NGO Spotlight: What If? Foundation

The What If? Foundation allows your compassion to cross borders, so you can make a direct and immediate impact on the lives of Haitian children and families.

uoubPoverty is nothing short of an epidemic in Haiti – it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the poorest in the world. Two out of three Haitians live on less than US $2 per day. 100,000 children under five years of age suffer from acute malnutrition. And at least 50% of Haitians age 15 and over are illiterate.

The situation is extreme. But it is not hopeless. Together with their Haitian partner, Na Rive, the What If? Foundation strives to assist Haitians with the resources they need to build change for themselves: food, education, and hope.

The What If? Foundation was created in 2000 by an American woman and a celebrated Haitian civil rights activist, Father Gerard Jean-Juste. Father Jeri, as he is known in the community, had a vision for creating a better future for Haiti: “First we feed the children, we keep them alive. Then we educate them.” They have been working with the Ti Plas Kazo community to fulfill Father Jeri’s vision ever since.

Thanks to the generosity of What If donors, Na Rive’s longstanding community food program addresses the persistent issue of food scarcity in Port-au-Prince. Every Monday through Friday, the local cooking team nourishes the community’s minds and bodies, providing as many as 3,000 hot, nutritious meal for children, parents, students, and teachers.

lkjpoiAfter many years of dreaming, planning, and persisting, construction on the Father Jeri School was completed in 2016. The school is designed to foster the next generation of Haitian leaders: children who are empowered, thoughtful, resilient, resourceful, proud of their heritage, and ready to work together for positive change. Every school day, children aged 3-19, who might otherwise have no path to an education, are engaged in a rigorous academic curriculum with teachings of respect, empathy, and civic duty. The school also houses a popular after-school program and six-week summer camp, providing children with a safe, supportive learning environment all day and all year long.

The programs What If supports have always been Haitian-led and Haitian-run: this is why they are so effective. They have witnessed the incredible resourcefulness and 

asdenduring spirit of the Ti Plas Kazo community as they create their own change, becoming a source of hope and pride for the entire country. They see a future where all Haitians can grow out of the cycle of poverty and hold the tools to create their own path. And they believe people from all backgrounds and places can come together in solidarity with Haiti, to create change one small step at a time.

To learn more about the What If? Foundation and discover opportunities to give back and volunteer to help children in Haiti, visit their website or explore UniversalGiving.

Unselfish Love

By Brittany Duke

When I blindly plunge my hand into the ceramic shell bowl on my dresser and my fingers close around a small gold stone ring, I’m reminded of my 16th birthday. For reasons different that most people’s the week I turned 16 was life-altering. Instead of a lavish “Sweet 16” party I spent the week in Haiti learning about how people survive in orphanages that are severely underfunded and concrete villages without electricity. The poorest country in the world by many estimates is one without social nets designed to help others from falling into extreme poverty. Unlike the United States, extreme poverty is not unusual or cause for great concern.

As we arrived to the orphanage we visited, people in our mission group began snapping pictures of the children in faded and torn school uniforms as though they were exotic animals on a safari. It was difficult watching people that had the latest iPhone and luxury car waiting in their garage try to relate to these children. Asking their favorite toy or activity quickly became an awkward experience. Unlike five year olds in the US who can easily identify their favorite organized sport, favorite TV show, favorite electronic toy, these children were amazed by the ability to take pictures of themselves on our phones.</p

As time passed, privileged adults began to relate to the children on a basic level of love. The language barriers were quickly forgotten and soon small dark hands fitted easily into larger white ones as the children dragged the adults to their rooms and proudly showed off the bunk beds they shared with so many others. Young children had the signature dirt stains on their knees telling the story of the baseball they loved to play with a stick and a cloth tied together. Everything became a game of “how can we make this a toy.” My shoelaces were quickly removed and two young girls with plaits in their hair started jumping rope with it. Our electronics were quickly put to use by the Haitian kids and photos have never been taken with more frequency or excitement than that day.

