I met Christa a few years ago when we shared a dorm room at a Baptist Mission in Haiti. At first glance, I thought she was about 18 years old. Later I learned she was there to oversee a non-governmental organization she co-founded (THE Mission Haiti). She was also working toward her Ph.D. in Public Affairs. I thought “Wow! The Doogie Howser of international relief!” I felt like a bit of a humanitarian fraud, having already successfully failed at attempting to start my own NGO. She was intriguing and I was full of questions.
Christa, how did your interest in Haiti begin?
“On one of my trips to Haiti, I met a 12-year-old boy named Simon. He shadowed me around the community for the next few weeks, he would teach me Creole words and I would teach him the same word in English. He was one of the brightest children I had ever met.
“When I asked him about his education, he told me that he hadn’t been to school since kindergarten because his family couldn’t afford it. This shocked me so I tried to find out more about his situation. Soon I discovered that none of the children in his family were in school and that this was the case for many children in Haiti.
“I did a little research and found that 400,000 kids in Haiti have never attended school, and 60% of students drop out before 6th grade. The cause of this is almost exclusively financial.”
So, what did you do with that shocking statistic?
“That same day, I went to the local school and personally paid for Simon and his siblings’ education. I was shocked at how little it cost. Tuition for one year was only $60. With books, uniforms, and supplies it only cost around $175 to send each kid to school for the entire year.
“Inspired to action, I founded a scholarship program which provides everything necessary for a child to attend school. This program has been incredibly successful. The first year we had 16 kids in the program and for the 2015-2016 school year, we have over 600 children! These children get 2 locally made uniforms, shoes, backpack, books, and tuition.
“Since the founding of this program, I have spent about 1/3 of my time in Haiti. It is a second home to me now. I have 6 godchildren and 2 nephews, and countless dear friends there. It is hard having my heart in two countries at once, but it is worth it.”
When she’s not busy traveling to Haiti and managing a successful scholarship program, she has also found time to complete her Master’s Degree in Public Administration and was recently awarded her Doctorate.
Do you have any advice for others who have dreams but maybe lack the motivation?
“If you are afraid of following your dreams, I would tell you that the years will go by whether you are following your dreams or not. At the end of those years, where do you want to be? You can either take the safe route, living a life of self-indulgence and comfort, or you can get out there, get dirty, and make a difference in the world. In life, everything has a cost, and there are definitely risks involved with travel and international work. Life is short, and I would much rather be broke, tired, and covered in mud with a huge smile on my face, knowing that I have experienced life to the fullest than sitting on the couch looking at the adventures of others on Facebook.”
Wise words from an extraordinarily motivated woman!
We had the chance to tour the infamous Jenkins-Penn Haitian Relief Organization (JP/HRO – Sean Penn’s tent camp) with my friend Daniel Julien a few years ago. Here she is: broke, tired, muddy, but still smiling!
For more information on Christa’s organization, please visit www.themissionhaiti.com.