Before Rev. Fritz Louis, C.S.C., ’09 M.A. earned a degree in French Literature from Notre Dame, he grew up in Haiti speaking Creole. And it is in Creole that one can best understand the work he does with The KANPE Foundation to help fellow Haitians escape poverty.
“Kanpe,” Father Louis says, “is a Creole word that means ‘to stand up.’ Our mission is to help those people who are living in great despair to have the hope to stand up, to give them the training and the resources they need to stand up.”
It’s a mission to which Father Louis has dedicated himself since joining the Montreal-based nonprofit as its program director in December 2010. He helps take KANPE’s programs from ideas to realities as it partners with Haitian organizations and empowers impoverished communities to become self-sufficient. The foundation offers a holistic program that incorporates healthcare, education, agriculture, leadership, entrepreneurship, and infrastructure strengthening.
At the moment, it works primarily with the rural community of Baille Tourible, a village in the Thomonde region of Haiti. Before KANPE arrived, the village’s 15,000 residents were living without many basic resources.
“People were abandoned—no healthcare clinic, no teachers in the classroom, or if they were there, they were there just a few days a week,” Father Louis says. “The children didn’t have food at school. The farmers didn’t get training. Young women getting pregnant were dying before they gave birth to their children because they couldn’t receive treatment.”
With the help of partner organization Zanmi Lasante, KANPE set up the Baille Tourible Clinic, which helps treat malnutrition, cholera, and malaria, and provides a monthly average of 150 consultations to pregnant women. Father Louis and his team have focused on helping women, he says, because they in turn can help their households.
“In Haiti, many organizations are working with women,” he says. “And the reason is not because they want to exclude the man. It is because in every household there is a woman with children, but not always a man. So if you support a woman, if you support one woman, you might be supporting six, seven, or eight people. Women are motivated, they have the passion, and they want good for their children.”
One of the women KANPE helped is a good example of this, Father Louis says. When the nonprofit found her, she was scraping by on less than a dollar a day, rationing food for her five children. The family lived in makeshift home—a roof cobbled together from tree branches, walls made of mud, and a dirt floor. Water seeped in each time it rained and made everyone sick.
KANPE stepped in and helped the woman turn things around. The organization made sure she had safe drinking water and provided her with livestock—two goats, two pigs, and two chickens. Its staff taught her how to manage her resources and care for her new animals. Over time, she was able to sell animals and save up to buy a piece a land, which she uses to grow food she can sell. The money she now makes enables her to provide for herself and her family.
The woman’s success story is one of many, Father Louis says, adding that the program that assisted her allowed 97 percent of participants to maintain two sustainable sources of income. KANPE confirmed this through a survey, one of the ways it solicits feedback and measures results to determine which programs are helpful.
“Our philosophy is not to give things away like Santa Claus,” Father Louis says. “Our philosophy is to listen to the people—to listen to their voice, to their needs, to what they want to say, to what they want to achieve in their lives. We talk to local leaders so that they have their say about what we are doing—if there are things they want us to change, if there are new initiatives that they want to happen on the ground. So it’s that way that we assess our work and how we understand that what we do on the ground is really bearing fruit for the community.”
Father Louis enjoys listening to local people and building relationships with the communities he serves, and he finds it deeply satisfying to help people work their way to a better life.
“We bring hope to the people,” he says. “We still have a long way to go, but we see the light of hope in their eyes.”
To learn more about The KANPE Foundation's economic empowerment work in Haiti, please visit its website.