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Building Hope in Haiti, One Student at a Time: Jessica Gigante

May. 14, 2021
Category: Leadership

Building Hope in Haiti was founded by Jessica Gigante in 2014. After traveling to the rural mountain community of Morne l’Hopital, Haiti, several times, Jessica learned that in addition to the daily struggle of living without electricity and running water, food scarcity, and very limited access to health care, many Haitian children do not have the opportunity to attend school because their parents cannot afford it. Even more heartbreaking was the discovery that some parents feel compelled to send their children to orphanages or to live with other families who promise to provide an education, but often turn the child into a restavek (child slave).

As an educator, Jessica believes that education is the key to changing lives. She also believes that no parent should feel the need to give up their child in order to get that education.

Jessica founded Building Hope in Haiti in an effort to keep families together while providing access to education. The program is made possible by sponsors in the United States who generously commit to financing the education of a child in Haiti. Jessica meets with the students in the program each time she travels to Haiti. She knows them personally and facilitates communication between the students and their sponsors.

Jessica’s family has helped the organization grow and move forward. Her parents, sisters, and nieces have all worked extremely hard, making this a family effort. Her 9- and 12-year-old nieces started a business several years ago. They make and sell bracelets, headbands, and scrunchies, and are sending a young woman to college through their sales!

The program is also successful because of the efforts of a small, but amazing team living in Morne l’Hopital. Building Hope in Haiti would not be possible without them, especially the program coordinator, Maherline Antoine.

Together, Jessica, her family, and their Haitian partners have grown the program from a mere dream to a reality that sponsors more than 100 students, ranging in age from preschool through college. In December of 2020, the organization had their first college graduate, and two more students will be graduating in the spring of 2021.

Jessica is a full-time teacher and also volunteers with Project Teach Haiti each summer. The group travels to Haiti to work with teachers, providing professional development in classroom management, assessment strategies, lesson planning, and teaching critical thinking. A collaboration between Project Teach Haiti and the school in Morne l’Hopital is also in development.

In addition to providing academic sponsorships, Building Hope In Haiti has built three homes (all labor was done by local Haitians, providing jobs to the community), distributed hundreds of thousands of bags of beans and rice, and assisted with funeral costs. In 2020, the nonprofit organized a COVID prevention program to educate the community, distribute masks, and set up hand-washing stations. It also took over operating costs for the local free clinic, which provides immunizations, prenatal care, and much needed medication to people living in the area.

Building Hope in Haiti is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Everything is done by volunteers who share Jessica’s passion for Haiti. Prior to her first trip to Haiti in 2012, Jessica never imagined that this is where life would lead her. She is thankful to everyone who has helped make her dream of helping Haitian students become a reality, and so much more!

More Alumni Notes

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Jeffrey Vande Leest ’75 retired June 30, 2021.

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