Despite canceling two DukeEngage programs, DukeEngage administrators feel positive about the summer and do not anticipate policy changes.
The programs in both Cairo and Haiti met early ends—students in Egypt were sent home nearly a month early due to the nation’s political unrest, and students in Haiti were forced to leave due to unprofessional behavior exhibited by their in-country coordinator.
DukeEngage executive director Eric Mlyn noted, however, that DukeEngage policies were carried out successfully with both cancellations and the program terminations will likely not prompt any revision of policy.
“We had a number of challenges, in Egypt and Haiti particularly, but we’re proud of the DukeEngage staff,” Mlyn said. “They handled these issues very professionally.”
Program participant Kevin Duh, a senior, noted that the program coordinator "behaved very inappropriately with a member of the group," prompting the decision to cancel the program.
DukeEngage was unable to find a replacement coordinator, given the short window of time, forcing the students to leave the country.
"The decision to send us home came up pretty quickly," Duh said. "The situation unraveled about 4 weeks in, we were told we were going home at the end of the fourth week and we were sent home the following Wednesday."
The coordinator, who was not a Duke employee, worked for Family Health Ministries—the organization with which the students in Haiti partnered to do service work. The coordinator was the program’s only on-site supervisor and lived in the same quarters as the students.
“He never really felt like an authority figure, which made things very difficult for everyone,” Duh said. “It sort of became a make-your-own-rules type of place.”
Myln declined to comment further on the inappropriate actions of the program's in-country coordinator.
“What happened in Haiti was really unfortunate,” Mlyn said. “It was outside of the norm.”
He noted that the program’s cancellation will not bring about a change to DukeEngage’s rules concerning non-Duke employees.
“There will not be a change made to that policy in general,” Mlyn said. “But we certainly will pay careful attention to staffing.”
Mlyn added that the DukeEngage Haiti program is not scheduled for next summer.
The fate of the Egypt program, meanwhile, remains uncertain while DukeEngage continues to monitor the country, Mlyn said. A decision will be made by October 1, when program applications are released, but it will be contingent on the region’s safety and therefore subject to change.
Program participant Safiya Driskell, a sophomore, said the decision to leave the program was the best option.
"There are too many factors that are uncontrollable in Cairo right now, and that increases risk," Driskell wrote in an email.
The safety of other DukeEngage programs in potentially volatile areas—such as the Beirut program—is also being closely watched, Mlyn said.
DukeEngage offered concessions to all students in cancelled programs. Participants in the Haiti program were given the chance to do a service project in Peru this summer, in addition to being given priority for independent DukeEngage programs next summer. Students in the Cairo program will be guaranteed spaces in next year’s program, if it takes place.