florida. From an early age, she has known that she was born to “serve others.” Now that she and her husband, Jean Philippe Charles, have raised five children (ages 12-25), she is ready to fight for the poor of her native country.
UNIF’s mission to educate young Haitian men and women to become job creators, rather than job seekers, resonates with Mrs. Bellabe who has spent the last decade of her career in education and community-based planning, project management, and policy and program development in Dade and Broward Counties, Florida. Bellabe received her Master of Public Administration from Barry University in Miami Shores Florida. She is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Administration, Public Policy and Global Leadership at Walden University.
Bellabe is an advocate of UNIF’s grassroots philosophy, “A great country is built from the bottom up. Helping each rural community to have a team of professionals working along with them is powerful to me.”
(Left to Right) UNIF Agronomy Students conducting an analysis of the sweet potato harvest.She describes UNIF’s current impact, “These young men and women are able to work with peasants, farmers and business owners in rural communities and help them grow their own businesses and create wealth.” Longer term, Bellabe projects UNIF’s graduates will impact on all of Haiti’s 570 rural communities.
Since she arrived at UNIF, Bellabe’s goal has been for the world to know about UNIF, and to bring the world to the students and faculty at UNIF. She is already taking ambitious steps to make these goals a reality. Bellabe and other UNIF faculty are working collaboratively with the University College Dublin in Ireland, St. Bonaventure University, and several other U.S. academic institutions to begin the process of having the University of Fondwa receive international accreditation.
International accreditation is a rigorous process that will open doors for students and faculty from around the world to receive academic credit for UNIF courses and participate in research activities. UNIF received university accreditation in Haiti shortly after its inauguration in 2004.
In a few months, UNIF will welcome an international delegation including architects from the U.S. and members of the Spiritan community. The group will assess UNIF’s resources and needs, and engage with UNIF’s administration to outline a short and longer term plan for growth and collaboration.
As an educated professional Haitian woman and mother of three daughters, Maggie Bellabe wants to give back to other women in her country. She knows that young women in Haiti face the same challenges as men do in receiving an advanced degree; but they also face unique challenges.
“Women in Haiti are victims of corruption and discrimination. When they advance in their career, many times those who hire or promote them are looking to receive something in return,” Bellabe explains. “UNIF offers hope for women to change this situation.”
Her response is to connect young women at UNIF with other women who can serve as mentors. In turn, the women who graduate from UNIF will serve as mentors for others. She also plans to conduct workshops and seminars for women in the community so they can share experiences and support one another.