The GROW Project/GROW West Virginia collaboration began out of friendships between residents of the Greenbrier Valley in Haiti and young leaders in Cap Haitien, Haiti. In 2008, Meike Schleiff spent the summer teaching English to 65 students in Cap Haitien, many of whom would go on to be integral parts of GROW’s evolving work. That summer was filled with learning, growth, cross-cultural exploration, and building what would become long-time friendships.

A year and a half later in January 2010, a group of these former students and Meike along with her father, Florian, reunited and spent a week exploring other areas of Haiti, including Port au Prince. The day after Haitian friends and Meike returned home to Cap Haitien and the US, respectively, the earthquake struck near Port au Prince, Haiti on January 12, 2010. Everyone watched awestruck as images, messages, and bits of news about people we knew and places we had just filled the media. So much had been destroyed, including the hostel where we had just stayed in Port au Prince and also the homes and lives of so many friends and relatives.

This catastrophe spurred us all to action. What had been a set of friendships built on mutual interests and learning became a much larger team with partners and collaborators joining in West Virginia and in Haiti to make a difference. We contributed funds, volunteers, and emotional and social support to each other and in ripple effects into the communities we were part of. So many people stepped up to help—in many ways from groups of professional volunteers who came to Haiti to help us figure out how best to transition towards post-crisis re-building and meet needs in communities that were also struggling before the earthquake to youth and children setting up community events, fundraisers, and other opportunities to learn about cultures different from their own.

On the heels of the earthquake recovery, a cholera epidemic spread across Haiti in the fall of 2010 and into 2011. While many large agencies—particularly Doctors Without Borders—led large-scale response efforts, many people in difficult-to-reach areas were not receiving information to prevent illness or treatment when they became sick. GROW team members identified such an area at Soufriere, Haiti and you can read more about what we did there under Past Projects. In 2011, we also received our own 501(c)3 nonprofit status after having operated through another local nonprofit organization as a fiscal agent for about one year.

At the same time, we helped establish a learning center, including a primary school and an English and leadership development program, in a neighborhood outside of Cap Haitien where few such opportunities were available. Read more about the Institute Carver under Past Projects.

In recent years, we have identified a gap in economic development opportunities in Haiti and have been working on a small scale to explore ways of filling this gap. See more under the Current Projects section.

In summer 2018, we celebrated ten years of friendship among the original team that met in 2008 and that has worked together over the years. Over the years, so many more friendships have been added, which have become the core behind GROW’s continued efforts in West Virginia and Haiti to engage in outreach to find ways to mutually support and become true friends between communities around the world.

As we enter our second decade of collaboration, we are exploring opportunities to establish similar collaborations with communities beyond Haiti and West Virginia. We are currently involved in co-founding an online platform and network of other similar grassroots community and economic development initiatives across the USA and the world, and we look forward to making many more friends in the coming years!

We believe in long-term, mutually beneficial collaborations that evolve over time in response to shifting priorities and needs as well as the expertise of the teams that form to engage and respond. We believe in “growing” friendships built on a deep caring for and belief in people—in their resilience, their ingenuity, and our capacity as humanity to bridge divides, understand, and find ways to create a better future in all communities.