Nonprofit Organization Highlights Local Changemakers in Haiti

"People in poverty are championing the way out of poverty," declared Daphne Nederhorst, Ashoka Fellow and founder of Sawa Global, an organization highlighting local changemakers in their home communities.

Four Sawa Global employees, including Nederhorst, recently flew to Haiti from their home base in Vancouver, British Columbia. Once on the ground, they didn't bark orders and make rules, instead they listened to what local community members had to say and partnered with Ciné Institute, Haiti's only professional film school, to offer paid internships recording the changemakers they discovered. After hearing a plethora of inspirational stories about local people making a difference, Nederhorst and her team opted to interview nine of the many do-gooders they found. From those nine they elected three as Sawa Heroes.

A Sawa Hero is a highly inspirational individual from the world’s poorest countries who have found local solutions to extreme poverty. Often Sawa Heroes themselves live in extreme poverty and thus demonstrate tremendous humbleness, integrity and courage to help others.

The five criterion that are used in the selection process are:

  • Location -- from one of the 50 poorest countries 
  • Leadership -- must have a personal story, unique innovation and leadership skills 
  • Impact -- projects have significant and ongoing impact 
  • Access -- ability to collaborate with supporters and other Sawa Global Heroes across the globe 
  • Neutrality -- projects must be non-government, non-religious, non-political and community-based 

The three Sawa Heroes that were selected are Joseph Philippe, Eder Romeus, and Marie Lucie Mentor.

Philippe has impacted over 200,000 people with his 23-year-long effort to transform rural Haiti by empowering its people to develop the community and improve their living conditions. Through his organization Fonkoze and the Association of Peasants of Fondwa (APF) he has created 42 micro-credit banks, planted over 500,000 trees, built the only rural university, formed 19 peasant skill groups, constructed a road that took 22 years to build and developed small businesses, water wells and health clinics throughout the region.

Romeus has been without the use of his legs since he was three years old due to a polio infection. He now transforms the lives of others with disabilities using art through his organization, Action Together to Support the Handicap (ACCENH).

Mentor has been empowering people living with HIV/AIDS in Haiti over the past 10 years changing the lives of more than 1,800 families. She witnessed the discrimination first-hand after her uncle passed away with AIDS and she saw the neglect by doctors as result of the stigma surrounding the disease.

The narrative of a local hero changing their community from the inside out is one of the most untold stories out of Haiti, a country that has received billions of dollars in aid over generations and is still the only fourth-world country in the Northern Hemisphere.

"The tools to solve poverty are already on the ground," Nederhorst said with passion in her voice. We just need to tell their stories and lend a hand. And that's exactly what Sawa Global is doing -- telling the stories of local social entrepreneurs whose impact hasn't been heard over the multi-billion dollar nonprofit aid organizations, but are arguably having just as much notable impact.

"No international organization has ever approached us with as much respect as Sawa," said one Haitian to Nederhorst.

This article was developed in partnership with SocialEarth and was prepared by Tristan Pollock.