Giving Back: Sustainable Action International
by Rob Stoll, CFP®, CFA Financial Advisor & Chief Financial Officer / November 4, 2021
As we said last week we will be sharing about organizations in our life that we are personally involved with over the next couple of months. Sustainable Action International was started 10 years ago by two of my friends from church, Evens and Karina Paul. Evens is from Haiti and always felt called to start a ministry serving his home town of La Victoire, which is about 3 hours north of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. I joined the Board three years ago after much prodding from Evens!
Quick History of SAI
Evens was able to procure a sizable plot of land for the future ministry grounds. Problem was, there’s no basic services in the area, let alone roads and supplies needed to start building. But they were blessed early on with partners who helped them build and design the grounds, including a church ministry housing.
Over the last 10 years we’ve built water wells, a Hope Farm, elementary and high schools, and most recently, a medical clinic! These met the most immediate needs of the community. For example, people in La Victoire used to walk two miles to get clean water. Our wells provide this water right there.
Advancing SAI’s Mission
If the first 10 years was about meeting basic needs, the next 10 years is about Empowerment. The old adage about teaching someone how to fish instead of simply giving them a fish is at the heart of our mission for the next decade.
Our Hope Farm is a big part of this. We grow cashews, peppers, coffee and other nuts on our farm. The produce meets the food-related needs of the community, but our vision is to create sustainable cash crop export opportunities in order to provide economic development to the community. This helps create jobs for the community and provides a new way for them to make a living.
We also recently launched a new microlending service in partnership with people who specialize in that area. Over the last 12 months, we’ve empowered more than 100 women small business owners with funding to grow their businesses and to help them navigate the negative effects of COVID. These investments create more jobs opportunities and empower many women who live alone.
And then there’s education. Our elementary and high schools have been open for several years but we’re in the process of strengthening them. Karina Paul, Evens’ wife, has been a teacher in the Palatine and Des Plaines school districts for over 10 years. Now that she and Evens are living in Haiti more, she’s establishing a thoughtful curriculum for the schools that far surpasses what government schools offer in Haiti. This is one of our biggest needs for 2022, as I’ll talk about more below.
Empowerment is meant to deliver lasting, positive change for the community we serve. It’s extremely important to our ministry founders that our impact lasts well beyond our lifetimes. Education, economics, health, and medicine are key to this.
Partnerships are Key to Our Success
People are sometimes surprised to learn that our entire ‘core’ organization is made up of just Evens, Karina, and four Board members. Evens and Karina do 99% of the heavy lifting, and we Board members pitch in where we can. So how has SAI achieved so much in 10 years?
The answer is partnerships. We simply cannot do everything ourselves. Nor do we want to, frankly. But there are a lot of like minded people and organizations that are eager to help Haiti but don’t know how because they don’t have boots on the ground. That’s where SAI comes in.
For example, our wells and solar electricity system were built in large part by university students and professors from the U.S. The growth of our farm has been aided greatly by people who specialize in crop development. And there are plenty of other examples.
The point is, we partner with people who A) have an expertise in something we’re trying to accomplish, and B) have a heart of service and generosity. It’s worked wonderfully for these 10 years.
Current SAI Needs
We always have projects underway, such as our medical clinic and a girls orphanage we’re currently building. But for 2022 we really want to invest in our schools to make them more sustainable. We have two big challenges with the schools.
First, we need to build a permanent location for our high school. We find space where we get it but are often forced to move around, which creates confusion for parents. We already have a plot of land that was donated to us, we just need funds to build the school itself. We estimate a $20,000 need in order to build the school.
Second and most important, we want to fully fund our teacher salaries for 2022. Currently our ability to pay teachers depends on monthly donors and fundraisers. This has worked, but there are many, many months where we’re scrambling to figure out how to pay them. Sometimes we have to delay payment, which obviously isn’t fair to our fine teachers. We’d like to raise $50,000 by the end of 2021, which would fully fund our teachers salaries for the entire year.
We are beyond blessed and fortunate to be able to serve those in need. And in Haiti, the need is great. I hope reading this was a blessing for you! You can visit our website to learn more at www.sai-haiti.org.
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Rob has over 20 years of experience in the financial services industry. Prior to joining Financial Design Studio in Deer Park, he spent nearly 20 years as an investment analyst serving large institutional clients, such as pension funds and endowments. He had also started his own financial planning firm in Barrington which was eventually merged into FDS.