Growing up in Philadelphia, Herman Dolce, Angelo Antoine, Marc Antoine, Gary Joanis, and Philippe Sainvil were more than good friends. They were all tied at the umbilical cord, culturally speaking, as their Haitian background was definitely a factor in bringing them together. Their relatives knew each other from the tight-knit Haitian community in Philly. Dolce and Antoine attended the same church—the Haitian Evangelical Baptist Church. Joanis’ grandmother often babysat Antoine, when he was a toddler.
In their teens, most of the little clique attended Martin Luther King High School. As they changed churches, as some of them moved, they remained friends, most of them reconnecting as students at Temple University or through the organization Coalition of Young Christians of Pennsylvania (of which several of them are still members). Their lives had gotten them to different directions, education-wise. Joanis had attended and earned a Bachelors in Science from Penn State University. Dolce had received a Bachelors from Temple University and a Masters from Lincoln University. Angelo Antoine had graduated Penn State University and was pursuing his Masters at Holy Family University. Sainvil opted to make gaining work experience as his priority, piling up plenty of experience as a banker and manager, while working towards his Associate’s degree in Business. Marc Antoine chose the communications sector, earning a Bachelors in Public Relations from Immaculata University. Before long, it was apparent that they all had developed another thing in common: an ardent passion for Haiti and a huge desire to promote a shift in this generation. It occurred to them that they could put the weight of all their education towards the good of Haiti. They put their minds together, and eventually got Haiti Engaging Youth, a non-profit organization, on its feet.
Gary Joanis was elected Vice President of Haiti Engaging Youth. Angelo Antoine was selected as Fundraising Chair, and Marc Antoine as the Ministerial Coordinator. Along the way they met Christelle Chery, a student at Penn State and Bianca Roseau, a hyperactive member of the Haitian Student Organization at Temple University. Chery currently serves as the Social Media Coordinator for Haiti Engaging Youth, while Roseau is the Fundraising Chairperson, most recently having overseen a successful fundraising fashion show. Gaelle Baptiste is the organization’s Youth Alliance Coordinator. She, Antoine, Sainvil, used to engage in cheerful chatter at basketball games, and probably didn’t fathom that they would come together for a more serious cause. To top things off, the group selected Gaelle Baptiste as College Coordinator and Dominique Goss, also a Temple University graduate, and the only non-Haitian among Haiti Engaging Youth, to serve as CFO.
As president of Haiti Engaging Youth—or Hey as it’s commonly called—Sainvil goes back and forth between his home in Pennsylvania and Haiti. His mission on each trip: to establish a continuous rapport with youths in Haiti and connecting them with other young people of Haitian background in the United States. But that is only part of the HEY mission. The organization actually has a three-sided objective. For one, to equip youths in Haiti with trade skills. For another, to distribute food (empty stomachs can’t make brains think, after all). It also has a medicine leg that makes sure that the region it serves is adequately supplied with medicine.
The team members of the non-profit organization work diligently to get new partners. They held a cultural day earlier this year, during which they educated attendees all over Philadelphia about the history of Haiti, and held a special presentation and featured a live painting done by Philadelphia-based visual artist Ivben Taqiy. The HEY team has worked with Temple University’s Haitian Student Organization on doing the aforementioned fundraising fashion show, and have a mission trip planned for this year. The team behind Haiti Engaging Youth is constantly brainstorming new ways to push the organization forward.
Mr. Sainvil and Mr. Antoine discussed the HEY organization in more detail to Kreyolicious.com.
Q & A
How did Haiti Engaging Youth get started?
PHILIPPE SAINVIL: Haiti Engaging Youth was established in April 2012. After going to Haiti in March 2012 for a week-long mission trip my life changed drastically. Once I returned to Philadelphia, I got together with Marc Antoine and Gary Joanis and we began to put words into action. Our team has expanded with Angelo Antoine, Christelle Chery, Herman Dolce, Gaelle Baptiste and Bianca Roseau. With everyone’s recent experiences in Haiti and being Haitian-American it made it easier for us to relate. We established HEY because we felt what was lacking is the interaction between the youth in the US and the youth in Haiti, in particular the Haitian diaspora. HEY was created to bridge the gap and to facilitate the building of relationships between the Haitian and American youth. We believe there is hope for Haiti. We believe in Haiti Engaging Youth. Hey!
Some members of the HEY team smile for the camera, at a fundraising event for the organization.
Growing up what were your perceptions of Haiti?
MARC ANTOINE: The perception I had of Haiti growing up came from two places. I had the perception of the media which always portrayed Haiti in a negative light, as if nothing good could ever come our of Haiti. Haiti was always illustrated as a destitute country, poverty stricken, and demonic. The other perception was from my parents, who really provided the foundation for my thoughts on Haiti. They told me that Haiti was like every place in the world, they told me that there were beautiful and rich parts and there were poor and struggling parts of the country. One thing they always made sure I knew was that Haiti was special for what we overcame through our history, and even if we did not have a lot like other countries, we had our pride. The perception has not changed much over the years. I was exposed to the good and the bad of Haiti at an early age, I have always been a proud Haitian and I find what I learned as a child about Haiti being reinforced in my experiences now.
