GOALS is a unique organization. Read founder and board member Kona Shen’s account of how and why she developed GOALS.
People ask me all the time, “Why Haiti?” There are two main reasons. On the one hand, I continue to be very interested in trying to understand the complicated dynamics at work in Haiti. I am still fascinated by the country’s unique history, and still constantly searching for ways in which GOALS can be more effective. On the other hand, I have personal ties to Haiti through the people I know there, and the places where I now work. Haiti is beautiful, with a unique culture, and I love that people there are so passionate and dedicated to their childrens’ futures. I also love that though GOALS is a small organization, we have been effective in working closely with families to start creating long-term, meaningful change in Haiti’s communities.
Here is my story - In 2005, Haiti was in the news a lot because of political instability and its deep poverty was being highlighted and discussed. I was 17 years old at the time, and was already passionate about addressing social inequality and making a difference in the world. In high school, I worked with organizations that addressed homelessness in Seattle, WA, my hometown. My senior year of high school, a friend gave me Mountains Beyond Mountains, and I did a capstone project that year on healthcare in rural Haiti. I was, and still am, intrigued by the complexity of the country, its rich culture, and its multiple challenges.
In 2007, the summer after my freshman year in college, I spent 9 weeks in Léogane, Haiti as a volunteer English teacher. I went by myself, without any other foreigners, and was hosted by a local Haitian organization. It was challenging to immediately immerse myself in daily life, but also an amazing experience. I would spend hours walking around the town and making friends. I started practicing daily with a local girls’ soccer team, which is how I learned Haitian Creole, and formed close bonds with the girls and their families. On the weekends, students in my English class took me to visit their homes. Many of them were from Destra, a rural fishing village. Destra was beautiful, but it was also extremely poor even compared to many parts of Haiti. The families generously hosted me, and I appreciated their hospitality even though I had little to offer in return. I always wanted to give back to Destra in return, and that is exactly where GOALS started its first programs in 2010.
How did I develop the idea for GOALS? Ever since my first trip, I had been thinking about ways in which I could make a difference in Haiti, and my studies remained focused on learning as much as I could about the country. In 2009, I interned with the Haitian government, and this is where I learned about the country’s environmental crisis. I then wrote my senior undergraduate thesis on foreign aid and the environment in Haiti, which formed the basis of my approach to development, and my belief in “reverse aid dependency,” in which organizations rely on communities to drive forward the projects that matter to them. When I visited Léogane during a short relief trip in March 2010 following the January 12 earthquake, I was struck by the fact that children and adults were still playing soccer surrounded by rubble. Despite everything they had lost, people could still find happiness through their love of the game.
In May 2010, I put these pieces together. I wanted to push the idea of how development in Haiti can be achieved, and stretch the idea of soccer for development farther than it had gone before. GOALS focuses on the environment because so few other organizations are focusing on this problem, and because simple interventions and limited resources can go a long way. By improving Haiti’s environment, GOALS is improving a multitude of other serious development issues, including health, nutrition, education, housing, income, and childhood development. At the same time, the use of soccer is exciting and fun for children, and prevents “aid fatigue.” With generous support from former GOALS board member Paul Sorensen, I launched GOALS after graduating college, moved to Haiti that July, hired our phenomenal local staff, and piloted the program. I was lucky to meet GOALS board member Kenneth Sommers soon after, who has been deeply committed to establishing and growing GOALS as an organization so that we can work with even more kids in rural Haiti and empower them to improve their lives.
GOALS Founder and Board Member