An Inside Look at La Gonave from Roots Supporter, Leslie Sosnowski
Leslie Sosnowski, CEO of BoulderShares and long-time partner and supporter of Roots traveled to La Gonave, Haiti in June of 2013. She first got involved with Haiti back in 1999 when she started sponsoring children through her church as a way of connecting herself and her children with the world at large. She has traveled to Haiti several times with a number of organizations, but what really drew her to Roots was the commitment to our philosophy of Development without Dependency. We recently caught up with her to see what the trip meant to her, and what the experience was like visiting with our local partner communities.
Leslie and Carline with plaque of honor
Here’s what she had to say:
“Every trip to Haiti is a first trip to Haiti in a way, as one never knows what gifts and surprises of the human spirit will be revealed. 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 genuine 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 alone and clearly not feeling very well, yet she was still carrying out her responsibilities and manning the store. It was incredible, though, as she began talking about the business, what it meant to her, and all that she and the other women had accomplished, she really 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 growth, 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. They are so grateful for the opportunities provided to them, and faith shown in their capabilities from the supporters of Roots of Development. The community looks forward to welcoming more visitors. I really encourage anyone who has the means or opportunity to support Roots of Development and their unique and impactful approach to community investment.”
A few photos from her trip