Haiti Earthquake

Matthew Jones didn’t consider himself to be a typical MBA student when he applied for admission to the Penn State Smeal College of Business. Rather than setting his sights on becoming a wealthy executive, he decided to devote his business and financial research interests to issues of poverty in developing countries. Jones, now a graduate of the Penn State Smeal MBA Program, continues his mission to serve others through a nonprofit he co-founded with his brother, Andrew, a current MBA student at Smeal.

Their organization, Poverty Resolutions, grew to fruition following the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010. Jones, a seasoned traveler, decided that instead of pursuing a traditional internship through the MBA program, he would spend his time off that summer learning about the needs that existed in Haiti and what part he could have in developing long-term solutions to serve those needs.

This spring, Poverty Resolutions plans to engage American elementary schools, high schools, and colleges in the need that exists in Haiti and what they can do to help. The organization has developed a variety of educational presentations and programs, based upon age level, that are intended to illustrate the harsh realities of global poverty. Additionally, the organization has released the documentary footage showcasing their immersion in Haiti. It is their goal that the film will not only offer a glimpse of the desperation present in Haiti, but also the hope that continues to exist. Click here to view the documentary trailer.

“For me, Haiti seemed to be so close to the U.S.,” Jones recalled. “With the disaster being so literally close to home, I decided to take advantage of the time I had off to help.”

According to the organization’s research, Haiti was the poorest country in the Americas prior to the earthquake, with more than half of its citizens living on less than one U.S. dollar per day. The earthquake exacerbated this desperate situation. Thousands were driven from their homes and forced to live in tents located in fields and on sidewalks. Even now, many of these families continue to live without clean water, proper sanitation or nutritious food.

With this knowledge, Jones, his brother, and 12 other individuals teamed up to carry out an immersion in Haiti and document their experience along the way. The group felt that, in order to truly help the people in Haiti, they had to get to know them. Four of the team members, including the Jones brothers, chose to make a 28-day commitment, in which they would pledge to live on $1 a day and document their experiences living alongside Haitians in a tent city. They developed their plan based on the premise that nearly one-sixth of the world’s population lives on less than $1 a day. In addition to this standard, the team set guidelines to mirror the experience of the Haitian people as accurately as possible. The team agreed to the following rules:

  • Spend only $1 per day on food, supplies, and drinking water.
  • Live and sleep in Haiti with one blanket or sheets.
  • No toiletries: no toothpaste, no deodorant, no soap.
  • Refrain from accepting food from Haitians.
  • If caught or scavenged, food can be eaten without penalty.
  • Two sets of clothes per person.
  • No laundry facilities.

In addition to providing support to the four living in the tent cities, the other team members recorded the experience for Americans back home. As the four were filmed and photographed, the team members searched for opportunities to develop partnerships with Haitians. In addition to establishing strong relationships with the Haitians, the group also networked with fellow humanitarians to learn about what they were doing to help and how they could combine forces. Over the course of the four weeks spent in Haiti, powerful lessons were learned and connections were made with local individuals and organizations that would form the framework for Poverty Resolutions.

The main concern among Haitians with whom they interacted was a lack of jobs. They desperately wanted to improve their situation, but had no means of making money to do so. Using their own education and experience, the group began to think logically about how to spur small business development and job creation in such an impoverished area.

As with many developing countries, education typically takes a back seat to the more immediate issues surrounding food and shelter. However, it became obvious to the group that if they were going to create and sustain a solution to joblessness in Haiti, they needed to start with education.

Statistics show that only half of Haitian children attend primary school, which has led to a literacy rate of only 53 percent among the adult population. In fact, only one in five young adults attends secondary school. While Haitian children must pass a standardized test to reach this level of schooling, the group found cost to be the greatest roadblock to their education, which in turn leads to unemployment later in life.
By utilizing the network established with fellow humanitarians already focused on improving the educational system in Haiti, Jones and his cohorts set their sights on raising funds to help reduce the financial burden that prevents capable Haitian children from attending school. Poverty Resolutions currently works with an expanding network of nearly 10 Haitian schools, helping to raise funds toward educational scholarships, effective training programs for teachers, and school supply purchases.

In addition to providing educational support, Poverty Resolutions also offers programs geared toward funding small business through microfinance, which provides small financial loans to low-income clients who aspire to start or grow their own business. Farmers, artisans, and entrepreneurs who would otherwise lack access to traditional lending services may be recipients of microfinance loans, which are repaid and then reinvested into the program.

“Through donations, we aim to provide loans to support Haitian farmers so they can feed their animals, to artisans so they can purchase supplies to create their products, and to countless other individuals aspiring to build and sustain their own small businesses,” said Jones.

In order to contribute to the larger fight against poverty and the overall progress made by organizations worldwide, Poverty Resolutions has focused much of its efforts on educating and inspiring not only Haitians, but also a second generation of American students who would also be committed to the cause.

“Although younger Americans at the elementary, high school, and even college levels aren’t established financially, we believe they are important to target because of their willingness to be inspired,” Jones said. “The willingness to help is there, but most American students aren’t fully educated on the poverty crisis to know what they can do to make a difference. We aim to help them take that next step in becoming involved.”

To learn more about Poverty Resolutions or to get involved in development efforts, visit www.povertyresolutions.org.

[box type=”shadow”]This story originally appeared in Penn State Live. Contact, Lori Wilson at 814-863-9855. Photo via Flickr.[/box]

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