Why Volunteering Creates Opportunities for Young Haitians

March 2, 2024

Thrive Ansanm students, mentors, and staff members recently gathered for the first time since the political crisis that started in January. Our city of Jeremie has only had two days of school in 2024 because of political unrest, and we don’t know when schools will open again. Meanwhile, businesses and daily activities have not functioned as normal. This means a lot of downtime at home, so it was a breath of fresh air to get out, learn together, and in our case, eat pizza.

During our meeting, students shared about how they’ve spent their time during the political lockdown, and we were fortunate enough to have Dieumerson Mathurin as our guest speaker. Mr. Mathurin, a leader in the community with years of volunteer and management experience, shared with our students about the benefits of volunteering.

This is a sensitive subject because almost everyone in Haiti desperately needs money, so many would argue that they don’t have the luxury of volunteering since they are struggling just to survive. It’s a valid point, but Mr. Mathurin, a Jeremie native, essentially turned this argument on its head, explaining that when you volunteer you gain valuable experience and social capital, and this can open doors of opportunity for future jobs.

Maillard (left) and Mathurin (right) share with students.

Our Jeremie Coordinator Maillard Magloire is the director of our mentoring program, and he has been encouraging our students and others about the benefits of volunteering for years. Raised in a poor rural community, he took a proactive approach to life’s challenges from a young age. As a teenager, he taught himself English, and he volunteered in numerous roles as a young adult. He translated for nonprofit organizations, sometimes gettting paid and sometimes not, but either way, he kept showing up. Today, Maillard credits the experience and relationships he gained through volunteering as one of the reasons for his success. In the ensuing discussion, other mentors in the room shared similar stories of how volunteering had helped them professionally.

As the only American, I chose to remain quiet and listen. Unlike Maillard, Mr. Mathurin, and the mentors, I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in Haiti. They have the credibility and experience to speak to the students in a way that an outsider cannot. If I had given a talk on the importance of volunteering, the students could have responded that volunteering isn’t possible when you barely have enough money to make ends meet. They could tell me that I just don’t understand, and they would be right.

But Maillard, Mr. Mathurin, and their mentors do understand in a way that I never can, and that gives them credibility. It’s no secret that foreign aid has been a disaster in Haiti, and many other places for that matter. One reason is that we tend to propose cookie-cutter solutions from the outside, but that will not work. Outsiders like me can play a role, but true progress will almost always come through local leaders. Through our mentoring program, the local leaders of today are training the leaders of tomorrow.

by Josh Gray

Josh is the director of Thrive Ansanm, and he lives in Haiti with his wife Bethany and their son Koa. Josh and Bethany moved to Haiti full-time in 2019, and they started Thrive Ansanm the following year.

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