- Sloane Stephens Off-Court
- We built a school in Haiti!
We built a school in Haiti!
Sharing the news of a project 18 months in the making
When Jozy and I started dating seriously and exploring what a life together could look like, he often spoke of how proud he is to be of Haitian descent and the deep impact that his visits to Haiti had on him. He showed me pictures of him playing soccer with kids and was always so positive and optimistic about his time there. I knew that Haiti would be a part of my future and set out to learn more.
About a year and a half ago, I had an idea and contacted Hope for Haiti, an incredible organization that we knew through Jozy’s participation in their annual Hike for Haiti fundraiser. Over many conversations with their CEO and team on the ground in Haiti, I learned more about their work and identified a project to take on as a complete surprise for Jozy’s birthday.
I’ve often written about my family’s belief in the importance of education, instilled by my grandparents Doc and Glo, and my Foundation’s existing work to use education and tennis to positively change outcomes for under-resourced youth in the US. So for me, the answer for how to combine Jozy’s and my interests was clear. Our original plan was to expand an existing primary school in the community of Boisrond by adding 3 middle school classrooms, sanitation blocks, a community garden, and renovating the soccer field. The expanded capacity would allow the school to grow from nursery through 6th grade while providing new opportunities for the community through the school garden, reforestation program, teacher subsidies and training, a dedicated community health work, and two annual mobile health clinics. I decided to work on this as a surprise and only reveal it to Jozy around his birthday last November.
Under a week after we signed the MOU for the project, President Moïse was assassinated and Haiti entered a period of heightened instability. Not even one month later, on the morning of August 14, 2021, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit southwestern Haiti. I watched the news and anxiously waited for updates from the team on the ground. There was some significant structural damage to the existing school and the buildings were no longer safe to occupy. I believed in the work we were doing and in the Hope for Haiti team, and decided to double down to shore up the infrastructure of the school at the same time we constructed the new blocks. I wanted to make sure that this new school would be a safe place to learn and play for years to come. One of my partners, doTERRA, had an existing relationship with Hope for Haiti as part of their co-impact sourcing initiative for vetiver, and joined our efforts.
Some earthquake damage to the existing school block
Students with their saplings from the community garden, waiting to be planted in honor of the earthquake victims
It has been an emotional ride and such a learning experience. Only a few weeks ago, Hope for Haiti’s US office in Naples, Florida was completely flooded by Hurricane Ian and the team continues to deal with the aftermath. Unfortunately, the situation on the ground in Haiti continues to deteriorate, as violence, protests, fuel shortages, a return of cholera, and logistical issues take the headlines. When I started dating Jozy, I did not know much about Haiti’s rich history as the first independent Caribbean state or the following centuries of exploitation. As we watch the news and often feel helpless, I think back to this school and the youth who will inherit this country and am resolute in continuing to support Haiti and shine a light on this incredible country of my husband.
LOVE getting construction update pics!!
Some drone pics of the construction progress
When I first found out that Hope for Haiti wanted to recognize our project at an event in Brooklyn this November, I was unsure how to react because I didn’t start this project to receive recognition. However, I knew that if we both shared this work, it might encourage others to be more aware of what is going on in Haiti and to also support organizations like Hope for Haiti that are focused on building a better future and remain committed despite the obstacles. We know this project will be the first of many, and I look forward to sharing this journey with Jozy.
I am so proud to share that the school is just weeks away from being fully complete and cannot wait to share more updates from the ground when I visit one day. I encourage you to learn more about the work of Hope for Haiti as well as Haiti’s history to understand how today’s situation developed. Some resources I reference include several books by the late Dr. Paul Farmer, this multi-part series from The New York Times that was also notably published in Creole, and the novel Breath, Eyes, Memory from Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat.