I’m Andre Pitts, a 26-year-old Belizean. As a developing nation, Belize has its fair share of challenges: an unstable economy, high crime rate, and high unemployment as well as underemployment. One of the biggest challenges is the inability of parents to pay for their children’s education and associated expenses.
In the village that I live in, this was especially the case. In 2015 — when I was 22 years old — I grew weary of the juvenile delinquency and general stagnation in my community, so I decided to personally assist one family in their efforts to get their five children prepared for the school year. I undertook to supply them with their backpacks and all the necessary stationery. While budgeting how I would do so, it occurred to me that if I were to ask a few friends for help, I would be able to instead assist 25 children instead of just five. After sleeping on it, I decided to form a community-based organization through which I could organize young people to take a lead in their communities and to adopt a spirit of charity and volunteerism. The goal was to use a combined effort to appeal to even more people in order to help no less than 50 children. Therein, Group Hug was conceived.
After three weeks of pitching Group Hug’s backpack drive, enough donations were received to sponsor 117 students with their school supplies — an overwhelming success!
I am happy to say that the drive has become an annual event, and after this summer’s drive is completed, we will have already supported over 1,000 at-risk Belizean students!
These are some of the lessons I’ve learned through Group Hug:
Most of the pessimism we conceive is simply in our heads! I used to feel that it was impossible to convince people to donate to a good, grass-roots cause. However, through organization, collaboration and marketing, Group Hug has had an abundance of supporters, including hundreds of regular citizens, government ministries, civil society, dozens of businesses and even international groups.
Our desire to make a difference and our ability to take a shot at it are enough to fuel success; pessimism and doubt aren’t.
Networking, networking, networking! Perhaps I didn’t grasp this until my YLAI experience, but networking is in itself an infrastructure that pays, time and time again! My ability to get great referrals; have access to businesses, political and civil society leaders; and even connect with our community leaders allows for partnerships that amplify Group Hug’s success! Through networking, I have been able to attract over 100 volunteers who now form Group Hug’s Volunteer Corps. Also, word of my efforts has reached even the attorney general of my country, who found it fitting to recognize me as a Justice of the Peace.
My word of advice to all my LatAm and Caribbean brothers and sisters is that, if you see a problem in your community, do not simply wait for someone else to come along and fix it. We are young, but our passion and goodwill can make practical, unimaginable differences in our communities!
As YLAI reminds us, don’t wait for change. Create it!