In January of 2010, I moved to Haiti to teach English conversation classes. Twelve days after my arrival, a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake ravaged the country, killing around 300,000 people. Living just 12 miles from the quake’s epicenter, I saw death and destruction first-hand. Haiti seemed like the most hopeless place on the planet.
With school closed down indefinitely and extra time on my hands, I started a soccer program to give local kids something fun to do in order to take their minds off of their current realities. Over the course of three months, the program grew from open-field soccer to an organized soccer club with 4 teams, 5 volunteers, and over 80 participants. The game of soccer connected me to local kids, allowing me to become a part of their community and learn their stories. Hope began to shine through.
As school opened back up in April, I noticed that not all of the kids on my soccer teams attended. After helping a player without a father enroll in a nearby school, the floodgates opened and I had a dozen kids asking me to help get them into school, too. I took two more boys to a nearby school and the story that unfolded changed my life forever. A fourteen-year-old boy was tested outside the doors of the school and turned away on the spot because he couldn’t read the cover of a French textbook. After the test, the school Principal turned to me and nonchalantly said, “he is too far behind, there is no hope for him here.” My heart broke for this young man. I couldn’t believe an adult was willing to write a kid off like that. Why wasn’t he taking responsibility for this child’s future?
It was in this moment that my story connected to the story of the left behind in Haiti. There was a time in my life when I, too, felt left behind. My parents divorced when I was in 6th grade, and my father passed away unexpectedly when I was in 7th grade. After my father’s death, I felt angry, confused, and left behind. But God, who is rich in mercy, had something else in store for me. Through the investment of loving mentors from my local church, God invited me into His family and gave me a new sense of belonging. My aunt and uncle, youth pastor, soccer coach, and mentors from church all stood in the gap for me in order to help me find my way. Shouldn’t I do the same for the left behind I’ve encountered? After all, these are my little brothers and sisters.
In September of 2010, my money ran out and I moved back home to Indiana carrying the stories of the left behind in my heart and sharing their story with whoever would listen. After a few months of storytelling, a group of friends from my local church and I decided to start a school for the left behind. A small group of ordinary people decided to take action by standing in the gap for the left behind. Project 117 was born in 2011.
After six years of growth, failure, and everything in between, my heart beats as strongly as it ever has for the left behind. I can’t stand the idea of people being overlooked because of age, ability level, gender, or socioeconomic status. Education is a powerful tool when infused with the Gospel. In my eyes, there is nothing better than seeing people discover who they are in Christ and equipped with the skills and abilities needed to live the story they were created to live. This is hope through education and I can’t wait to see the new work God invites One 17 International to participate in.
Curtis Stout, Founder - September 2017