I recently left my position as the AVP of Operations for Hingham for Savings where I was employed for 16 years and working 40 years in the financial industry to fulfill my lifelong dream as a Freelance Photographer. I serve as a Board Member for Christian Haitian Entrepreneur Society (CHES) and the owner of VBS Photography – Venita Bell Shaw.
VBS Photography specializes in many aspects of photography, my passion is Photo Philanthropy, partnering with nonprofit organizations to tell their story through photography.
My first visit to Haiti was in 2011 while I was vacationing in the Dominican Republic. It was suggested that I visit Haiti from a friend who was a journalist who had recently done a fundraising film after the earthquake. I was more than hesitant, ignorant to what I didn’t know about Haiti, its people and culture. I agreed to go, of course with a lot of kicking and screaming.
I spent three days in Cap Haitian. Within my first day there, Haiti had already began to speak to me. At the time, I wasn’t quite sure what God had plan for me and why the country had this immediate effect on me. As months went by, I found myself eager to return to Haiti but I was not sure what my calling was. So I decided to do some mission work so I could return. I knew I had a calling to do more and that I wanted to help. I realized that I had fallen in love with Haiti and the people.
I began to wrestle with the idea of how I would make it back to Haiti. I then decided I would take my love of photography and my newfound love of Haiti. I started to help nonprofit organizations by “telling their story” through photography.
I have honestly lost count of all my travels to Haiti. I have traveled to Cap Haitian, Ile-a-Vache, Jacmel, Hinche and Mirebalais telling the stories of other nonprofits through my photography. I connected with Rebecca Rosme Obounou, Founder and President through our church, Jubilee Christian Church in Boston. Rebecca and I began to engage and communicate about my interest in Haiti and volunteering with CHES. Before joining CHES as a Board of Director in January 2016, I served as a volunteer for CHES in 2015 training in Limbe and Gonaives. I am blessed to be part of CHES, an amazing organization. Being part of CHES has made me come to realize what God’s plan was for me. On my first day in Cap Haitian in 2011 and how he aligned it all.
CHES (Christian Haitian Entrepreneurial Society) was founded 2008, since its inception the organization continues to support long-term economic stability in rural Haiti, educating, mentoring and funding entrepreneurs while joining the relief efforts after the 2010 Earthquake and the 2016 Hurricane. CHES is a 501c3 (non-profit) organization, based in Massachusetts. In 2012, CHES financed women entrepreneurs while providing them with skills to develop business plans and conducted business workshops. CHES continues to provide entrepreneurial training accompanied with our entrepreneurship and business management training programs. CHES vision is to see Haitians living with dignity and free of poverty.
What is your favorite thing about being involved in this organization?
Being able to share the stories of Haitians that are eager to learn, who dream of it and embrace it. Being part of an organization that gives hope and changes to the lives of the people in Haiti.
What do you, personally, spend most of your time on?
I spend a lot of time supporting the organization with budgeting, planning, networking and fundraising. During our trips, I spend a lot of time capturing the priceless moments with my camera.
How did you become involved with this organization? Or Why did you start this organization? How has it grown or changed over time?
After personally traveling to Haiti several times a year and supporting various other non-profit organizations in Cap Haitian, Ile-a-Vache, Jacmel, Hinche, Mirebalais and Cap Haitian, I connected with Rebecca Rosme Obounou, Founder and President, though the church. Rebecca and I began to engage and communicate about my interest in Haiti and volunteering with CHES. Before joining them as a Board of Director in 2016, I served as a volunteer for CHES during 2015, training in Limbe and Gonaives along with promoting and networking, while telling our story of what CHES’s mission is all about.
How big is the team?
Besides me, the CHES Team is comprised of several dedicated Board Members and Volunteers that are committed to the organization and its success and mission.
Rebecca Roseme Obounou, President and Founder of CHES. Rebecca holds an undergraduate degree in Business Management from Bentley University and will be earning her MBA at Babson College in May 2017. She currently holds a position at Babson College as an Assistant Director of the Schlesinger Fund for Global Healthcare Entrepreneurship.
