​​​​​Empowering Women and Children on La Gonave

On the Ground and In the Field

One can read about the struggles and peruse pictures depicting downtrodden individuals and impoverished conditions, but nothing compares to witnessing hope and progress in action and experiencing “the seeds of hope pushing through the dirty soil to get to the sunlight.” One might see the depressing pictures, but that doesn’t negate the positives and the possibilities that exist. The following first-person perspective addresses the hope that is sprouting. Read on to discover her journey to La Gonave.

The following was originally published on the Roots of Development website following an interview with BoulderShares’ President, Leslie Sosnowski.

Leslie and Carline with Plaque of Honor

“Every trip to Haiti is the first trip. I have traveled to Haiti before but this time it was different. Roots has such a great energy to it and a unique local connection with the community. Chad [Roots’ Co-founder and Executive Director] has such a great relationship with the community, it is a real gift. He did not try to come in and “fix” things, but rather listened to the community, and let them drive the conversation and the change. He planted the seed, and now the work and efforts of the community is enabling it to grow.

Although Haiti is only an hour and a half flight from the US, there are such stark differences. Being out on the island of La Gonave makes this contrast even stronger, as mainland Haiti has access to many more services and infrastructure. My journey to La Gonave started with a small charter flight to the island, which I took with an open heart and mind. As soon as my flight landed, I hopped on the back of a dirt bike headed out along the coast and up in the hills, for a rough ride through poor and rural areas. I was welcomed by my host family with utmost pride and hospitality. Escorted by Chad, I made my way through the community to start meeting with people and seeing the projects.

I visited the solar cell-phone charging station and a few clean water projects, but was particularly impressed with the women’s group community business. When we walked in to the store, Carline, the President of the group, was lying on a bench feeling very sick, yet still manning the store. It was incredible, though, as she began talking about the business, what it meant to her, and all that the women had accomplished, she started to perk up. Her resiliency was so inspiring.

That was the very moment I realized the true strength of community, and the positive impact a strong sense of community can have. I was further impressed with Carline when she was discussing how the business came together to work through logistical concerns, and saw their operation in action when they greeted a customer and processed her transaction.

At the end of my trip, I was touched by the fact that the community had come together to celebrate my visit with a huge meal and plaque of recognition. I kept thinking, shouldn’t they be the ones recognized for their achievements? Women and children are improving their own living conditions in La Gonave. Right then and there I made the commitment to be their voice to the outside world, and to do what I could to connect people back to this extraordinarily uplifting community by sharing their stories.

Since I returned from my trip, I have been following the progress of the Women’s Group and their business. I was so proud and impressed to see their plans developing for the next phase of their expansion, to include a new larger store location to expand inventory offerings with increased lighting and security for the women. After visiting with these women and seeing what this business means to them and their community, it is incredible to come home and continue to hear good news of their successes. They are now bringing in over USD $7,000 a month, and I know that their business will only continue to flourish as they strengthen their capacity as business owners and begin to dedicate their revenue to community initiatives for children.

This trip showed me firsthand that we are all the same, no matter where we are from. I have learned so much more from these people than I could ever teach. I really encourage anyone who has the means or opportunity to support Roots of Development and their unique and impactful approach to community investment.”

Visit the Roots of Development website to read the original blog post:

Check out Roots of Development’s May Project Update Video from Executive Director, Chad W. Bissonnette; he shares an update on the Women’s Group’s community business as well as other details of a recent trip to visit La Gonave.

Our Partnership

Roots of Development is a non-profit community-investment organization commited to a philosophy of Development without Dependency. It assists communities that lack financial resources by educating and training the people to manage and promote their own development and growth, rather than merely rely on the continued support of charity organizations. By working to help community members to gain and hone organizational and management skills, true long-term and sustainable development becomes possible.

BoulderShares and Roots of Development have been collaborating since 2011. BoulderShares has always been a big proponent of moving Haiti toward a role of growth and success through Haitian efforts. While they are undeniably in need of goods and services in the immediate future, teaching and training will serve the country and its people far better in the long term. Ensuring that women and children are afforded the tools, techniques and know-how needed to establish their place as essential contributing members in the development of Haiti is critical, for the country needs every member of society to participate in advancement.

Chad and Local Woman

Chad chatting it up with local woman

Vietnamese Rice

Bags of rice from Vietnam – the rice of choice for most of the women with whom we spoke

American Rice

Bags of American rice – a popular item when the supply of rice from Vietnam is not available

Putting It Into Perspective

Île de la Gonâve is very dry and dusty, largely barren and full of steep hills which naturally prevents the production of crops or the development of an agricultural industry. There are pockets of lush fertile areas, often near natural springs, but these areas are not suitable for much farming due to steep hillsides, accessibility and land-owner rights issues.
Family enjoying the shade at the top of a hill on La Gonave
Leslie Sosnowski and Chad W. Bissonnette before heading out for visits to water projects funded by partnerships through Roots of Development
Woman walking back home with her goods balanced on her head, and of course, her hat
Chad greeting friends in the community

La Gonave on the Map

A house in the community of Gran Sous
Typical transport of water after school is finished for day
Young girls on la Gonave