Charity Spotlight: Fight to THRIVE

In 2014, Matt Wells attended a private screening of non-profit Operation Underground Railroad’s documentary The Abolitionists. The film followed O.U.R.’s mission in Haiti to locate a child who’d been kidnapped and sold into human trafficking by an orphanage owner. While at the film’s screening, Matt was introduced to the child’s father, Guesno. After hearing his story, Matt was inspired to visit Haiti and help Guesno start a business to support the expenses of his own large orphanage. Matt and his family helped the center purchase over one-thousand chickens, whose eggs remain the sole generator of revenue for Guesno’s refuge today.

Upon his return to the U.S., Matt couldn’t shake the realization that Guesno’s orphanage was merely one of 400 in Haiti, all of which struggle to stay afloat each month. To make ends meet, the owners often turn to alternative avenues for cash, such as human trafficking and prostitution, much like the man who kidnapped Guesno’s son.

And so in June 2015, Matt and his father recruited Justin Swain, a long-time friend, to help form their organization Fight to THRiVE, with the initial goal to help orphanages become self-sustained through side businesses. Although the idea sounded great in theory, they quickly discovered that thriving, well-off orphanages lead potential parents to believe the children are better taken care of inside the center’s safe walls than in their own struggling homes.

Matt and Justin turned their focus to creating jobs in the orphanages’ surrounding communities instead. F.T.T.’s mission today is not only to create a thriving and sustainable safehaven for orphans, but to also create community centers where adults and children can learn skills that will help them become financially stable. By creating jobs and opportunities for education, they believe they can help reduce the need for human trafficking.

In the United States, it’s often tempting to turn a blind eye to worldwide issues because we have successfully sheltered ourselves from the realities of what happens in the underdeveloped world. We think of issues like Orphanhood and Human Sex Trafficking as tragedies that happen in movies, somewhere “out there”, but not at home. When these issues are brought to our attention via hollywood films or documentaries, we often feel that enough must be being done, that the very existence of a Hollywood blockbuster means awareness has reached its peak. And most often, we make the excuse that “someone else must be handling it.”

The reality is far more dire, sinister, and hidden. There are over 132-million orphaned children in the world today, and of those children almost 95% have at least one living parent who is unable to care for them due to financial hardship. The “lucky” children will end up in an orphanage, while the others have a far more difficult road ahead of them. More than two million children are the victims of sex trafficking and exploitation each year. Millions of lives are led as labor slaves or indentured servants.

In Haiti alone, an estimated 300,000 children are subject to a system called “Restavek,” where they are passed from one family to another. In such a system, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse is rampant, particularly for the two-thirds of Restaveks that are girls. In these situations they are often referred to as “la pou sa,” meaning “there for that,” implying that they serve one purpose and one purpose alone. These children don’t have a legal caretaker and have little-to-no protection over the whims and desires of their “host” family.

F.T.T.’s solution? “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” -English Proverb. Far too often the developed world thinks the solution to the difficulties of the underdeveloped world is to throw money and commodities at it. We have bought into the idea that it’s helpful to send our unused goods to struggling economies, and in the process we unwittingly contribute to the demise of the economies we are trying to save. The solution is not to simply give our castoffs to struggling nations and communities; the solution is to give these communities access to education and business opportunities. The solution is to breathe life into the people that contribute to the economies. The solution is to help a new generation of Haitians rise up to create a society wherein these opportunities for growth and sustainability actually exist.

What Fight to Thrive is wanting to accomplish is the “teach a man to fish” dynamic. They want to break the cycle of enablement that has so long plagued humanitarian efforts in Haiti. They help orphanages reduce monthly expenses with solar power, rainwater collection, and water filtration systems. Then they create sustainable businesses like taxi services, egg production, and Tilapia farms that the orphanages manage in order to produce their own sustainable revenue sources. By providing these sustainable resources they can create a lasting, safe environment for these children to live in. These opportunities also help to create jobs within the communities surrounding the orphanage.

Job creation within the community leads to the elimination of orphans and allows children to stay with their families. Poverty is caused by recurring social cycles, and for too long these cycles have remained unbroken. The solution is to disrupt the business-as-usual social dynamics and to provide real opportunities for real people to make real and lasting differences in their communities.

Already, F.T.T. is starting to see a change. In late 2016, FTT took over the management of a small orphanage in Jacmel Haiti. It was never in their plans to fully manage an orphanage but rather work with the organizations managing these orphanages. After a long struggle with a previous manager, F.T.T. was able to take over. They have since launched a child sponsorship program which allows each child to continue to go to school, get medical attention, and even receive a college sponsorship. This particular orphanage has also established a feeding program in which once a month they feed nearly 200 residents of a small mountain village nearby. F.T.T. is also getting ready to launch an artisan craft and e-commerce website that will sell items created by families in the community surrounding this orphanage. The orphanage directors will also help to manage this business.

How can you help? Because the non-profit does not believe in pushing our country’s leftovers into an economy where items needed can be bought locally, and therefore boost local economy, F.T.T. is always appreciative of monetary donations to support projects like future community centers. They are also always looking for volunteers skilled in grant writing, web and graphic design, blogging, and fundraising. Not you? Below, see a few different links to other ways you can help today.

To sponsor a child, visit http://fighttothrive.org/about-us/sponsor-a-child/

You may also become a monthly donor or make a one time donation of any amount by going to http://fighttothrive.org/donate/

Currently, the F.T.T. team consists of Matt Wells, Justin Swain, and Rachell McConkie. Matt Wells is working on completing a degree in Global Management. Justin recently graduated with a degree in communications and currently works for a large international Library Software company. As a father to three daughters, he was drawn to help abolish human trafficking. Rachell also recently graduated with her degree in communications and works for the same international Library Software company as Justin.