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Welcoming hope: Two sisters find a new beginning at Freedom Village

At LiveDifferent, we believe in the power of change, the potential for transformation, and the importance of community. We are thrilled to share a heartwarming update that marks a significant step forward in our mission to make a difference in the lives of youth. We’ve welcomed the first two girls, sisters, into the Freedom Village in Haiti.

Emanuela, our dedicated house Mom at Freedom Village, has opened her heart to these brave young girls. Her nurturing and unwavering commitment to their well-being has already started to make a  difference in their lives.

Life hasn’t been easy for these sisters. They’ve faced adversity that would have left most of us feeling defeated. But what sets them apart is their unyielding spirit, resilience, and the hope they carry in their hearts. It’s a hope that’s not only helping them overcome their past but propelling them toward a brighter future.

Thanks to our incredibly generous donors, this opportunity has become a reality. This support has created a safe haven for these girls and many more who will follow in their footsteps. The Freedom Village stands as a symbol of hope, a place where dreams can flourish, and lives can be rebuilt.

LiveDifferent’s Manager of Construction and Logistics and Community Liaison, Frantzo Begin says, “Today it is a pleasure to be here and to see the dream we had a long time ago and see the reality of the dream. There’s no words to say how appreciative we are for the work LiveDifferent is doing because of all the donors and the support from the LoveLegacy community.”

In the community of Calvaire, these sisters are discovering a new family, a loving environment, and the support they need to thrive. They’re not just learning, growing and living; they’re embracing a second chance at life.

Thank you to our donors for helping us make this new beginning possible for these two sisters. Together, we are creating a world where dreams are not just chased but caught, where lives are not just lived but celebrated, and where adversity is not a roadblock but a stepping stone to a brighter future.

Learn more

Freedom Village will soon have the capacity to house 28 girls who have experienced abuse through Haiti’s Restavek system.

Want to get involved? Become a monthly LoveLegacy partner and watch your contributions change lives.

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Author: Elissa Grohne

Date: November 1st, 2023

The Freedom Village: Celebrating a dream come to life

We are thrilled to report that the construction of the Freedom Village is 99% complete. We have started hiring staff and are currently putting the finishing touches on the facility.

We will soon open the doors to girls ages 6 to 16 so they can heal, learn, and ultimately get to a place where they can help serve and care for others in Haiti.

It is estimated that there are over 300,000 restavek children in Haiti. These children are sold or given away by their parents because they simply have no resources to keep them alive. Restavek children are almost always forced to do hard physical work, are denied education and are physically abused.

When LiveDifferent’s Benjamin Cole Brown heard about this system of slavery, he vowed to do something about it, and together with our Haitian partners, created the idea for the Freedom Village in 2013. In 2015, with the help of our partners in Winnipeg, MB, the property was purchased. Tragically one year later, Cole died in a plane crash at 36 years old, but his legacy continues to be honoured by LiveDifferent and so many others. The construction began on the Freedom Village in 2018.

The Freedom Village will help bring young girls out of the restavek system and give them freedom, hope, education and an opportunity for a healthy future. As we come to the end of our construction journey for the Freedom Village, let’s reflect on how far we have come.

Creating a home

Working with our local partner, ASEEDH, not only do we include and employ local workers for our projects, but we also network with local leaders, government officials, community members and other organizations who may be working in the area, so that we can assure that all efforts and resources are maximized completely.

Through many struggles – such as significant currency fluctuations, fights for the opportunity of employment, the riots and unrest that followed the assassination of the Haitian president, as well as a lack of fuel throughout Haiti – we were able to reach this incredible milestone.

“I already imagine this protected space filled with kindness and laughter of little girls who are finally happy.”

Michelle Guillaume, Manager of Operations in Haiti.

The Freedom Village is divided into two sections: The Village and the Guest House. The majority of the property will provide a beautiful space for the girls to heal in a family-style setting. The Guest House is a separate section of the property that will generate income to support the girls’ programming and rehabilitation.

The Village will offer five family-style housing units with a total capacity of 28 girls and 5 house mothers. A counselling room and infirmary are constructed near the base of the site and a covered dining area is nestled on the roof.