Many of the children gathered around kissing your cheek, holding your hand, sitting on your lap vying for attention. The whole combine that they lived in was open-air, had dirt floors, and three small structures that would have been called shacks by United States standards. They showed us the chipped colored concrete wall about 3 feet high separated the two classrooms, which had desks that were shared by as many as three children. The blackboard in the front held lessons ranging from learning about the alphabet to geometry. When asking a small boy in the signature green and see-through white shirt what he enjoyed the most he pointed to the small outdoor classroom with a smile across his face. The opportunity to get an education is rare in Haiti.

At noon the teachers and caretakers started cooking in an open air kitchen and 15 minutes later the large rusty bronze bell was rung to tell everyone the food was ready to be eaten. Each student grabbed a slightly dirty looking plastic bowl with designs on the side from a shelf in the common room that served as a dining area. One small girl waited in line for her food, dwarfed by the larger children on either side, received her food and came running over with a large smile and gave me the bowl. Upon inspection, the bowl contained rice mixed in with some sort of meat and some small green cubes which served as their vegetables for the day. These children get two meals a day; this was the large afternoon meal which by American standards would be a side dish. I shook my head and said thank you, but I would really like it if she would eat the food. I’m a vegetarian, I don’t eat meat, and I haven’t ever eaten out of a bowl that is cleaned with sand and unpurified water. I also have access to food at any time during the day. But the lesson to be learned wasn’t about the food or bowl, it was the act of unselfish love and giving. This girl was willing to go without eating that afternoon if I had accepted her offering. With no thought for herself she gave unselfishly and from her heart. It is easy to give from our abundance and donate our cast-offs to the nearest goodwill after we have no more use for an item of clothing; however, the act of giving by the small Haitian girl in a wrinkled and stained white and green school uniform dress was an example of true love.

Later that day, a girl with dark hair plaited and tied with plastic clips caught my attention. She looked as if she were around 13 in her green and white dress with two buttons missing. Unlike some of the younger kids she seemed more reluctant to involve herself in the festivities. I learned she was 15 and was about to turn 16. Our birthdays were less than a week apart. It was apparent that she looked after some of the toddlers and infants and had to be one of the oldest girls at the orphanage. The more we connected the more I found out about her life. Her parents had passed away in the earthquake and she had no other family that she could turn to. The man who ran the orphanage had found a temporary place for her to stay in the wake of the tragedy and eventually provided her and about 21 other young people a place to sleep, a school, and food twice a day. She brought us over to her bed and told us she had gotten a mattress last year. She pointed to her pink mosquito net and you could see the pride spread across her face. The room she shared with nine other younger girls had roughly hewed concrete walls with open windows and no air conditioning. To contrast our upbringing and experiences, I was born into a privileged middle class family, attended private school since the age of four, enjoy traveling with my family, and have an air conditioned room with a mattress which I never fully appreciated until the week of my 16th birthday. After showing us her room she began to chant and move her body to the beat of her chant. She inquired whether or not we would like to take a video of her performance and so we dutifully pulled out our phones and recorded a song and dance that was amazing. She told me that if she was able to choose what she could do with her life that she would love to be able to be a famous singer. With a smile on my face I confidently assured her with my parent’s catchphrase, “you can do anything you set your mind to.” Her head moved back and forth and we got a wakeup call as to the lack of opportunity she has in her life. She isn’t told by anyone that she can accomplish anything, or be anything that she wants to be. That mattress in her open-air room, at the orphanage will probably be the best accommodations she has for a long time after she leaves and moves out on her own. She explained she was planning to get a job working a fruit stand with her friend. She hoped to make enough money to live off of it, however it all depended if she had a good day at the market.

The competition is ruthless in the markets they sell food in. The one market we visited overwhelmed all of my senses. It was possible to hear the yelling of the vendors from half a mile away. Each vendor fought seemingly to the death to try and get you to buy what they were selling. Hands grabbed at me as if I was the newest game flying off the shelves of a store. Each seller tried to persuade me to buy their goods by dragging me as close to their stand as possible. The initial fear of being moved against my own will left after I became aware of the cultural selling practices. The smell was overwhelming, there were aromas of spices mixed with sweat and you immediately knew showering was viewed as a luxury, not a necessity. Although it was impossible to buy something from every single seller that particular day I was blown away by the desire and will to succeed. Each person was fighting for survival and if that meant groveling over the price for a good and trying to sell a classic Haitian piece of art to a tourist they were willing to do anything necessary to assure they would get the sale and be able to support their family for another day.

When there are hard experiences of my life I’m often reminded of a phrase a mentor shared with me, “that’s a first world problem.” Everything is put into perspective when you realize how little others have. For my 16th birthday I received a few presents, one of them being a gold ring which will always be a symbol of abundance and a lesson I learned from a 15-year-old girl in Haiti. To take any opportunity I have for granted would be inexplicable after this experience. If this Haitian girl, as able to express such a gratitude for what she had, meant I was able to take advantage of every opportunity given and give thanks for everything, no matter how small. The true genuine love expressed by so many was an amazing takeaway, whether it was a girl trying to give me her food or a man trying to sell some good in order to take care of his family. The experience was life-altering and I will always be reminded of the time I was immersed in another culture and learned more about myself in the process.

Contest Winners: Volunteering in Haiti, Article #4

This is another installment in our series of articles on volunteering in Haiti, selected from the articles written for our contest with Helium and GlobalPost.  Read our first article selection and more background here.


By James Mallon

The Non profit agency called UniversalGiving provides people the opportunity to use their skills to volunteer in countries where their expertise is urgently required. The organisation also accepts donations, but their real vision is to “Create a world where giving and volunteering are a natural part of everyday life”.  This is a practical and personalised form of making a donation; it also means the recipient receives 100% of what is possibly the greatest gift of all, your very own time and commitment.

Two years have passed since a catastrophic earthquake shook and reduced a large part of Haiti into a pile of debris. Most of this rubble still lies in the place where it fell today, as if in honour to the forces of nature and its merciless potency.  This disaster obviously attracted the attention of worldwide governments, charitable groups and relief agencies, including UniversalGiving who have several schemes in operation, to help rebuild Haiti’s infrastructure.  Some of the volunteering projects available include rebuilding Homes, summer camps for children, Medical supplies, clean water and teaching.

The projects are all equally important; they highlight the basic human needs that people are lacking in this country, with respect to community services and life saving supplies and equipment; items we simply take for granted.  Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and will need huge financial support and manpower just to resuscitate it back to its impoverished pre-earthquake lifestyle, which most of the population were originally accustomed to. Haiti has been in economic turmoil for years and the arrival of that natural disaster, complicated matters to the extreme.

If I was offered a volunteering opportunity from UniversalGiving, I would request a project teaching children for the reason they are the most vulnerable members of any society. Before the earthquake, there were approximately 380,000 children living in orphanages, which is nearly 10% of the child population in care.  After the tremor, it is not fully known how many additional children became orphans, or how many more should be in care, as a result of losing their parents in those tragic circumstances.  Irwin Redlener, a representative of Columbia University, said “I think we’ll be facing the most horrific disaster for children in memory.”  It was also stressed that rebuilding efforts in such circumstances, often focused too heavily on the infrastructure, instead of communities and schools.

In any disaster situation, what really matters is the stability and welfare of children.  The earthquake destroyed most schools in Port–au-Prince and the surrounding regions, so there is an urgent need to rebuild their schools.   Prior to the earthquake, only 2% of children completed their school education because they were forced out of the learning process through abject poverty.  In theory, elementary education is compulsory, but most children drop out before they reach the fifth grade. Education is meant to be free for children, but only 15% of schools are government controlled, with the remaining private institutions charging tuition fees.  Education is simply too costly for most families to support a population of children under the age of 18 years, which accounts for nearly half the population.

Many nations occasionally suffer a temporary form of amnesia, which prevents them remembering that their youth is the future of their country, and that the appropriate investment in their education system should be made.   Haiti suffers permanent memory loss, due to a poor political system, corrupt governments and poor administration that places little emphasis on important social community needs.  It is very unlikely that even with, or without future tragedies, that this country will pull itself out of the huge abyss of poverty it has been entrenched in for the last couple of centuries.

