There are a lot of things that make COCINA special –
one of the greatest is the story of its founding.
Hugues Bastien, Founder of COCINA and Executive Director of Institution Univers
Hugues Bastien, born in Haiti, moved to New York City in 1976 to pursue the American Dream, yet kept close ties with his native area of northeast Haiti. While serving as a youth leader and promoting missions in a Brooklyn church, he received a strong nudge from God to serve as a missionary. This calling eventually led Hugues to return to his hometown of Ouanaminthe.
With the help of friends, Hugues founded the Coalition of Children in Need Association (COCINA) in 1990 as a U.S.-based 501 (c) (3) charitable organization to support educational and spiritual needs of children in Ouanaminthe, a community of 120,000. Hugues moved back to his hometown and in 1994 led a team to establish Institution Univers (i.e. school of the world) to provide quality education for children that would be lost in Haiti’s abysmal public system. The school enrolled 84 kindergarten students and three teachers in its first school year. Each year a grade level was added and school facilities constructed to keep up with the growing student body.
In 2009 Institution Univers (IU) was named one of the top ten schools in the nation by the Haitian Ministry of Education. That same year, the school held its first high school graduation with fifteen students completing the 13th grade (Haiti follows the French system of 1st-13th grades). IU continues to grow, and in 2015 enrollment reached over 2,300 in pre-school through grade 13, and 58 students celebrated their high school graduation. Today, the school employs more than 200 full and part-time staff.
Meeting Local Health Needs
Healthcare is also a critical need in Ouanaminthe. In 2004, COCINA received funding for a three-story medical clinic, and in 2006 Univers Centre Medical (UCM) was built. The clinic provides various medical, surgical, dental, and eye-care services to all people in the Ouanaminthe area.
UCM’s services were initially provided only by visiting medical mission teams; but in 2008, COCINA obtained funding to hire a Haitian staff of 24 professional and support personal. The staff now consists of more than 50 Haitians that include physicians, a medical director, dentist, pharmacist, optometrist, lab technicians, nurses, residents in training, and support personnel. In 2010, demands for UCM ’s services were so great that the clinic switched from being open 45 hours per week to being open 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Today, the clinic serves more than 35,000 patients annually.
Building the Local Economy
In 2010, COCINA added economic development to its mission statement, knowing how critical Haitian jobs and job training are to build the country’s economy. COCINA’s goal is to help create self-sustaining businesses run by Haitians that will provide employment opportunities and continued development in the Ouanaminthe area. Since 2012, COCINA’s economic development ventures have included a poultry farm, printing shop, bakery, apartment complex, manufacturing plant, and more. As IU students complete their schooling and its graduates return from college, the opportunities for economic development become even more varied and exciting.