Delmas, a commune in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, has been plagued by violence and infighting among its youth. The conflict and its deleterious effects are particularly troubling for Marie Soudnie Rivette, a native Haitian who spent the past four months at Gannon University as a visiting international fellow.

International fellows such as Rivette (shown here) are charged with developing formal, community-based projects intended to address pressing issues in their native countries; Rivette elected to focus on tolerance and conflict resolution. She and Erika Ramalho, Gannon’s director of Community and Government Relations, won a first-place award, within the thematic area of tolerance and conflict resolution, for their recent presentation of the project in Washington, D.C., to the U.S. Department of State and to the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX).

For Rivette, simply being chosen as a presenter to the State Department was an honor: only 11 other international fellows from a group of 70 shared that distinction. The projects developed by the fellows were evaluated on their level of innovation, sustainability, and relevance.

Gannon University has served as a key partner in Rivette’s efforts, to include hosting her as a fellow through the Community Solutions Program offered by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

Rivette’s and Ramalho’s project, “Zanmi Pa’M,” translates from Creole as “my friend, my partner,” and is designed to help the youth in Delmas connect in a “constructive and nurturing environment.”

“To reduce the fighting, which is the main goal, a sense of trust needs to develop,” Rivette said. “Until there is some sense of mutual trust, the relationship will not improve. Those they do not trust, they tend to see as their enemies.”

In addition, the project calls for the youth to attempt to reconcile pre-existing beliefs and practices that in the past have led to conflict. She also hopes to use community service as a means of building bridges between the factions.

Gannon University is committed to providing training modules for the youth in Haiti via web-based technology. Gannon faculty members will link up remotely with the youth; Gannon students will be part of the training and, by participating, will be able to apply skills they are learning at Gannon.

“Globalization, to include developing socially responsible global citizens, is one of our key pillars,” said Gannon University President Keith Taylor, Ph.D. “Connecting our students to international issues in developing countries will help them grow as academically advanced and prepared leaders.”

At Gannon, Rivette worked closely with Ramalho and with Gannon’s Erie-GAINS program to increase awareness of the challenges faced by refugees who settle in Erie and to develop a community-wide approach to helping them.

Working with refugees in Erie helped Rivette appreciate the importance of trust and dialogue. “One of the issues in Erie is that there is very little trust between the refugees and their new neighbors,” she said. “And there is little to no communication, which tends to make them suspicious of each other.”

In November, Rivette shared her findings at a community forum hosted by Gannon University and attended by local elected officials, refugees, and Gannon students, faculty, and administrators.

This article was originally published on Dec. 13, 2012 on