In the spring of 2010, a group of people gathered together, united by their passion for the left behind. What started as a small gathering of people who saw the injustice of a broken education system has since grown into a full-blown movement of people committed to fighting for Haiti’s left behind.
It’s amazing to see how God’s worked through Project 117 over the course of its five year existence. When we look back at where we started, we’re amazed at the ways God’s provision has always come through and the ways He’s always shown up. Every year, we’re learning new things about God’s character and the ways He provides for us. But there are two things that we continue to see year after year: God is ready to use anyone who says “yes” to what He’s calling them to do, and He aligns the right people at the right time to do His work. We’ve seen this over and over throughout our five years.
Before there was a school, before there were students and teachers and grades, there was a dream. After being rocked by the 2010 earthquake, our executive director saw firsthand the brokenness and injustice of the school system in Haiti. He saw schools turning children away because their French wasn’t good enough, or they were too far behind, or because their parents couldn’t pay. This didn’t sit right. The stories of Haiti’s left behind lingered far beyond his trip; he began to tell these stories to friends, family, and influencers back home. Inspired by the vision of Isaiah 1:17, Curtis and our founders said yes to God’s calling. With that, Project 117 was born.
If anyone tells you that building schools is easy, they’re probably lying to you. If they’re not, let us know who they are because we’d love to learn their secrets. Project 117’s second year was one marked by grit and some seriously hard work. We were challenged by the immense amount of work to be done in Haiti, but we were also incredibly determined to impact its people. We had a vision of raising up empowered Haitians who were able to rewrite the country’s story, and we knew that God would have to show up in some major ways and we would have to do some major work to see that vision become a reality.
This is the year we got to work. We built a road and a well and part of a security wall. We put in the work to prepare not only our land for the school, but our community. We began developing relationships that would shape our organization and impact our story for years to come.
The hard work of year two began to pay off. While we were still in the midst of preparing our land for our permanent school building, we had the opportunity to open school a year early by building a temporary facility on our partner’s land. We didn’t have the funding on-hand for this, but we felt God calling us to say yes. And, like He’s shown us over and over, He honored our decision to boldly say yes to Him. He aligned two new donors for us who made our temporary school building happen, and he provided some amazing volunteers to lead our curriculum team stateside.
With God’s provision, Institution One 17 opened its doors for the first time on September 16, 2013. We began serving 35 students—40 by the end of the year—with five Haitian staff members…four of whom are still on our team today! And we raised $77,000 in 4 months, which paved the way for year four…
Project 117’s next year was one marked by growth and God’s miraculous provision. We started construction on our first permanent school building…and finished building it out in 6 weeks. More than a physical building, though, was the school culture we began to develop in year four. We hired Greg as our Haitian principal, and he’s been hugely influential in developing our staff culture. Taking Matthew 5:14 to heart, he’s passionate about the vision it casts for our students lives. He sees our students as a source of light in a country that many people think is overwhelmed by darkness. He’s committed to raising up educated and passionate students who have a chance to flip Haiti’s narrative. We began to grow our reputation in our community as a school and organization that is undeniably for the left behind, for the community, and for empowered Haitian leadership.
Year five was a year of growth, transition, and influence for us, both in Haiti and stateside. Four of our original board members finished out their terms and transitioned into new roles and new impact, while three new board members got on board with our mission and our movement. Their fresh perspectives allowed us to take new ground as an organization and plan for the future in exciting ways. We were able to hire a part-time development assistant in the states, and our Haitian staff grew to 15 as they served 90 students. We continued to boldly go after the injustices we saw in Haiti with the creation of a healthcare program and an adult literacy class in the evenings.
We continue to look back on our journey with gratitude, and to look forward to the next five years with anticipation and determination. And we know that it’s only because of God that we’ve been able to do any of this work. We can’t wait to see what he asks us to say “yes” to in the future!