The Guest House offers eight suites with a total capacity of 24 people. It also includes a staff apartment, lounge area, office, reception desk, storage depot, conference room, parking and a staff room. Most suites have a generous roof deck space and top-level suites are suitable for families with children.

Operating off-grid

The Freedom Village was designed with sustainability and efficiency in mind.

Rainwater from the roofs is collected and stored for usage as greywater throughout the facility. A solar power system (with diesel generator backup), a laundry room and a commercial kitchen are part of what is needed for the care and comfort of the children and guests.

Security is a top priority here, with the Freedom Village surrounded by large walls and armed guards 24/7. It’s important to note the care and love put into every last detail by the builders – and that includes the construction of the walls. They hand-hammered every stone flat for the wall, and in between each stone, they added smaller stones to add character, providing a more Haitian touch. The beauty of the architecture is truly breathtaking!

Learn more

The creation of the Freedom Village has been a long and arduous journey, but it stands as a testament to the determination and perseverance of LiveDifferent and our partners.

Not only is this project going to provide safe housing for vulnerable young girls, but it is a model of sustainability that shows how thoughtful design can help us honour our commitment to creating a positive, long-term impact in the communities we serve. We are proud to be able to offer this incredible opportunity and look forward to seeing what these young girls will accomplish in their new home.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can support this cause, join LoveLegacy.

Author: Gina Alward

Date: May 25th, 2023

Operations update on École L’Union

The levels of violence and unrest in Haiti over the past few months have reached critical heights, and we have been working diligently with parents, teachers and community members to safely re-open École L’Union.

While the majority of unrest in Haiti is in the South near the capital city of Port-au-Prince, there were looming concerns of protest activities growing in the North as well. But one of the main impacts on École L’Union was that fuel was completely unavailable, which greatly affected operations.

After much deliberation, we’re pleased to say that as of Monday, Dec. 5, students have returned to school. But the situation in Haiti continues to be unsettling. The safety of our students and staff is always our top priority, and we will continue to monitor the situation as things progress. Right now, we are preparing students as best we can with a modified lesson plan to ensure they are able to effectively complete their academic year and receive the quality education they so rightly deserve.

“Haitian students are being denied their basic right to education due to political and economic unrest. Studies show that when children are not in school, the level of hunger and violence within the families rises. When they are in school, they at least have a daily hot meal and people to care for them, so we’re happy to have students back in class.”

Michelle Guillaume, Manager of Operations in Haiti

Haiti is currently experiencing protests, civil unrest, armed gang violence, a cholera outbreak, and shortages of fuel, food and clean drinking water. We were hoping to return to École L’Union at the beginning of the term in September 2022, but during this time, two things happened: The Minister of Education postponed school openings until Oct. 3, and the acting Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, announced that the Haitian government would be ending fuel subsidies, causing the price of fuel to increase by three times its normal amount. This led to protests, and riots and blocked roads.

In this crisis atmosphere, parents and families did not feel safe sending their children to school, with dozens of gangs increasing and rising acts of violence throughout the country. Because of this, the reopening date for school would be pushed back even further. While some of Haiti’s wealthiest families were able to switch to online learning, this was not possible in vulnerable communities that simply do not have the resources, such as Calvaire. As a result, our team has had many meetings with parents and teachers over the past few months to consider several reopening plans that would give our students safe access to education.

Many of our staff and students at École L’Union were able to return full-time in December. Rest assured that we will continue to act in their best interests. We are confident that we are operating by the safest means possible and that we will be able to recover from the time lost during the academic year.

We will continue to follow the situation in Haiti via news outlets, but most importantly, via our staff team on the ground in Haiti.

Author: Gina Alward

Date: December 14th, 2022

Our Students Share Their Dreams for the Future

What did you dream about when you were little?

In one of the lessons at Ecole L’Union, we asked 25 students the question, “What would you like to be when you grow up?”

