In the first part of our week-long series, a Helping Hand for Haiti, NY1's Erin Clarke introduces a nonprofit started by New Yorkers that was on the ground before the disaster and today continues its work to help advance the country.
Children pour into the street in front of a school in the early afternoon sun of Bel-Air, Haiti. For the hour of recess they appear like most children, but life is difficult for these kids. Their home is a red zone neighborhood in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, defined by the international NGO community as off limits.
"This was a no man's land. Nobody comes around here because there were a lot of shootings, there's a lot of like you know, kidnappings," said Edeyo Founder Unik Ernest.
In a country where the majority of schools are private and costly, this free primary school is a refuge to these kids.
The New York City based nonprofit Edeyo Foundation and the school was founded by two childhood friends from Port-au-Prince. In 2006, event producer Unik Ernest began asking for donations to Haiti in lieu of giving gifts at his birthday party.
"I raised $50,000, so I take that $50,000 in June, I came to Haiti, I met with my mom and said, 'Mom I want to start something, I want to build a school for the children of Haiti,'" he recalled.
Ernest has maintained that model, turning his birthday each year into an annual fundraiser.
Through donations, primarily, the foundation is able to provide an education and for some children their only meal daily.
"My life would not be the same if I wasn't in this school," said Gonycka Jeomein, an Edeyo School student.
It's a means of hope for higher education for students whose families can't pay for school.
"After they leave here we sponsor them for the next school," Ernest said.
Edeyo has successfully sent and paid for three classes of students' secondary school education.
"You couldn't imagine how I felt because from the beginning, Edeyo has made me happy. They helped me with so much and from the beginning I have always loved school," said Wentsha Pierre, a former Edeyo School student.
But the school is outgrowing it's space as enrollment doubles. The old school was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. Now a search is on for a new building as Edeyo also looks to the future and plans to expand its reach to other underdeveloped parts of the country.