As a small kid growing up, I always looked forward to school. For me, it meant new teachers and new friends, but it also meant I got new clothes and went shopping for shiny new school supplies. In elementary, I didn’t understand that my abundance was not average. I didn’t get that not every child had the same everyday school “stuff” as I did.
I recently had a chance to chat with Mark Gavin, co-founder of Canada-based Ecojot, and just a regular ol’ guy who wants to change this reality.
This month Mark is travelling to Haiti. He is renting a couple of vans and packing them with valuable school supplies. About 33,000 workbooks and 20,000 pens and pencils to be exact. He will drive around the city of Port-au-Prince and see more than 30,000 impoverished students, some going to school for the first time, others excited to go back.
For most of us, notebooks, pens, or sheets of paper were countless in our classrooms but for these kids these supplies are few and far between, and their need for them is greater than ever. They are the tools that will give thousands of boys and girls access to their future, give them a voice, and teach every child to read and write. They may be small and simple but they help in a very big way.
During his first trip to Haiti in 2011, Mark was struck by the country’s abstract poverty which worsened with the earthquake the year before. In 2010 almost 400,000 women, children, and families were displaced, their homes destroyed and schools wiped out by a 7.0 magnitude quake. Today, some Haitians are beginning to find housing, sometimes in small rentals or crowded homes, others will make-do in makeshift tents.
Although there is some progress for families, education is not one of them. Haiti’s school system is crumbling. National Schools in the public sector are free but they are run by low or unpaid volunteers, churches or NGOs. Many teachers only have basic qualifications and others give up on the system for better paying jobs. Classes are sometimes overcrowded with as many as 80 students. Some Haitian families opt to send their kids to private school which costs about $300 each year per child. It doesn’t sound like much, except when you consider the average Haitian parent only makes about $400 in that year.
Even more, the literacy rate is at its highest at 52 percent. That’s more than half of the population over the age of 15 who cannot read or write. More than 25 percent of them won’t continue school beyond elementary.
Power of Education
Education is a way to evolve the country and help eradicate poverty. Mark’s philosophy is “don’t give them fish, instead give them fishing rods and you’ve now given them the tools to help their communities or even go to university.” They are long-term supplies that give people infinite means for anything.
What You Can Do
When Mark is not in Haiti, he is giving back from his company’s Toronto warehouse. Every time a customer buys one of Ecojot’s eco-friendly, tree-free journals, Mark donates a workbook to a child in need in places just like Haiti. In fact, he has donated to children as far as Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Honduras, and Poland. Mark says you don’t have to go to Haiti or travel far to do good. You can support businesses like these who make underdeveloped communities a priority. If you want to learn more, visit Ecojot’s Give Program and help a child learn to read and write.
NB: Thank you to Mark Gavin and Daniela De Marco from Ecojot, for providing the images posted here. As Mark tells me, it’s difficult to truly understand the level of poverty without actually being there, but hopefully these photos can help paint a small picture.
Travel for Social Good is a series that features sustainable ideas and people around the world using travel to make a difference in the communities and cultures they visit. It’s about building a better world by connecting and contributing locally when we travel, and living in a more meaningful way.