A Movement of Young People

by Josh Gray

by Josh Gray

Josh has been working in Haiti since 2011, and he has over a decade of nonprofit management experience. He and his wife Beth left their home in Seattle to live in Haiti full-time in 2019.

My first trip to Haiti was in the summer of 2011. I was leading American volunteer teams for a US-based organization in Carrefour, a city in the southern part of Port-au-Prince. Even though it had been over a year since the devastating 2010 earthquake, there was still rubble from destroyed homes, and many people were still living in tents. Nearly everyone I met had lost a friend or family member. I’d spent the last several years leading teams in various underdeveloped communities in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the situation in Haiti was the most severe I’d ever seen. There was desperation at every turn, but it was hard to know the best way to help.

Then I became friends with a group of young men who called themselves “Yung Goddis.” These were all young guys in their teens and twenties, and they’d just survived a horrific disaster. Many of them had lost homes or loved ones, but they emerged from this ordeal, not in despair but with a renewed sense of meaning and purpose, and they quickly turned this into action.

They organized themselves and started volunteering to remove rubble in their neighborhood. They befriended our American volunteer teams and began selling them t-shirts to raise money to help younger children in their neighborhood pay for school. I was inspired by their grassroots effort but dismayed to discover that, even as they were helping these young children, many of them were struggling to make it through high school, much less continue onto college. That’s why I concluded that one of the best ways foreigners like me could help was by investing in the education of young Haitian leaders.

Therefore, I collaborated with the Yung Goddis to start a small education program. At first, we only paid student’s tuition, but they still couldn’t afford other essentials such as uniforms, books, school supplies, and lunches, so we also began helping with these costs. Next, seeing that students would benefit from additional support outside of the classroom, we started a mentoring program and built a small technology resource center. This is how we developed our three focuses which are education, mentoring, and resources.

In 2019, my wife Bethany and I moved to Haiti full-time to further develop the program, but we quickly encountered unexpected challenges. The political insecurity in Haiti was rapidly increasing, and then in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Our parent organization in the States was financially affected by Covid, so they had reduced ability to invest in our program in Haiti. Determined to continue the work, we started Thrive Ansanm as an independent 501c3 organization in the fall of 2020, and we relocated our operations from Carrefour to Jeremie amid rising insecurity in October of 2021.

Jean Ouston Lestin (left) with Josh (middle) and Maillard Magloire (right)

We chose to move to Jeremie because our friend Maillard Magloire, now our country director, is a native of Jeremie, and he was already working with young people in his community. Maillard agreed to help us relocate, and together we established Thrive Ansanm in Jeremie. He introduced us to Dr. Jean Ouston Lestin the director of Universite de la Renaissance d’Haiti (URH) in Jeremie. We formed a partnership with URH, and opened a new technology resource center on the URH campus in February 2022.

Today, through Maillard’s leadership and our partnership with URH, the vision that was born out of the initiative of a small group of young earthquake survivors is alive and well. We continue to help students from kindergarten to university to access education, and we run a university mentoring program. Our resource center enables hundreds of students to access computers and high-speed internet, and we have developed a community-based support system that is empowering young people in Haiti to thrive. These future leaders are determined to build a brighter future for themselves, their families, and their country, and we are committed to supporting them as they pursue that goal. Together (ansanm) we are empowering young people in Haiti to thrive.

Will you give young people in Haiti the chance to thrive?