My first trip to Haiti was in the summer of 2011, a little over a year after the devastating earthquake of 2010. At that time I was leading American volunteer teams for an organization called Experience Mission, and even though I’d spent the previous few years working in various countries battling poverty, nothing prepared me for what I witnessed when I arrived in Haiti.
I was working in Carrefour, near where our current Thrive Ansanm resource center is located, and at that time the neighborhood still looked like a disaster zone. There was rubble everywhere from homes that had been destroyed, and many people were still living in tents. It was hard to find a single person who had not lost a friend or family member.
Even before the earthquake, Haiti was one of the poorest countries in the world, but in the aftermath of this catastrophe, the suffering reached a new level. There was desperation at every turn, but it was hard to know the best way to help.
“There was desperation at every turn, but it was hard to know the best way to help.”
It was during this first trip that I became friends with a group of young men who called themselves “Yung Goddis” after their mentor who was named Godwin. 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 help remove rubble in their neighborhood. They soon hit it off with the American volunteer teams, and they used these connections to raise money for younger children in their neighborhood to go to school. This was a really big deal because in Haiti the vast majority of schools are private, and many parents can’t afford the cost of tuition.
It was through observing the grassroots effort of these young Haitians that I realized that it wouldn’t be me or another outsider who would change Haiti. It’s young people such as these young men, who could change Haiti, but I was dismayed to discover that even though they were helping younger children to go to school, they were struggling themselves to make it through high school, much less continue onto college. Seeing this, I realized that one of the best ways to create sustainable change in Haiti is to help young people to access education and opportunities, so they can build a better future for themselves and invest in their communities.
“It was through observing the grassroots effort of these young Haitians that I realized that it wouldn’t be me or another outsider who would change Haiti. Ultimately, it’s young people such as these young men, who could change Haiti.”
I became close with one of their leaders who was named Dave, and he told me about how as the third of seven children raised by a single mother he had been forced to stay home and take care of his younger siblings for two years while his mother worked and his older brother and sister went to school. He hated it. He felt like the world was passing him by, and this experience is what motivated him to help others get the education that they need.
That’s why we developed a partnership between Experience Mission and Yung Goddis to start a formal education program in 2012, and the following year Dave spearheaded the formation of a mentoring program. In 2017, we received a grant that enabled us to develop a physical resource center where students could access computers and internet.
Seeing that the program was growing, and understanding the administrative challenges that come with growth, my wife Beth and I moved to Haiti in 2019 to invest in the program full time, and in December of 2020 we officially launched Thrive Ansanm as an independent organization.
In a place like Haiti where people have been battling severe economic and systemic challenges for generations, change does not come easy, but it is possible. From the beginning, Thrive Ansanm has been a movement of young people that was founded on the idea that in even the bleakest of circumstances there is always hope, and it is precisely this resilience that can turn hope into real progress.