The latest tragic event has resulted in many children suffering from post traumatic stress; therefore any form of stability will bring an improvement to their lives.  Providing them an education will provide a modicum of human attention, which will hopefully bring them some normality while enriching their knowledge through schooling.   This would be a sufficient enough reason to provide some free time, which would be a very good cause; however it will take more than a couple of weeks to mend the pain and suffering that these children have endured over the last two years.

See the winners and read more articles on the Helium website!

Contest Winners: Volunteering in Haiti, Article #3

This is another installment in our series of articles on volunteering in Haiti, selected from the articles written for our contest with Helium and GlobalPost.  Read our first article selection and more background here.


By Benny Muiruri

The world watched in horror as the 2010 Jan, 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit one of the poorest countries in the world bringing the nation of Haiti to its knees. Buildings were reduced to pieces and lives were lost. Many people were left homeless and children, orphans. It was estimated that the total damage was over US$ 3 billion and more than 300,000 lives perished.

Down the line, two years later, “All over Haiti, the atmosphere was and continues to be one of fear and uncertainty.” (UniversalGiving). According to the NGO – UniversalGiving – the country has suffered 15 major calamities in the past decade. This means the 2010 Jan disaster left the country poorer and the government overwhelmed.

Out of goodwill, many countries pledged money, NGOs rushed to help in whatever they could or areas they were specializing in; and individuals donated their money and others, time. However, even as the country receives aid in various forms to rebuild it, there is still more that needs to be done, especially volunteering.

Volunteering enables a volunteer to get at the need level – the heart of the affected person. The person who is helped will feel appreciated, cared for, loved and have hope for the future despite what happened and the consequences that followed. This is particularly true when it comes to children, since most of them lost their parents or guardians. Mother Teresa said while alive and which rings true when it comes to volunteering, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do,” and “We are all pencils in the hand of God.” How true it is when it comes to volunteering.

UniversalGiving, a non-profit organization mandated to vet NGOs that want to offer their services in Haiti has various volunteering opportunities. A volunteer can decide in which area to work in as UniversalGiving has given descriptions of the NGOs in its main site. It assures volunteers that they are working hard to ensure the NGOs wanting to offer their services in Haiti “…meet the highest standard of quality, transparency and trust.”

Among the volunteering opportunities offered by UniversalGiving is teaching children. God’s Children Ministry, a non-profit vetted by UniversalGiving offers opportunity in teaching children. The NGO was founded in 1989. Its mission is to help the people come out of poverty by providing the necessary aid. Therefore, “In recognition that poverty ravages many areas of Haiti, victimizing families, children and the elderly, we dedicate ourselves to a ministry of relief and development to aid the poorest of the poor. Wherever possible, our work is not to sustain the needy but rather to break the cycle of poverty that plagues them.” This, the NGO does by “providing educational opportunities and focusing on community development.”

If I had 2 weeks of free time to volunteer and decided it would be in Haiti, it would be teaching the children at God’s Children Ministry. What should be noted is that many children are still traumatized by the 2010 Jan earthquake. They do not understand why this had to happen to them. They lost their parents or guardians. They feel hopeless, helpless and depressed. As a volunteering teacher I will be able to talk to them, encourage, inspire, uplift and motivate them. Then, they would know that disasters such as earthquakes are natural causes and there is not something they did bad to deserve it. The most important thing is to light hope even if it is a small one in their hearts.

Also, as a volunteering teacher I will be able to impact in their young minds the skills I have learnt and education gained through the years which among them includes teaching English, computer skills, soccer and enabling them to bring out the talents that are in them. This way, their talent will be nurtured which will be of great benefit in the coming years.

Knowledge is power and it is the key to unlock the future. Once they know this and gain the necessary education, not only from me, then they will be creative and innovative in finding ways of creating jobs and improving the economy of the country when they grow up. If a high percentage of people are literate then the poverty level will decrease at a high margin.

