A few days ago, I received the devastating and heartbreaking news that my beloved friend Lavarice Gaudin suddenly and unexpectedly died in Haiti. Death comes most of the time suddenly, and there is no surprise there. But when death comes to a young man full of life, full of hope, full of energy, and full of love for his nation, then death indeed is painful and sudden.
In 2009, I visited Miami to see one of the leaders of the Haitian people, Father Gérard Jean-Juste. Father Jean-Juste was sick at home, and we sat and talked for a few hours about the change and hope that would come to Haiti if there were an election and he became the president. While we were talking about Haiti, I was giving an example of the democratic struggle in the Middle East and Europe. Next to Father Jean-Juste was a young man, one of his students taking care of everything in and out. This young man was quiet and had a smile on his face; this young man was Lavarice Gaudin.
In my conversation with Lavarice, I found Lavarice to be a compassionate and visionary leader fueled by a deep love and hope for his country. A few weeks later, after this meeting, Father Jean-Juste passed away. Lavarice called and told me that if we planned anything for Haiti, he would be there to help us in any way. Since that day, Lavarice has been part of Zakat Foundation of America's vision.
On January 12, 2010, the world witnessed the most devastating earthquake in Haiti, which killed more than 200,000 people. Zakat Foundation of America decided to help Haiti in this crisis. I remember well when we rented five trucks filled with goods and entered Haiti when all systems were collapsed, and there was a chaotic situation. People did not have food for days. Families were devastated; the only thing you could see was despair, fear, and hopelessness. A typical one-hour drive between the Dominican Republic border and Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, turned into a six-hour drive due to the road conditions and traffic. Finally, we reached the rectory of the Catholic Church, where Zakat Foundation of America, with its partner, distributed warm lunches to 300 kids daily. Post-earthquake, we managed to distribute over 3,000 food packages to families. Lavarice continued to lead this effort for the next 10 years.
In order to keep the spirit of love of Father Jean-Juste, we decided to open a school close to the hill, where his rectory was. In the primary school named Father Jean-Juste, today hundreds of students are studying and getting the education to build the future of Haiti. My beloved friend Lavarice was the architect of that project. Along with our partner, "What If Foundation," we were lucky to have Lavarice by our side.
Indeed, Haiti lost one of its beloved sons. The grief of losing such a humanitarian leader is heartbreaking, but I hope that the school he built will raise many Lavarice for Haiti. Then we know Lavarice’s dream will become a reality, and he will live in that reality. He will be forever in my heart. Rest in peace, my brother Lavarice.
Sincerely,Halil I Demir
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In 2022, 91¢ from each dollar donated went directly toward programs serving those in need. 4¢ went to administrative costs & 5¢ went to fundraising costs.