Interview with Schendy Kernizan, Founder of Lasserre's Own Hands

Schendy Kernizan is one of the founders of Lasserre’s Own Hands, a nonprofit bringing unprecedented education to the small village of Lasserre, Haiti. We’ve known one another since college, and I’ve been following the nonprofit’s journey for years. I’m happy to be helping with their fundraising efforts in 2019.

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1. Schendy, tell us a little bit about yourself & your background.

I was born in Newark NJ, but grew up in Haiti where my parents are from and still live. I have two younger brothers, who live in Massachusetts. I currently reside in Milton, MA with my wife, Katie and 7-month-old daughter, Capria.  I co-direct a research lab at MIT, and teach an architecture studio at Wentworth Institute of Technology.

2. What was your childhood experience, growing up in Haiti?

Haiti is a place of extremes. i grew up in a small community where everyone knew everyone. The days and nights were dictated by what was happening in the country at the time. Electricity was very rare; we use to go days, sometimes weeks with no power. Spent a lot of nights studying by candlelight, and falling asleep to gunshots.

Election season led to violence; tires burning and people getting killed. On the other hand, when the world cup came around, the country was united by soccer. You either supported Brazil or Argentina back then. I loved the soccer competitions that took place in our neighborhood; broke a few bones.

One of my all-time favorite memories growing up was going to the beach with my parents, and eating conch. It's still one of my favorite routines when I go back home.

3. What was the schooling like in your home town, and what lead you to the US as a college student?

I grew up in the french schooling system in Haiti. Switched schools a few times due to political unrest and safety concerns. 

When things got really bad in the country and couldn't afford to stay, we moved to Montreal for 3 years while my dad stayed behind.

Upon our return to Haiti, my parents enrolled us in an American school in order to give us the opportunity to apply to college in the United States.

It is because of my parents's sacrifice that my siblings and I had the luxury to go abroad to further our education. It's not something I take for granted.

4. What made you decide to start Lasserre's Own Hands?

My family and a local church started the school. My family collectively started Lasserre's Own Hands in 2015. My dad and his siblings grew up in Lasserre, therefore it's only fitting that we are giving back to a community they grew up in.

5. Walk us through the process that students use to enroll.

It's simple, parents come knocking and request having their child join the school.  A registration fee is required, but that is the only financial obligation we require from the parents. We provide 2 meals a day, and uniforms.

6. That’s incredible to give that gift to the parents and students, and a lot to fundraise for. One of your most successful campaigns so far was the GoFundMe campaign, which raised over $30,000. What were those funds used for and how did it change the game for the organization?

Yes, the campaign helped fund the school for almost a year. That money provided meals to the students and paid the teacher's salaries. 

Most importantly, we were able to make some wishes come true on Christmas, and bought a bicycle for one of our kids. 

7. What supplies are you most in need of for the 2019-2020 school year?

Uniforms for the kids, school supplies (pencil, paper books etc..), computers, and a soccer ball.

8. Why is it vital to begin a technology/computer class this year?

Most of our students haven never seen or know what a computer is, and it's important to us that we can expose them to new technology and learning tools.

9. What do you wish people knew about life in Lasserre?

Lasserre lacks resources and has limited infrastructure; but the people are extremely resilient.  The school has provided hope to families who could not afford an education for their kids. Our facility serves as a community gathering to promote social change and awareness. Crime in the community has gone down, and people are engaged in communal work.    
10. Lastly, how can we help, here in the US?

Follow our story and progress. Become a partner in our effort to keep the kids off the street and provide them with an education. Donate or become a sponsor.

To follow Lasserre’s Own Hands, follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Meetup. Next Thursday, June 13, we are hosting a fundraising show at Warehouse on Watts, benefitting Lasserre’s Own Hands. The link to make a donation/purchase tickets can be found here. We hope to see you there!