By Carolyn Desrosiers
Community Engagement Manager
Had you been at the Community Foundation office last Friday afternoon, you would have heard a bit of commotion as we welcomed a group of 10 elected officials from Haiti. Our normally quiet reception area was filled with the lilting sounds of Haitian Creole, one of Haiti’s two main languages.
We were invited to host a workshop for this group by the Caneille Regional Development Fund, an Appleton-based nonprofit organization committed to creating opportunity through education in rural Haiti and the coordinators of the visit by the delegation.
The leaders have been elected by their regions to serve on the Haitian Executive Leadership Board, CASEC, similar to what we in the U.S. might think of as county supervisors. They govern rural areas of the Central Plateau of Haiti, the most poverty-stricken section of the country. They face shared regional issues of lack of access to healthcare and education, poor infrastructure and unemployment.
Motivated to make a difference for their constituents, this group formed a regional association — the first of its kind in Haiti — and decided to raise money for a eight-day visit to Appleton to learn about leadership, public services, community development and creative solutions. Other stops on their visit included Appleton North High School, the Appleton Public Library, the Little Chute Village Hall and the Appleton Farmers Market.
During their visit here, our staff explained the history and mission of the Foundation and talked about how we collaborate with community leaders and nonprofits to address key issues. We had some great discussion about how to analyze community needs and mobilize leaders to take action. We provided examples, like the Rural Health Initiative to help the group visualize how leaders and philanthropists can work together. The Rural Health Initiative, born out of a CHAT plunge in Shawano County in 2004, brought together health systems, school systems, agri-business, and community leaders to improve healthcare access for farm families by bringing nurses right into the farmer’s kitchen. Its success led to expansion to Outagamie and Waupaca Counties in 2012.
The leaders shared more of their experiences and talked about the challenges of trying to improve their communities with very little support from the Haitian government. We acknowledged that we are lucky to have the community resources and support that we do. Though the circumstances are different in Haiti, the group felt that, if they work together and champion key issues, they can make a difference.
At the end of the meeting, the president of the association said that he can’t wait to go home with new energy and new tools in their toolbox to better serve their communities. They want to start a community foundation! Though that may not be possible, the concept of pooling and investing resources for community good is universal.
The Community Foundation was honored to be a part of this group’s visit to Appleton and we wish them all the best as they work together to have a positive impact on their region.