You can learn a lot about these precious little ones when looking closely at their responses. Here are some things that stood out:

1. They dream really, really big

What I would love (to be) is a soccer player, nurse and astronomer. I can also be a principal and an accountant. That is what I would like when I am grown up. – Syndialove

2. They are aware that people around them are suffering, but they have big hearts and want to help

I would like to be an engineer. I would like to help the people that have no work. I do not like to see people going through calamity. – Ojempson

When I grow up, I would like to be a great nurse to heal the sick. – Withlene

When I grow up, I would like to be an agronomist for the people in the streets and for my family. To make a garden of bananas, coffee, rice and corn to help the people to give them something to eat. – Chrisno

I (would) like to be a nurse. To take care of the sick and their wounds. I will open a house for those that have no home and the disabled that cannot work and the children that have no parents to take care of them. – Yolanda

3. They know that education is key and can help them out of poverty

I do not want to be poor. It is for this reason I have to study all my lessons and do my homework. I do not want to stay in poverty. I want to help all the people that cannot work. My father and mother are poor, my sister and I are also poor. When I am older I will do everything I need to do for my family and help the people that cannot work. – Chella

There’s a good chance that an awareness of suffering didn’t shape our goals at such an early age. 

None of us know what it is like to live in a rural, hillside community without access to education and an average wage sitting at just a few dollars per day. We did not grow up seeing the effects of poverty, with our friends and family getting sick and not being able to afford medical care.

But there is one thing that each of us can relate to! We all know that we would never have made it to the place we are standing right now without help from others. 

Help support the dreams and futures of the children at Ecole L’Union.

Become a Monthly Sponsor

Author: Joshua Dueck

Date: August 8th, 2019

Professional Development for the Teachers at Ecole L’Union

Where you would be without a basic education? It’s probably safe to say that without it, each day you face might be filled with a little bit more of adversity.

We believe that education can fuel brighter futures for the children of Calvaire, but when it comes to learning, there is a lot involved. When Heather Gingras came on board as a staff member in the role of Haiti Programs Support, her passion to invest in the children led her to make all sorts of connections with various organizations working in Haiti and to begin learning the native language.

Browsing YouTube, she came across a very helpful tutorial that taught some basics of Haitian Creole. A few clicks later and she was introduced to the organization who had published the video, P4H Global. After looking into it further, she recognized the impact that partnering could have for our school and found herself reaching out by phone to start some meaningful conversations.

About P4H Global

P4H Global (P4H) is a nonprofit that is committed to the professional development of Haitian educators. According to The World Bank, approximately 80% of Haitian educators lack adequate training and as a result, the classrooms can often be marked with an authoritarian, teacher-centred approach. Research has shown that quality teacher training has direct, positive impacts on student success.

About the Program

Their in-school Educator Professional Development (EPD) training provides participants with research-based, student-centered strategies that transform classroom culture. This training is conducted over a three-year span. All materials and training are hosted in Haitian Creole and are designed to engage educators in collaborative learning structures.

The topics for this year were:

  1. Foundational Education Theories
  2. Classroom Management
  3. Collaborative Learning and Engagement

Educating the Educators

We were thrilled that all of the teachers welcomed the idea of professional development with enthusiastic support! At the beginning of March, Heather spent a few days witnessing the teacher training and noticed that each person in attendance was extremely engaged with the program.

After one week, the school’s principal reported that he had seen a difference in each teacher with the biggest improvement being in the area of classroom management. A staff member for P4H Global also visited the school to conduct observations and reported seeing changes in the classroom as well. To this day, the teachers continue to receive support through ongoing updates, reminders, and videos and will all be attending a 3-day conference in June.

Investing in professional development for these teachers is already having a great impact on the children of Ecole L’Union.

To everyone who supports our work in Haiti, we appreciate your support and belief in the importance of education for the children of Calvaire! The teachers are grateful for your support and belief in them and so are we. Thank you!

Support the children of Ecole L’Union as they head towards brighter futures—one school day at a time.

