Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Yonn Ede Lot helps Haiti build its own future

by Chris Schultz

November 03, 2011

WILLIAMS BAY — Yonn Ede Lot is Haitian Creole for “one helping another.”

That’s exactly the point of the Yonn Ede Lot Association, or YEL, started by Judy Haselhoef and Mike Goodman and headquartered in Williams Bay.

In a telephone interview last week, Haselhoef said she and Goodman were introduced to the La Montagne region of Haiti by the Wisconsin-based Friends of the Children. Friends of the Children have provided medical services in that region twice a year for two-week stretches for over a dozen years.

The plight of the Haitian people, and their culture of helping each other, led Haselhoef and Goodman to form YEL in 2007.

With creation of the association, the founders and their board of directors also agreed to set limits on what the organization would do, Haselhoef said. The goal is for YEL to eventially be able to close its doors and allow the Haitian people to continue to build prosperity on their own.

The organizations operating procedures and goals are:

n To be respectful of the Haitians as individuals and as a culture.

n To be mindful that YEL is a guest in another country.

n To evaluate whether YEL’s efforts are succeeding or not.

n To have an exit strategy.

These projects can vary from something as basic as building a community latrine, which improves local hygiene, to organizing associations to sell locally-produced goods to markets overseas.

YEL works with Haitians to make sure YEL’s footprint on the local communities is as light as possible.

n All donations go directly to on-the-ground projects in Haiti and not to American administration, travel, or fundraising.

n Projects are designed for Haitians by Haitians. YEL provides funds and technical assistance to ensure that a project gets off the ground and is completed in ways that meet local needs and customs.

n Projects are self-sustaining. Once they begin, it is up to the local Haitian associations, with whom YEL contracts, to set them up in a way that they will continue without further American intervention. YEL contracts each project for a year or less, so progress can be easily monitored.

Haselhoef credits Goodman with coming up with the framework and goals of YEL. Goodman is a sociologist who teaches at Waukesha County Area Technical College, Haselhoef said.

YEL is not the United Nations. This isn’t a multi-billion dollar organization. In fact, Haselhoef estimates YEL spends about $15,000 a year in Haiti. Over the past four years, the organization has invested $40,000 into Haitian projects. The money is targeted for specific projects with specific outcomes.

Recently, YEL helped start up a company that makes book bags.

“It wasn’t our idea,” Haselhoef said.

School children generally carry book bags, because there is no where to store their books at the schools. In the past, students had to buy foreign made book bags, which were pricey, Haselhoef said.

A local group proposed starting a business that would make book bags. What YEL did was review the proposal and then helped the book bag company founders get a low interest $4,000 loan to start up. Haselhoef said the company is off and running, making and selling book bags and employing locals.

“It’s got to be the right project,” Haselhoef said.

After three hurricanes and an earthquake devastated Haiti, YEL was involved in the recovery efforts that brought much needed food and medicine into the country.

But the goal was to do more than just feed people, bind up wounds and cure disease, Haselhoef said.

While appreciating the efforts of other groups from the United States and other nations, Haselhoef said she and others with YEL noticed a pattern forming.

“What we saw were the same people coming back with the same problems,” she said.

Instead of running just relief program, YEL would help finance projects that would allow the Haitians to stand on their own and create their own form of prosperity.

What YEL wants to do is break a chain of dependency on international aid by helping the Haitians realize their own ability to create wealth, Haselhoef said.

“Haitians have a positive, ‘we can do it’ attitude,” Haselhoef said. “That’s one of the interesting things. They are a culture that always provides for one another.”

Destitute families who received aid through foreign, humanitarian organizations, shared their aid with everyone in their neighborhood, Haselhoef said.

Prosperity in Haiti will probably take a different route from other, first world nations, Haselhoef said.

“It’s not going to be a car in every garage,” Haselhoef said. Ultimately, success will be Haitians realizing that they can meet their own needs without help from America or anywhere else, she said.