As a volunteering teacher, I will be able to empower them by “heightening their awareness of their rights and responsibilities, their abilities, and enhance their self-confidence to enable them improve their lives” (UNESCO).

“There are no great things, only small things with great love. Happy are those.” (Mother Teresa).

See the winners and read more articles on the Helium website!

Contest Winners: Volunteering in Haiti, Article #2

This is another installment in our series of articles on volunteering in Haiti, selected from the articles written for our contest with Helium and GlobalPost.  Read our first article selection and more background here.


By Paul Lines

Giving time on a voluntary basis is one positive way we can assist people, including children, to rebuild their families, lives and communities, and give them hope for the future. This gift of time, even as little as two weeks, is especially important for people in a country like Haiti where, over two years since its capital and surrounding areas were destroyed by a major earthquake and aftershocks, over one and a half million homeless still live in squalor in tent cities and the rubble of destroyed homes and communities.

UniversalGiving is a non-profit charity organisation, which focuses upon bringing together in one place projects that require volunteer help. In Haiti, these projects range from helping to educate children to becoming involved in the disaster relief and reconstruction projects that are still desperately needed for people in a ravaged country who often seem to be have been forgotten by the outside world.

Personally, in giving two weeks volunteer time I would focus upon the reconstruction projects. In particular, I would wish to participate in those projects related to the reconstruction of the country’s water, sanitation and sewage systems, and to provide the resources and information to enable the Haitian people to protect themselves by purifying the water they use and drink.

The reason I would choose this project to give my time to is that the population of Haiti, which witnessed approaching half a million deaths following the earthquake and aftershocks, and nearly three times that number being made homeless has, since October 2010, been in the grip of another potentially fatal catastrophe, this being an outbreak of Cholera. This outbreak is, according to Jon Andrus of the Pan American Health Organisation, “one of the largest cholera epidemics in modern history to affect a single country.”

To date, over half a million people in Haiti have contracted Cholera and around 200 new cases are being reported every day, a number which is likely to escalate during Haiti’s rainy season in April. Although the rate of deaths has been reduced through the efforts of aid agencies, the number of Cholera fatalities in Haiti is still continuing to rise. This means that yet more parents in Haiti are losing their children, or visa-versa, and families who have already suffered the loss of loved ones are being subjected to yet more grief. However, fatality is not the only consequence of Cholera. Cholera can result in low blood pressure and kidney damage.

It can also be passed easily by an infected person to others, especially in a country like Haiti where sanitation conditions remain a problem following the earthquake.

In western communities, we turn on taps with the assurance that comes with the knowledge that the water we drink has been purified. We are comforted by the fact that sanitation and sewage systems will eradicate water-borne disease that might be harmful to our health. Even when supplies are disrupted, we have the means and knowledge to purify our water supply in the home.

The population of Haiti does not have these comforts and confidence. The earthquake in 2010 destroyed most of the country’s sanitation and sewage infrastructure. Even many people who live in the more rural areas are several miles from a clean water supply. The displaced and homeless, who remain in the supposedly temporary tented cities and rubble in areas like Port-au-Prince, once the jewel in Haiti’s crown, are forced to gather water from any available source, which often means puddles and other supplies of rain water that has been contaminated by sewage and other water-borne dangers. Many of these people do not have the funds or access to equipment and sanitary products to be able to cleanse the water they use for cooking, bathing and drinking.

Andrus’s report reveals that although efforts are being made to restore the sanitation infrastructure in Haiti, these are falling woefully short of what is needed, and that it will cost around $1.1 billion to construct and develop the plants and systems that will provide the people of Haiti with a clean water supply.

It is for these reasons that volunteering two weeks of time, or even longer, to assist with this area of reconstruction would be so important. If these two weeks reduce the rate of Cholera infection by ten people a day, ten volunteers would halve the current prevalence of the disease. Not only would this provide the people of Haiti with respite from the grief and suffering they have had to endure for over two years, but also give them hope for a healthy future. However, simply explaining what project to volunteer for is not enough. To make a material difference to Haiti’s sanitation and water supply problems, one has to make a positive commitment.

See the winners and read more articles on the Helium website!