An End-of-the-Year Thank You from APDAG

An End-of-the-Year Thank You from APDAG

Owen Elphick’s “Natural Infection”

Tuesday evening, in coordination with E.O. Smith READS, Roots of Development had the honor of hosting Dr. Paul Farmer at E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, CT. High school junior Owen Elphick opened up the night for us by reading his poem. We wanted to share his powerful and inspiring message with all of our followers. Thanks Owen!


Natural Infection

By Owen Elphick


I’m here to tell you

about the disease

that’s infected mankind,

the sickness

sweeping across the globe,

so subtle

we hardly see it,

so powerful

we know not

how to fear it.


It’s left countless


in its wake,

paving its road through us

with countless more;

and a cure could be found

if only we sought one.


Because it takes over

your whole being,

this illness

of the soul,

creeping inside you like

an animal looking for shelter

and warmth

and food,

a hungry little parasite

that eats away at you,

until all that is left

is a shell

that does not comprehend

what it has become;


or else,

wrapping around us

like a blanket

that softens you,

smothers you,

lulls you

to sleep.


And in that sleep

we dream

that we are safe,

that we are special,

that we are all that matters,

and that the rest of the world

is the illusion

that means nothing.


If only in sleep,

we could wake each other

from our dreams;

for that is the trap

we have fallen into.


Where is the snow

to wake us from the poppies;

where is the kiss

to save us from the spinning wheel?


Whether we like it or not,

magic will not save the world

that suffers as we hide

in our dreams;

the only thing that can do that

is our decision

to wake

and to fight.


Because the Black Death,



and ebola

all have their day

and are gone;

but apathy is the natural infection

and it lives on and on

and on…


Now ask yourself one question:


Do you care?

Owen Elphick and Dr. Farmer speak at E.O. Smith High School on Tuesday, March 31st.

The Story of HELP and Haiti Cherie

HELP student Elice Oreste.

“I never spent a day in school in my life, and so on Elice’s first day of school all I could give him was one pencil, one notebook, and a prayer.” Elice Oreste’s mother shared, reflecting on the progress her son has made. Elice was the first in his family to go to university. His parents are farmers who grow corn, sorghum, and potatoes in southern Haiti. With what little money they had, they prioritized the education of their seven children. Though he worked hard all of high school and graduated at the top of his class, going to university was financially impossible for Elice. For two years, he worked as a teacher and a carpenter in his home community, a small town called Gris Gris, earning $600 a year – about the average annual salary in Haiti. He then heard about HELP from a friend. Not only was Elice’s life transformed, but so too were the lives of his siblings, his parents, and his entire community.


HELP was started by Conor Bohan in 1998. Bohan was a volunteer teacher in Haiti when one of his students asked him for $30 to register for secretarial school. This simple request opened Bohan’s eyes to the need for funding for undergraduate education in Haiti, and the impact achieving such an education can have on one’s life.


Last year HELP received over 225 applications from Haitian students seeking financial support to pursue an undergraduate education. Every applicant earned a straight A average throughout high school and graduated at the top of their class. HELP was able to take on 40 of the applicants, but hopes to increase their funds so they are able to take on a bigger percentage of the applicants in the future.


When asked what he was most proud of in terms of his organization, Bohan did not hesitate in answering “our students”. In a country where only 5% of the population graduates from high school, making it through with straight As and then going on to college is a rarity. HELP students are not only dedicated to their education, but also to their country. An overwhelming 84% of all Haitian college graduates live outside of the country, but 90% of HELP graduates stay in Haiti – and out of the 10% who leave most are pursuing graduate degrees on prestigious scholarships or working for international organizations on Haiti’s behalf. In fact, HELP students are so dedicated to their country’s future that some alumni have formed a program known as KOREM (a Creole acronym) through which students who graduate from HELP contribute 15% of their income, for the first 9 years they are on the labor market, back to the program.


HELP is the beneficiary of this year’s “Haiti Cherie: Pride. Love. Commitment.”, a fundraising event for Haiti that was founded by native Haitian Fabrice J. Armand. Armand is the president of Fabrice J. Armand Group, a company that “helps clients unlock the impossible”. His three major areas of interest in life are the arts, children overcoming adversity, and Haiti. Since 2011, Armand has been hosting an Annual Haiti Cherie event for his birthday to raise money for Haiti-focused non-profit organizations.


Fabrice Armand will host his 5th Annual Haiti Cherie event on March 27th.

Armand’s commitment to Haiti has extended beyond his annual event. He has also produced and released a documentary called Haiti Is Me, in order to spread awareness of the situation in Haiti and encourage people to get involved. Additionally, he helped produce the Off Broadway play ‘BOX’, a play that compares the story of Henry Box Brown, a slave who literally “mailed” himself to freedom, and Haitian men who attempted to also ship themselves to the U.S.


Elice is a perfect example of a dedicated HELP student. Since graduating, he has secured a job at a Heineken brewery, where he makes $18,000 a year – over 30 times what he made before going to college. Every New Years Elice holds an event in his home community where gives prizes to the kids who have the best grades in schools and hosts reading competitions and similar events. Events like the one Elice puts on are a common scene for HELP graduates, and they are now being held across the Haitian countryside. This is just one of the many ways that increasing college education benefits the country. “My studies have not been only for myself. The knowledge I have gained will be put to use to support my family and to promote better ways of life for my Haitian brothers and sisters,” Elice states proudly.


