A dream of the late Bishop Robert G. Tharp and Bishop Jean-Zaché Duracin of Haiti is becoming a reality in Les Cayes, Haiti, and the finished product will bear Bishop Tharp's name.
The bishops sought a way to provide postsecondary, technical education for the Haitian people to enable them to obtain jobs and create family wealth. As a result of their vision and several years of planning, the Bishop Tharp Business and Technology Institute is under construction by Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD).
Tharp, the second bishop of the Diocese of East Tennessee, served as chairman of ERD from 1999 until his death on May 30, 2003.
"This institute will have the name of the late Bishop Robert Tharp, a longtime friend of Haiti," Duracin said. "It will serve the education needs of the community and the diocese ... and it will be a testament to unity between Americans and Haitians."
"It was one of his dreams to see this thing done," said Susan Holmes of Chattanooga, director of Southeast operations for ERD. She said the institute is one of ERD's primary development initiatives, and much of her energies are directed toward raising the $500,000 needed to build, furnish and operate the institute for a year.
Haiti is the most underdeveloped country in the Western Hemisphere, and even though Les Cayes is its third-largest city, its educational system is of low quality and its commercial sector weak. Consequently, young residents are forced to seek work elsewhere, most often in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.
"In that particular area, it's very much needed," said the Rev. Canon Willard Squire. "It's so necessary for people to be educated, not only through the college level but technical and other ways so they can have jobs."
Squire served as Tharp's canon to the ordinary and was sent to Haiti to discuss with Duracin the continuation of the companion relationship that existed between the two dioceses at the time. Later, he and his wife, Margaret, served as volunteer missionaries in Haiti between 1993 and 1996. They have maintained their connections with Haiti.
In April, Squire met with the institute's board, which comprises both Haitians and Americans. In May he had planned to visit the institute construction site but "couldn't go because the roads were blocked due to storms," Squire said.
The institute will be the first in Haiti to train and prepare students to obtain jobs as mid-level employees in the private sector, and it will serve as a pilot project for future schools to spark regional economic development. It will have the capacity for 180 students, be similar to a technical or community college and offer two-year programs in business management and computer systems.
In addition to the two-year curriculum, a "bridge" year will be offered for students who need to strengthen their English and technology skills.
Located on a two-acre site in downtown Les Cayes, the institute will have five classrooms, a computer lab and a small administrative building.
The institute represents "a bigger vision than just a school," Holmes said. The ultimate goal is to create "something that goes on in perpetuity to carry out the mission Bishop Tharp believed in and raise people up in a way they haven't been able to do."
"We will work with the people and walk with them," she said. "That is an intrinsic part of the way we do things."
For more information about the Bishop Tharp Business and Technology Institute or to inquire about naming, scholarship endowment and memorial donation opportunities, please contact Susan Holmes at 423.266.3975 or 423.280.1480.