Recently I was talking with Lynette Camara, one of our board members, about my humble beginnings of wanting to do this kind of work in Haiti. I shared with her the following story, which she felt belonged on the website so people could read it.
Back in 2003, my Haitian friend Junior St-Vil invited me to be “Parenn” of his wedding, which is most closely related to the role of “best man.” I was glad to accept this honor as it is more than just a one-day gig – Parenn becomes a member of the family! So that’s how I became an American man with family in Haiti.
While there for the wedding, many days after, Junior and I went out for a stroll in the evening, just to see what we would find. We ended up getting some barbecue from one of the street vendors and stopping to have it in one of the New Aristide parks. To fill you in, when Jean Bertrand Aristide was in his second term as President of Haiti, he activated many projects to renew certain areas and give people places to go to be together, and this park was one of those projects.
While we were having our dinners, two young boys came up to us and asked if we would give them any part of the food that was left-over. We turned the plates over to them immediately and they were not picky about what we left. These boys, even though only around 7 or 8 years old, lived on the street. Junior told me that there were a lot of “timoun lari” (street kids) like that around the area especially because it was close to the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, which offered some assistance to them.
Junior and I got to talking about those boys and how they might be living. Perhaps their parents had died or were too poor to give them something to eat. I wanted so much to make it so they didn’t have to live like that, and it wasn’t the first time I had this feeling. It’s one of the harsher realities in Haiti. Some kids are just on their own to figure out how to live. Junior agreed that he wished he had something to offer them, but what?
We continued talking about this and came up with a plan… Junior and his wife could make a business selling frozen bags of water and other soft-drinks, and since they lived on what was called “The Presidential Circuit” there would not be a problem getting enough electricity to run the freezer. (The Presidential Circuit supplies electricity to the home of the President, so while there may be only a few hours of electricity in some parts of Port-au-Prince, the Presidential Circuit was on 24/7.)
They would then offer jobs to these boys of going to the street corner to sell the drinks, so they would have a stable way to learn to earn their livelihoods and operate a cash business. They would also basically become a part of the family, so they would have adults they could go to and learn from that cared for them. So much came out of that conversation that we ended up buying a freezer that same week and kept our eyes open for the boys.
I left Junior and family soon after the freezer purchase, just before Haiti’s Bi-Centennial in January of 2004. Just a few weeks later, there was a coup d’état and with the ousted President went our Presidential Circuit. Having just a few hours of electricity put an end to that business until a new way of powering it could be engaged, but the boys were never spotted again.
That conversation was the first of many to come where a common concern was converted to action to create something that would equal a better future. Those boys started something, and even though we can’t find them, they are in our hearts and we hope they found a good way to live.
I must publicly thank David “Keno” Keenan, Barbara Daniels and my father Gary Kilgore for loading me up with the funds to start that first project… A couple years later, Kledèv was officially started out of that spirit to create something that could equal a better future.