Rose Roseme is a Founding member of CHES. She leads the CHES product sales fundraising initiative and participants in the strategic direction of the organization. Rose started-up a social enterprise, by opening a low-cost clinic in Limbe, Northern Haiti, where she treated patients. Rose is a registered nurse and works currently as a Nurse Manager at an assisted living facility in Massachusetts.
Marson Sam, is part of the Board of Directors. He was born and raised in Cap Haitien, Haiti. Sam promotes the work CHES does and serves as a trainer and mentor to our constituents in Haiti. Sam is educated in computer operating systems as well as graphic design. He is a professional with a wide range of experience from music industry, talk show host to restaurant entrepreneur. He is well known for his acting role as the supporting actor in the movie “I love You Too”.
Vanessa Etienne, is the Haiti Operations Director. She was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Her efforts in Haiti are to expand and manage CHES Haiti Operations. Vanessa earned her bachelor degree in International Management from the Univèrsite de Moncton in New Brunswick, Canada. Etienne also earned a masters in health administration at the Université d’État d’Haïti. She worked as a customer service representative, as a quality services manager at the Hospital of Canapé Vert and sales coordinator at Digicel.
Maryse Penette-Kedar serves as the Board of Advisors for CHES, She is the President and Board of Director for Progress Development through Education Foundation (PRODEV), where she oversee the local foundation’s efforts to manage three schools in different parts of the country and offers over 1000 students, access to quality education. She is also co-chairs at CLE, the Haitian Center for Leadership and Excellence.
Can you tell me about the work your organization does and the program or programs you run?
CHES’s mission has been to educate, mentor and fund entrepreneurs in rural Haiti. Our focus in the past has been financing entrepreneurial activities in the Northern part of Haiti. Over the last couple years CHES has partner with several different non-profit organization to offer business education, consulting and mentoring not only in Northern Haiti, while expanding and developing relationships in other regions of Haiti.
CHES focuses on evaluating how successful we are at meeting what our mission is, when it comes to supporting long-term economic development by educating, funding and mentoring. A percentage of CHES cash revenues are generated from the sale of products that CHES finances from operations with the proceeds that are generated by offering a host of products which are made by Haitian companies within Haiti.
What differentiates you from other organizations?
Creating circumstances that allow CHES’s missions to be achieved. We are inspired and challenged to stand for our “mission” through active engagement as ambassadors and advocates for our organization’s work.
Being passionate, articulate and effective as communicators of our mission. We serve as board members to provide appropriate support and resources for the organization.
What results does your organization achieve? How has your program improved over time and improved lives?
It is imperative that we are able to measure our efforts. CHES is an organization that is extremely sensitive to the importance and the need to understand exactly what are achievements are and whether we have obtain the goals we set out to accomplish; Did we do our job? Where did we fail? What if anything we can do better and have we made a difference and an impact?
In order to know whether the program over time is successful and to know whether or not we have improve the lives of Haitian Entrepreneurs that we have trained doesn’t end when the training program comes to a close. Follow-up is critical ! How else will we know whether we have been successful?
Case in Point: Our Gonaives Impact
In 2015 CHES partner with another non-profit organization in Gonaives, Haiti to train around 20 women. They were so appreciative! In 2016 one year later, we return to Gonaivies visiting them. We interviewed and recorded their testimonies, learning the training “take aways” and how they have applied it to their businesses. The most amazing experience and gratification comes from seeing and hearing how the lives of these women have changed, seeing the difference these training programs make, the difference CHES makes.
What are your goals for the next three to five years? What priorities will help you achieve them?
Of course funding. Tapping into reliable and appropriate resources that can support CHES whether it be individuals or organizations, can be a challenge. There is a demand for us to provide additional training in Haiti. It is important to us to have a strong and ongoing CHES presence in Haiti while expanding the number of programs and individuals served.
We want to recruit members and volunteers (particularly Haitian Diaspora members) that believe in the work CHES is doing in Haiti. We want to improve our presence outside of Massachusetts and expose CHES to a larger market (Florida, New York, Chicago, etc.)
What barriers or challenges are in your way?
The key barriers are time and money. We need to cultivate the donors to support the strategies that we have developed will bring both short and long-term results. We need to bring a few extra key committed team members to help us move forward our strategic plan and make more widely known our work.
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