After a devastating earthquake affected millions of people in the country of Haiti in 2010, Haitian-American sophomore Bertrhude Albert wanted to find a way to help. An English major with a desire to provide some relief to the people of Haiti, Albert suggested making a trip to Haiti to her friend, Priscilla Zelaya. The two influenced 17 other University of Florida (UF) students to join them, and during spring break of 2011, the 19 undergraduate students took about 400 pounds of clothes, shoes and food to the Haitian communities.
Toward the end of the week in Haiti, Albert and Zelaya sat down to speak with some of the community leaders. The two felt proud of the relief they provided to these communities. They felt that they had truly made a difference, and truth-be-told, they had. However, the difference they made wasn’t the positive impact for which they hoped. Speaking with the community leaders, the two learned they actually hurt the Haitian communities they so wanted to help.
“See that man over there,” one community leader told them. “He makes shoes. No one will be buying from him for a few weeks because of all the shoes you brought us.” The same was true for other merchants who made clothes, or farmers who relied on their sales to live. Albert and Zelaya still wanted to help the people of Haiti, however they realized their aid should not come in the form of donated goods, but rather in education. Thus, Projects for Haiti (later P4H Global) was born.
As a sophomore and junior in college, respectively, Albert and Zelaya wanted to focus their work on making a difference, the right way. In July of 2011, Projects for Haiti officially became a business, and by December of that year they were a certified nonprofit, with a new focus on bringing adequate education to Haiti.
The duo focused first on their own education, finishing their bachelor’s degrees and going on to complete their master’s degrees at the University of Florida.
“During our master’s programs,” Albert said, “Priscilla and I met Dr. Grady Roberts at a panel he was speaking at. He helped recruit us into a Ph.D. program within the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC).”
As minority women who created their own business, Albert and Zelaya knew obtaining a terminal degree in their chosen field of study would only be beneficial. It wouldn’t be until they were immersed in the program in AEC that they would realize just how beneficial. Both Albert and Zelaya pursued, and later obtained, doctorate degrees in AEC, specializing in Extension Education.
“Those 2 ½ years (during our Ph.D.) were formative for us,” Albert said. “AEC expanded our minds academically. We were learning things like evaluation which have been absolutely critical to the strength of our organization.”
Before their doctoral program, the pair would conduct educational programs in Haiti with no use of evaluation. Now, they use their skills to constantly improve their programs to make a larger impact in the Haitian communities.
Albert said their AEC education also helped them wrap their heads around positive community development. They learned how to help populations in need instead of hurting them. They learned how to not only give a voice to those populations, but "to provide communities that aren’t being heard with a microphone to express their concerns and needs."
In December 2016, Albert and Zelaya graduated from the University of Florida for the third time. At this point, Projects for Haiti had grown so much through service trips from community members and students who wanted to make a difference that the twosome was able to work full-time for the business they created. It continued to grow at such an exponential rate that by January 1, 2017, the name changed from Projects for Haiti to P4H Global, with the intent to bring similar education programs to communities that may need it across the world.
P4H Global is continuing to deliver programs to educators in Haiti to address the 80 percent of Haitian educators that are not trained or qualified. Currently, it is the largest teacher training nonprofit in Haiti.
For Albert, this business represents a duality of feelings. She has watched it, and co-built it, from an idea to a successful program that is creating a global impact in education.
“Priscilla and I frequently tell each other ‘I can’t imagine doing anything else,’” Albert said. “It is surreal and I feel incredibly blessed, but there is also this other side of me that constantly says, ‘There is more.’”
P4H Global has reached over 2,600 teachers in Haiti by taking church and community groups, as well as UF students to deliver educational programs, but they are pushing the organization to grow.=
“There is this ambition to see even more,” Albert said. “Our first trip, bringing clothes and shoes into Haiti, was not sustainable. I hope that if we continue to educate teachers in Haiti that I will one day see poverty eradicated in my country.”