From the depths of the Canadian winter, thoughts within Schlegel Villages have turned to friends and neighbours under the Caribbean sun as the call goes out for applications to join the next trip to Haiti in early 2020.
This will be the fourth time a team has travelled to Haiti to learn about life there and witness firsthand how financial support here in Canada can transform lives in the Haitian countryside.
It’s almost hard to picture a time without the unique relationship between Schlegel Villages and Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) and Fonkoze’s Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) program, the key partners on the ground in Haiti. This bond has continued to grow and deepen in the past nine years since a devastating earthquake struck the impoverished nation in early 2010. The struggle of the Haitian people was front-of-mind after that tragic disaster, and Schlegel Villages responded from its deepest sense of community and sincerest desire to help neighbours in need.
A 5k Walk/Run was organized and replicated, eventually becoming a golf tournament drawing friends together in the spirit of generosity. All told, more than $300,000 has been raised since that first event. This is not money to be blindly thrown into the depths of massive international aid organizations, but instead is targeted to some of the poorest of the poor families in rural Haiti working their way out of extreme poverty through the CLM program.
“What ties Schlegel Villages to Fonkoze and the Haitian people is the village mentality and sense of community support,” says Melanie James, one of the key organizers behind Schlegel Villages fundraising efforts and the educational voyages to Haiti. “The feeling you get when you visit the CLM team and the families they support is that of a family and that is the same feeling at Schlegel Villages. We are truly a family that supports one another.”
The CLM program, which translates to ‘Pathway to a Better Life’, identifies mothers who are living through crushing poverty in the outer margins of their rural communities and offers the tools they need to dig themselves out. Case managers support these mothers over the course of 18 months as they learn to support themselves through small commerce or livestock rearing. They’re able to improve their homes, access education and offer health care to their children, and by the end of the program, the vast majority of graduates are in a position to leave extreme poverty behind forever.
Melanie and past ambassadors have met some of these women during the health clinics they operate and the coinciding day camps the team organizes for hundreds of their children. In doing so they witness the impact of the CLM program firsthand and share a sense of personal solidarity that can only be offered in person.
“Every time team members get the opportunity to experience Haiti, we come back inspired to spread the message of the impact we have in supporting the CLM program,” Melanie says. “Seeing the hope and empowerment that this program brings to these women is inspiring. We often take for granted what we have and don’t have, and these women inspire me to see that you don’t have to have the world, you just need to feel confident and supported to move forward in life.”