     This year’s event will be held at the Broad Street Ballroom in New York City, on March 27th. Members of the Roots team are excited to be able to attend and support their friend’s at HELP.  To buy your tickets visit:

Partnering for the Future: Roots, Contactually, and APDAG.

Here at Roots we are all about building community and strengthening the relationships that make up those communities. And so we are excited to announce a new partnership with a company that holds many of those same values. The name of our new partner is Contactually.


APDAG members show off new Contactually gear.

Satyam Verma, the Contactually employee who is responsible for initiating the connection between Contactually and Roots, describes his company as “focused on helping clients create long-term relationships to drive long-term growth.” Verma saw an opportunity to help Roots teach its local partners in Haiti how to better cultivate relationships themselves and jumped on board.


To kick off our partnership and to help the members of Contactually gain a more thorough understanding of Roots’ work and the community group we work with, four Contactually employees joined our Executive Director, Chad Bissonnette, on a week-long trip to La Gonave. One member of the Contactually Team, Susan Watkins, shared her enthusiasm and excitement before they took off “I love to travel and I love to experience new culture and meet different people. I love connecting with humans and this trip seems to be all about it!”


While in Haiti, the Contactually team met with APDAG, the community leadership team within La Gonave, to present on the following two topics: How to build new professional relationships, and Maintaining and improving existing professional relationships. The Contactually team held two days of workshops with APDAG. The first day focused on the conceptual side of professional relationships – how they are formed, how they differ from personal relationships, why they are important, etc. APDAG was also taught ways to effectively maintain such relationships

The Contactually team enjoys the sunshine and hangs out with community members.


On day two, the team considered the concepts they had discussed the previous day and helped APDAG apply them directly to their current situation. APDAG ranked its current contacts in order of importance, from government agencies to community member groups. It also ranked the “health” of each of those relationships – giving the relationship a plus if it was strong, a check if it was okay, and a minus for a weak relationship. Contactually then presented APDAG with five specific questions to consider when analyzing relationships and figuring out ways to strengthen them. These questions helped define end goals, specific points of contact, and key next steps in building the relationship.


Only one week after the trip, Contactually is already creating plans for the future. They are hoping to follow up with APDAG within the year to monitor the progress made in terms of relationship strengthening. A second trip to La Gonave this year, in order to run a second round of workshops, is also a possibility.


Contactually holds workshop for APDAG members.

Reflecting on the trip, Contactually employee Brendan Troy says “the embrace that we felt form the broader La Gonave community was out of this world” and that “everyone [both APDAG members and Contactually members] got ten times more out of the experience than we had initially hoped.” Both Roots and APDAG are grateful to the Contactually team for their time and commitment and are looking forward to working together much more!


Preparing for the Next Step: CDECH Capacity-Building Workshops

At Roots, we don’t just do development…we build a foundation that creates an environment for development to happen. By going beyond just creating infrastructure, Roots invests in the ability of local partners to effectively establish a structure so they can manage projects in their own community. For the past year, APDAG, our partner in Haiti, has been participating in valuable capacity-building training workshops. Capacity-building addresses different organizational management skills such as financial planning and project development that are designed to help APDAG to take a more independent role in developing, implementing, and sustaining projects in their community.

Members of APDAG participate in a capacity-building exercise


To run and help manage these capacity-building workshops, Roots partnered with CDECH, a Haitian community development leadership association. CDECH first began the capacity-building process by evaluating what skills needed to be developed within APDAG and then tailored workshops to target these specific skills.


CDECH’s diagnosis showed that the thing that needed to be accomplished in the first phase of workshops was to create a uniform understanding of the organization’s common purpose and goals. This first phase consisted of in-depth analysis of APDAG’s future vision as well as an exploration of community development and the process of leadership. This step was supplemented with additional workshops building a foundation of practical basic management skills, such as running a meeting and writing a report.


Effective administration and organization is a cornerstone of CDECH’s capacity-building workshops

After this initial phase, APDAG and CDECH then dived into more detailed workshops on project management, administration, and community mobilization. These workshops covered a wide range of topics ranging from budget development and accounting to conflict management and negotiating with external partners. These topics guaranteed that APDAG’s skillset could become as well rounded as possible.


Over the past year, APDAG has immediately started putting these skills to practice. APDAG’s proficiency in management skills has directly translated into improved practice: APDAG gained a better understanding of theimportance of accountability. In a short span of time, meetings have been more productive by setting agendas in advance and keeping minutes to refer to in the future. APDAG has also improved its professionalism, which makes it possible for them to make new partnerships. Their budgets, for example, used to be handwritten and submitted infrequently, but have transformed to professionally typed on letterhead. APDAG’s increasing proficiency in computer skills also added to their professionalism as well as their ability to make new connections.


Post-Hurricane Sandy repairs to water facility managed by APDAG

APDAG’s improved organizational management skills have made a direct impact on their ability to implement community development projects.  For example, the repairs recently completed on the Gran Sous water facility was almost entirely handled by APDAG. This progress demonstrates APDAG’s ability to work together as a single organized unit towards a common goal. APDAG will continue to apply the skills they learned in the capacity-building workshops into practice.


We hope you stay tuned to see APDAG continue to grow and gain greater independence beyond Roots!



Support these workshops by contributing to our End of Year Campaign!