A group of Lawrence residents are working to make life better for people in Haiti.
“We’re trying to build a stronger community,” says Bianca Brown, member of humanitarian group Sonje Ayiti. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Brown, along with other local volunteers, has dedicated herself to developing the struggling country. Sonje Ayiti is a national organization that has a strong presence in Lawrence.
“We want to share this special place with people,” says Minidar Kaur, a Lawrence resident and group member. “Usually it’s considered this old troubled area, but it’s actually a very nice place to visit.”
Through the Sonje Ayiti organization, volunteers can take part in a three-step program that focuses on education, economic development and health promotion.
Sonje Ayiti developed this action plan by spending two years listening to Haitians, holding group discussions, and talking to the mayor.
“We wanted to spend time building bridges within the community and figuring out what the problems are,” Kaur says.
She stresses the distinction between charity and community development.
“The area has resources, but the people are still unsure of how to use them,” she says.
While Haiti is home to several abundant resources, Sonje Ayiti is learning how to utilize one in particular, cocoa. Haitians, who typically drink hot chocolate at breakfast, use a special process that transforms the cacao bean into the cocoa used in the breakfast hot chocolate. Sonje Ayiti is hoping to assist in producing cocoa for international distribution, giving the Haitian economy a much-needed jumpstart.
Sonje Ayiti members are hoping to assist Haitians in producing cocoa for international distribution. Local members are helping to design the packaging and are putting together a marketing strategy for the cocoa. Many of the group’s members have traveled to Haiti to see the need first-hand.
In addition to bolstering the economy, Sonje Ayiti is also focusing in on Haitian education. In providing children with the tools to receive grade 1-6 education, and allowing adults a second chance at education, Sonje Ayiti hopes to increase literacy rates among the Haitians.
While many of the volunteers cite family members as the reason they got involved, most agree that the positive change they see is a great motivation. One member, Preeti Singh, saw the movement taking place first hand when she went to Haiti last spring break.
“There were no bathrooms or running water, and eight people shared one room, but we were all having fun. We just got to know the kids, and tried to help them in any way possible,” Singh recalls.
To continue developing the struggling community of Haiti, Kaur emphasizes a need for business-minded volunteers, and funds to provide things like a cocoa grinder to the Haitians.
“We’ve done everything we can do. We are now looking for an influx of goods and services that can help us take it to the next level,” Kaur says.