Author: Joshua Dueck

Date: April 8th, 2019

Reaching New Destinations

Often times I think back to 2012 when I did my first LiveDifferent Build. It was the first time I was exposed to issues that were bigger than not having the newest iPhone or that all the salt and vinegar chips were gone. And at that time, as a 15 year old girl, I couldn’t comprehend what I saw. I couldn’t even begin to understand the struggles people in developing countries go through. Fast forward to today, four years later, and I have finally gotten to Dominican Republic and Haiti having been to Mexico multiple times. This trip has been very different for me. I was once again completely blown away by the poverty and issues that human beings just like myself must struggle with every single day. I started to look at things differently and I asked myself:

Do I believe that every human should have access to clean drinking water? 

Do I believe that no child should go to bed hungry?

Do I believe that every person should have the right to an education?

Do I think that a woman should be able to close her door at night and know that she and her family will be safe?

These are the things that we are working to change because it’s 2015 and yet SO many of these rights are not a reality for people.  

I think about the multiple times that I have just simply shaken my head because I didn’t have any words to describe what I saw. Children at the age of three carrying full buckets of water up steep and rocky slopes (not once did they laugh at me while I struggled with my half bucket, tripping and falling all over the place). The struggles of sick and malnourished children who do not have access to medical care. I have come to realize that no matter how many times I see people in these situations or witness the immense suffering some must go through, I will never be able to fully understand. 

As I walked through the community, I was inspired by just how happy people there are. They will be playing soccer, barefoot, with nothing more then an empty plastic bottle for a ball, yet they are having the time of their lives. True happiness doesn’t come in the packaging of a new iPhone 6. It doesn’t come from a high numbered paycheck or from the amount of friends you have on Facebook. Happiness comes from the act of kindness. When we give our time and effort to help others, the response is like nothing you could imagine. It is having the opportunity to be able to contribute my time to build not only a home for a very deserving family but also create a long lasting relationship with them.

My time in the Dominican Republic and Haiti has taught me the importance of education and it has allowed me to realize that I should not take clean water for granted. Someone said to me on the trip that poverty is the lack of opportunity and choices. This has stuck with me because in today’s world we are overwhelmed with the amount of choices we have. However, an important choice we must make is whether or not we are going to turn our heads on the world when they are in need or to step up and do something to take action.

Gina, LiveDifferent Volunteer, Alumni Build Trip 2015

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: June 14th, 2015

LiveDifferent Stories: Casley and Kitson

These two boys are an incredible pair.
 
Casley is 6 years old, and was born with a medical condition that prevents his nervous system from functioning in sequence with his brain and spinal cord. Though his brain is still perfectly healthy, his illness affects his learning in the classroom, as he has limited mobility of his body. Everyday, his mother pays a man to carry Casley on his back, up and down from LiveDifferent’s school at the top of a mountain. While at the school, he doesn’t have access to a proper wheelchair, so when he is at the school he lays back in a stroller and has teachers hold his head up so that he can see the blackboard. 
 

Kitson is a 13 year-old orphan who grew up on the streets of Cap-Haitien. Four years ago, he was involved in a street fight where he was attacked with a broken glass bottle, and he lost sight in his left eye and was scarred across his face. Last year, he was taken in to live in the home of a local family. He now lives in the same community as Casley and they attend the school together. 

Everyday at school. when the other kids are playing outside, Kitson dedicates his recess to looking after Casley inside, feeding him and spending time with him. He doesn’t do this because he is asked, he does this because he and Casley are best friends. Though the two of them haven’t spent much time together outside of school, the two cannot be separated when they are in the classroom. Their bond is unbreakable. These two share a genuine sense of kindness, friendship, and mutual respect. This is such a powerful example of how the most unlikely of friendships can create the most beautiful stories.
 

 

 

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: June 1st, 2015

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 21st, 2013

The strength of the Haitian people

Today was a hard, yet inspiring day. We woke up bright and early, at breakfast together and started our trek up the steep hill to the school. After the relief of making it up to the top, and seeing the beautiful view that we would witness while working we were greeted eagerly by all the young Haitian children attending the school. They rushed outside yelling ‘Blons’ which is the name for white people, and shortly after formed a circle around their teachers who led them into the most adorable song and dance. We all took pictures and a few team members even joined in. There were a few children with broken school shoes, frayed socks. One boy I noticed had a badly disfigured foot, so bad he couldn’t walk on the sole of his foot. He walked on the side of it and still managed to wear shoes, walk and kick around a soccer ball like all the other children. He coped with life the way all the other children did, and didn’t let his disability stop him from doing anything he wanted to do.

