Zanmi Lakay is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for current and former street children in Haiti by providing educational and economic opportunities and resources to help these children while they are on the streets and to help build a life for them off the streets.
How Zanmi Lakay Began…
During my first trip to Haiti in 1997, I lived at Lafanmi Selavi, a home created for street children by Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1986 when he was still a parish priest. Close to 500 children found their way to Lafanmi Selavi for a variety of reasons. Some were orphans or abandoned, others had been abused, many families could not afford to take care of their kids, and many were restaveks or child slaves. I took their pictures and got to know them during the years I worked on my documentary project and held Photography Workshops.
When Lafanmi Selavi closed in 2000, many children no longer had the opportunity to go to school, a place to sleep, food and clothing, sports, music, art, or a family that their former home provided. Street life was harsh, miserable, and dangerous and they needed help. They wanted to go to school, a place to live, to be safe, and to contribute to society. Zanmi Lakay was created because of the growing needs of street children in Haiti, and the seed was the Photography Workshops.
Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history. In the context of extreme economic and political instability, the vulnerability of children rises significantly. Through our programs, workshops, and future Community Center, our goal is to break the continuing cycle of life on the street for children in Haiti by providing education, training, resources, support, and options for a better and brighter future.
Haiti’s early history is slavery, succeeded almost continuously by even more brutal tyranny. As a result, 80% of Haitians live in abject poverty, at least 50% are illiterate, and two thirds have no formal employment. Over half of the population is under the age of 18. According to UNICEF, more than 300,000 Haitian children are restaveks, and 200,000 have lost one or both parents to AIDS. The number of street children is estimated to be around 250,000, and assistance is inadequate.
All of the parents we know who currently or in the past lived on the streets want their own children to stay in school for the obvious reason of a better life. If the children of Haiti have no future, neither does their country. Our programs are the difference between life on the streets or an opportunity for something more, and our purpose is to give some of those children a chance. We hope others who share their hemisphere will help us.
Our Education Fund
Zanmi Lakay’s Education Fund is a School Scholarship Program and a Teens in Transition Program. We are working to elevate a community of street children by giving them an education to break the cycle of life that has them living on the streets. This simple purpose of our Education Fund is to give children the chance to go to school, and for young adults to finish their education or receive special training that would otherwise not have the possibility.
Our Program Administrator in Haiti, Joel Petion, helps to gather student and family information, and pays all needed fees directly to the schools. We pair children with sponsors. As the second generation of street children from Lafanmi Selavi, who these children are and the connections we have with their parents is unique. Most of these children know each other – their parents are friends and orphans who grew up together, and almost all of our School Sponsorship recipients are children of children I knew when I first came to Haiti. None of them would be going to school if they weren’t enrolled in our program.
Our Teens in Transition Program was initiated specifically because there were no other resources for these kids during a very critical time in their lives. The ones that lived in group homes were asked to leave at a certain age, and those that are homeless are considered much too risky to invest in. Teenagers should not be left to fend for themselves. We believe that the skills these kids acquire to survive on the streets can be utilized in a positive way, and we give them that chance through opportunities to finish Classic School, for special training, and trade school certifications.
Our outreach services grew from the needs of children actually living on the streets. Their sources of income are washing cars, begging, prostitution, working for bus drivers, or temporary manual labor chores amounting to nothing but maybe some food money. For a handful of kids, we give shoes, jeans and other clothing, backpacks, care bags, cash for food, transportation, and living assistance. Care bags are large Ziploc baggies containing daily living needs such as t-shirts, shampoo, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, and any other basic living supplies that are donated in enough quantity.
School expenses and art supplies, soaps and shampoos, clothing and shoes, backpacks, and care bags are also donated to children living in group homes or involved with neighborhood and community organizations. When children have medical or dental problems, we find doctors and pay for medical expenses, and we strive to build relationships within the community to create a strong network to better access available resources that are needed to help the kids.
We bring many donations to Haiti for the children living in the streets, in group homes, and also for other organizations working with disadvantage youth. We collect donations from private individuals, at our Ti Machés, and collaborate with schools organizing class projects, events and presentations about Haiti and the street children. See our Wish List below.
Community/Resource Center for street children
Zanmi Lakay was born to help fulfill the needs of street children in Haiti, and ultimately the best way to do that is to open a day center. Our Community Center will be a creative day center and safe haven where street children can get a meal, bathe and wash clothes, and learn to read. The site will open an art studio and darkroom that doubles as a gallery with a computer center where kids can develop skills and exhibit their work. We will offer mentoring and tutoring, health care resources, educational assistance, and give a safe place to children where their talents can be nurtured.
We are seeking help and assistance to initiate a capital campaign for a Community/Resource Center for street children
Tax Deductible Donations to support our Education Fund, Outreach Program, and Photography Workshops
Laptop computers and Digital cameras for our Photography Workshops
School and art supplies
Teen size sneakers – must be in good shape
Care Bag items: toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, new adult size t-shirts, travel size shampoo, afro combs, etc.
Soccer balls, soccer jerseys, soccer shoes
Decks of cards, dominos, beach balls, colored chalk, and other non-battery games
Mentors and Volunteers