There is no doubt that within the culture of NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) that work in Haiti there is a sense of competition, disharmony, and perhaps even outright disdain for one another. In a country that needs cooperation and collaboration, many of the NGOs choose to participate in activities that serve their own interests, or even worse, increase their bottom lines. Fortunately, there are organizations on the opposite end of the spectrum that want to do everything in their power to work with others, share ideas and best practices, so that true, sustainable and impactful development can take place.
I had the pleasure of visiting two amazing organizations this past week. The Hands and Feet Project is an organization founded by the members of Audio Adrenaline and based out of Nashville. They currently operate two orphanages, one in Jacmel and another in Grand Goave. You can read more about their work on their website at http://www.handsandfeetproject.org/. I showed up unannounced at their orphanage in Grand Goave and was warmly welcomed by Andrew and Angie, an American couple that is heading up this particular site. I was truly impressed to see that the grounds were immaculate, the children quietly and respectfully eating lunch, and the order and organization of the place. They currently have 24 boys and 7 girls, and are planning to build a more permanent, larger site, not far from their current location. After the tour I was talking with Angie and Andrew and they mentioned that just up the road from them was another orphanage being built called Be Like Brit. If you have not heard about the tragedy that befell the Gengel family during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, then you must take a moment and visit their website at http://belikebrit.org/. It is a story filled with sadness, hope, and a family trying to make a difference in the lives of orphans in Haiti.
Brit Gengel was on a volunteer trip to Haiti in January of 2010, staying in the Hotel Montana. The earthquake struck just a few minutes after she had texted her mother explaining how she had been to an orphanage that day and wanted to stay and help the orphans of Haiti. Hotel Montana was completely destroyed by the earthquake, burying Brit and several of the other students and teachers that were on the trip. After losing their daughter, the Gengel family decided to complete Brit’s dream of building an orphanage for the children of Haiti. In the shape of a B for Brit, the new residence will house 66 orphans, include a full medical clinic, and host short and long-term volunteers.
Len Gengel, Brit’s father, happened to be in town the very day I was in Grand Goave, and as I reached the stupendous building he is creating, I was able to connect with him by phone and he said he would be more than happy to meet with me. It was such a privilege for me to meet Len and hear his story and his vision for helping the orphans of Haiti. What impressed me the most was his willingness to partner with other organizations, like the Hands and Feet Project, to share his resources so that not only the children in his orphanage will be able to thrive, but all of the children and community of Grand Goave.
We need more organizations like the Hands and Feet Project and Be Like Brit in Haiti. Only when we realize that by sharing our resources, our best practices, our successes and our failures, will we learn how to best help the people and country of Haiti. I was truly fortunate to visit both of these places, and I hope that you visit both of their websites so that you can see the great work that they are doing in Haiti. If we all come together, we can truly make a difference in a country that has seen way too much failure by the NGOs that are supposedly here to help. Let’s be different. Let’s help be the change that Haiti needs.
Steven M. Kirby, Ed.D