SAINVIL: As a child growing up in the States the perception that was shown to be was that of Haiti being a poor country and the conditions even poorer. I was born in Haiti and came to the United States when I was three. I visited in the summer 2000 for the first time. I loved my time there. What was being shown and what I would hear did not match up with what I discovered once I actually set foot in Haiti. In March 2012, I went on a mission trip which was a life changing experience for me. That is when I realized Haiti is where I want to be and what I can do to help change the conditions.
One of your key strategies is to educate young Haitians with basic trade school skills in carpentry and masonry and electrical mechanics. Have the communities you’ve worked with in Haiti, been responsive to this approach?
SAINVIL: Currently we’ve been working in Pignon, Haiti which is located in the North Side close to Cap Haitian. We want to be as efficient as possible and not spread ourselves too wide or too thick so were initiating change one community at a time. The people of Pignon have been very responsive and energetic about our efforts to educate our fellow Haitians. We believe that targeting the youth population will allow future generations to benefit from the knowledge and skills that are obtained.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from Hey?
SAINVIL: That Haiti is a strong country. With my interest for Haiti being at an ultimate high I realized that the saying, “Haitians are the strongest of people” is true to its testament. The perception has got even stronger. Just to sit down and have conversations with my fellow Haitians in Haiti and realize everything they have been through—and they are still standing strong—blows me away. I hope many others are able to experience what I have.
ANTOINE: The biggest thing I have learned since working with HEY is that there are a lot of young Haitians who are willing, eager, and radical enough to try and change Haiti. I always knew that there were proud Haitians, but from our travels I have been blessed to experience the fire that lies within the hearts of our Haitian youth. I really believe that the future of Haiti is dependent on our youth, and from what I have seen thus far, our youth are capable.
Do you partner with institutions to execute the educational part of your program?
SAINVIL: We do partner with institutions to assist us in executing our education initiative. We are also in talks with Constitution High School in Philadelphia to put together a community service initiative in place geared solely on assisting HEY. With our partnership with Constitution High we are planning to start a pen pal program where the students at CHS will be partnered with a student at a partner school in Haiti. Through this program students will be educated on the cultural differences between them and form a bond that can last a lifetime. The students at CHS are very ecstatic about working with HEY in many other aspects as well. Let’s get engaged!
You partner with pharmaceutical companies. I’m sure they have the best interests of the kids in mind. How do you make sure that these communities don’t become guinea pigs for new medications, or for medications that are banned in the U.S. and other countries?
SAINVIL: As fellow Haitian-Americans we made it our mission to never allow HEY to be an organization that exploits Haiti for reward or recognition. Any medicine we take over to Haiti will be in compliance with the Food and Drug Administration. We realize there are a significant number of people in Haiti who suffer from diverse conditions whether it be, high blood pressure, diabetes or malnutrition. Our initiative to assist in the medical area will be a program that is established in the future and will be in properly structured. We are currently focused on executing our Education focus efficiently one community at a time.
In terms of how your different programs have been carried out and received…what has given you the most satisfaction in terms of results?
SAINVIL: In terms of results, our education initiative has given us the most satisfaction. To have the opportunity to educate the youth here in the states and in Haiti has been wonderful. The excitement and the enthusiasm that is shown when we are working in Haiti and in the States have been very gratifying. We plan to continue to carry this momentum in positioning HEY as a monument and not a movement. We believe there is hope for Haiti. We believe in Haiti Engaging Youth. Hey! We want to take this time to thank Kreyolicious Magazine for giving us the platform to speak about Haiti Engaging Youth. We look forward to future collaborations. Follow us on twitter and Instagram @HeyHaiti and like us on Facebook as Haiti Engaging Youth.
What are your biggest needs at this time, for those in the position to donate?
Our biggest needs from donators at this present time would be any contributions to constructing our first library and tech center. Whether it be monetary, computers, books, and so on. We appreciate any type of support as we are all working for Haiti.
What are the future plans of HEY?
SAINVIL: Our future plans for HEY consist of one day establishing a school equipped with updated technology and resources. We realize that reforming the school system is a tough task but assisting in providing these resources one community at a time will allow us to grasp a great deal of knowledge on how the school system works. Our vision for youth is Haiti is that they all receive the educational resources required to obtain the maximum amount of knowledge as possible. We plan to do fundraising to construct and strategically implement libraries and tech centers throughout Haiti. Other future plans for HEY consist of establishing Community Centers in local areas that will serve as a home base for education and sports activities. We want to continue to develop relationships with churches, institutions and businesses in the United States to raise the awareness. Often times on television, we see the negative aspects of Haiti, but what is not showed are the beautiful parts of Haiti. We think that education is the key that will open many doors and create a shift in our generation today. Of course, we feel as though there is more that can be done, but we plan on working project by project to avoid spreading ourselves to unattainable distances and assuring longevity. We are here to educate not only the youth in Haiti—but the youth in the United States. We are Haiti Engaging Youth.