Making a Difference in Haiti

By Lisa Truesdale

As part of his mission with the Colorado Haiti Project (CHP), Lafayette resident Wynn Walent works with dozens of doctors, teachers and other volunteers who travel with him a few times a year to Haiti. In a pre-trip training session, he tells people what to expect—they’ll be in a very remote, rural place; the accommodations will be sparse; and mosquito nets will quickly become their most essential accessory.

He also shares what not to expect.

“We aren’t going there to ‘save’ Haiti,” Walent said. “We’re going there to learn, to listen and to have meaningful conversations. Yes, we’re going there to help how we can and share what we know, but it’s with a lot of humility and an eagerness to listen first. We support the local systems, the local vision and the local leaders.”

Wilda Alexandre, shown here in her garden with her two children, is a community health worker, farmer and longtime friend and partner of Colorado Haiti Project in Petit Trou. (photos courtesy Colorado Haiti Project)

For example, when medical professionals visit with him, the group doesn’t operate stand-alone clinics. Rather, they support and assist the existing local clinic and help fund and train community health workers that are part of that locally led system. Similarly, CHP’s agricultural program volunteers arrive with a desire to help, but they also learn about what works in Haiti and its unique challenges.

Walent’s own journey to Haiti happened in a somewhat unexpected way. In late 2009, he was finishing a stint at a boarding school in Peru where he was working in communications and teaching music classes with a different nonprofit organization. About to head back to the U.S. for graduate school, his plans were put on hold by the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010. Walent’s organization asked him to head to Haiti to help with relief efforts there, an assignment that was supposed to last about two months—he ended up staying there for two-and-a-half years.

When Walent left Haiti in 2012 and moved to Colorado to be closer to family, he brought with him a new purpose and a deep love of Haiti and its people.

“I was struck by the beauty of the landscape,” he said, “and I was blown away by the talent, courage and devotion of Haitian parents, and the Haitian people in general. It’s a place of need, yes, but the people are so gracious and welcoming, generous of spirit, creative and hardworking.”

Can’t Travel to Haiti? Here’s How to Help Right at Home

Haitian paintings and other works of art are often on display (and for sale) at a number of venues across Boulder County, including the Rayback Collective, 2775 Valmont Road.
Dec. 2: Rayback hosts “Haiti for the Holidays,” an open house and holiday artisan fair from 4:30-8 p.m.
Jan. 11: Wynn Walent and Paul Beaubrun – Songs & Stories; A Night for Haiti benefiting the Colorado Haiti Project, 8 p.m. at The Laughing Goat, 1709 Pearl St.
April 28: CHP presents its annual fundraiser, “Evening for Haiti.” Email info@coloradohaitiproject.org for more info.

Check www.coloradohaitiproject.com for updates.

Walent joined CHP in early 2017 after earning his graduate degree. CHP is a Colorado-based nonprofit founded in 1989 by three Episcopal priests—two Coloradans and one Haitian—that operates a school in Petit Trou. The school currently serves 325 students pre-K to ninth grade with a focus on agriculture and programs in entrepreneurship and girls’ empowerment. The main school building suffered damage from the 2010 earthquake and subsequent storms, and CHP, with local leadership, is working to redesign the campus with long-term progress in mind.

Rica Joassaint, shown here with her daughter Djoumia, is a Petit Trou community leader specifically focused on entrepreneurship and artisan work in the community. (photos courtesy Colorado Haiti Project)

Walent makes six one- or two-week treks to Haiti each year to assist at the school (see “A Message from Wynn Walent” at right), and he says that new visitors are always welcome.
“People here can learn a lot from the people of Haiti,” he said. “There is such strength, such community. When people visit they also see how a relatively small investment can make a big difference when it reaches local hands.”

And, of course, he hopes people come back to Colorado eager to spread the word about what they saw and what they learned.


A Message from Wynn Walent,
Executive Director, Colorado Haiti Project

Wynn Walent (right) with Guilot and Genevieve, two local leaders that the Colorado Haiti Project supports. Guilot is the administrator on campus and Genevieve is a teacher. (photos courtesy Colorado Haiti Project)

“It’s rare to find a story about Haiti that doesn’t follow its official name with its unofficial moniker: ‘The Poorest Country in the Western Hemisphere.’ While it’s true there is enormous need in Haiti, a narrative focusing only on poverty, disaster or dysfunction does a great disservice to the people of Haiti and to anyone seeking to understand our hemisphere. Haiti is an extraordinary nation; birthplace of the first free black republic, a place with a singular and revolutionary history, which despite countless obstacles and seemingly insurmountable challenges, continues to offer witness to the greatest potential of the human spirit.

For the past 30 years, a group of Coloradans has been traveling to one small city in rural Haiti, Petit Trou de Nippes. Why rural Haiti? Across the planet there is a trend towards urbanization—people abandoning rural areas and deeply rooted agricultural traditions for overburdened cities, seeing factories and urban life as the only chance to earn an income. In Haiti, this has occurred with tragic results and dangerous overcrowding.

Petit Trou de Nippes, a five-hour drive from Port-au-Prince, is a small city of 30,000, roughly the size of Lafayette. After 30 years of work in Petit Trou, the Colorado Haiti Project has developed long-term relationships that allow for deep and direct impact. We invest in education, farming, girls’ empowerment, community health, jobs creation and more, all through local leadership. Our partners have shown that with support and investment, their small city can be an example of what’s possible in Haiti. Local leaders are striving to build a community with strong local food systems and community health programs, a place where there is schooling for children and job opportunities for parents.
We are privileged to know the people of Petit Trou, and we are honored to stand with them.”