This week, we had an amazing SPEAK (Series for Parent Education About Kids) event presented by a CA family. Lisa, Davinson, and Mara Harris organized the opportunity to talk about their work helping the people of Haiti as a way to encourage all families to promote the practice of giving back with their children.
As many of you know, the Harris family founded the philanthropic organization, The Road to Hope, which supports relief programs to Haiti. Colorado Academy partnered with The Road to Hope years ago and led student trips to that country. Several such trips featured CA students and The Road to Hope helping to construct a school for the children of Nordette.
CA Ninth Graders Davinson and Mara were adopted by the Harris Family following the terrible earthquake of 2010. This past spring, Davinson and Mara returned to Haiti for the first time. Lisa shared what has guided the Harris family in their work and modeled for many other CA families and students in attendance the great impact young people can have on a global problem. For instance, their eldest son and CA graduate, Zach ’17, started the Haiti Youth Orchestra. He encouraged families—many from CA—to donate musical instruments that were given to young Haitians, who then learned classical music. Their daughter, Rachel ’19, wrote a children’s book with Colorado photographer John Fielder to raise awareness about the Haitian people and culture.
When I went to Haiti, I was struck by how wonderful the people are. We were greeted in the most welcoming of ways. But, the conditions in that country—even before the chaos that Haiti is experiencing today—are overwhelming. Streets are littered with garbage. Communities have little if any electricity, and there is no major sewage system. Children and families get by on very little. Schools are places where children find a meal, but even then, hunger remains an issue. Despite this, the children come to school with their clothes neatly pressed (often by irons that are warmed in a fire because there’s no electricity) and clean.
Davinson and Mara shared the history of Haiti, which is critical to understanding current conditions. I encourage you to read this article from the New York Times that captures how the French, who had once enslaved that nation, demanded reparations for Haiti’s independence. Those “reparations” shackled Haiti with debt. It enriched French and eventually American banks at a terrible cost. The amount of wealth extracted from Haiti was enormous and prevented the nation from developing its infrastructure. The United States occupied Haiti militarily from 1916 to 1934. At one point, the U.S. removed $500,000 from the Haitian Bank and deposited it in New York. The U.S. also controlled tax collection in Haiti. After the U.S. withdrawal, corrupt leaders and violence dominated. Haiti’s president was assassinated in July of 2021, and criminal gangs have taken control of the country.
As Rich Harris pointed out to the CA audience, it is “outrageous that a nation so close to the United States is controlled by gangs.” Haiti’s desperate conditions are rarely discussed in the news media. It is clear that a humanitarian crisis of devastating proportions is going to happen if order is not restored.
I appreciated that the Harris Family used their personal interest with Haiti to encourage other CA families to embrace the enthusiasm of their children to get involved with helping others.
Lisa highlighted the power in giving back and reminded adults in the room that children can and are making a difference. She shared that giving back allows kids to see beyond their current environments. Lisa celebrated that children have a propensity for making an impact and that CA’s own Haiti Club is offering fresh solutions to problems that adults have never considered. She encouraged us to remember that our children have so much energy and desire to give back, and adults just need to give them a path.
Davinson and Mara took questions from the audience. They shared that returning to Haiti was powerful and made them reflect on how different their life is here in Colorado and at CA. Both are working to improve the lives of Haitians. Davinson is committed to expanding the Haiti Youth Orchestra. And Mara, driven by her interest in medicine, is collecting medical supplies and hopes that by 2026, she can implement improvements to the medical system in Haiti.
Everyone in attendance applauded the Harris family’s work, but also left thinking about the people of Haiti, as well as other communities, and were inspired to commit to doing more, learning more, and supporting a cause that honors the value of being a global citizen.