When we got back to work, I noticed quite a few differences from Haiti to home in Canada. In Haiti when you need some water, you have to send someone all the way down to the well to carry up 5 gallons at a time on top of their heads. In Canada, you would just call in the water truck. The construction worker’s lack of protective gear was alarming. Most of them were slip sliding around in their flip flops every time water got on them during all the cement mixing. None of the workers wore gloves to protect their hands, goggles while smashing rocks, or hard hats for protection.

Seeing our new friends Wesley and Kevinson working so hard shovelling and using the only broken pick axe they could find bought me to tears. I was wearing gloves just to pick up sand and rock filled buckets, immediately passing them to another team members. So after a short while, I couldn’t handle watching them clench their hands in pain anymore. I dug up the extra pair of gloves I had brought along, took off my gloves and gave a glove out to some of the workers. The relief and thankfulness on their faces from such a simple act filled me with such joy. I have formed a friendship with these two boys and I am so thankful to have met them! I have been so moved by everything I was able to witness today and I look forward to more while on this amazing journey in Haiti.

Michaela ~ Haiti Hero Holiday volunteer 2013

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 11th, 2013

Would you like some water?

On a hot summer day, if someone asked you this question I guarantee your answer would be yes, without another thought. Nothing could ever prepare me for what I experienced today and it will forever force me to rethink the answer to this simple question.

Today was our second day in Haiti and as usual, it started with the very tiring hike up the mountainside to our build site, the school. We were told that we could help today by bringing water to the work site from a local well. LiveDifferent is pretty cool because they really get us involved in the community and do things the way the locals would, so this means that we would be bringing the water up the mountain from the well that is 20 minutes away…on our heads!

I was quite nervous about this because while watching the locals they made it seem a little too easy. While walking down the mountain I kept watching to see if I could pick up any tips. We arrived at the well and there must have been about 50 people there filling up their buckets. Everyone from 5 year olds to grandparents were filling up buckets, placing them on their heads, and walking away as if it were normal to be carrying that amount of weight on their heads. What wasn’t normal was the group of white people who were attempting the same, so of course we drew quite a crowd!

We learned the bucket rarely goes directly on your head, you must have a piece of cloth wrapped in what looks to be a donut between your head and the bucket. If the ‘donut’ wasn’t folded or placed right, you had no hope of taking any step towards your destination. As I stood there waiting, I was laughing and joking with my friends wondering how I was going to do this with a full 5 gallon bucket of water in front of me. As I was attempting to tie my extra shirt into a ‘donut’, a lady about my Mom’s age walked up to me, took it out of my hands and tied it for me. As I thanked her in Creole she placed it on my head and helped me place the bucket properly then she walked off. Later while the group was discussing this, another volunteer said ‘she wasn’t even smiling, this wasn’t funny to her because this is her life.’ She made the trip up the mountain everyday, most likely upwards of 5 times a day, but she was willing to help us. The group of LiveDifferent volunteers stopped a few times on the way up the mountain to catch our breath and she was waiting for us every time with a full bucket still balancing on her head, and she helped us retie our ‘donuts.’

It was only after reaching the top of the mountain, when I could empty out my bucket into the large container that it hit me how privileged we are in developed countries.

In our debriefing that night one of the staff mentioned a quote that states, ‘one of the worst parts of being poor is that it takes up all of your time’ and after experiencing the hike up the mountain today, this quote could not have been more true. Instead of spending time with her family, developing skills or even finding a job, this lady spends the majority of her day getting water. This is something that in Canada, we wouldn’t even give a second thought to. An average 8 minute shower uses 40 gallons, one flush of a toilet uses 2 gallons and that doesn’t even include the water we use for drinking, cooking, cleaning our cars, or watering our gardens. It took me 20 minutes and all my energy to get only 5 gallons and I guarantee the next time I turn on a tap I’ll think differently, will you?

Matt ~ Haiti Hero Holiday volunteer 2013

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 6th, 2013