Wirth Family Expands its Commitment to Haiti’s Future

For Gilbert (“Chip”) Wirth and his family, investment in Haiti has always meant investment in people. What began as a commitment to cultivating healthy outcomes for Haitians over the past 24 years has transformed into creating economic and educational opportunities for entire communities, bringing increased equity, independence, and sustainability to the country.

Improving Health Outcomes

In 2006, Chip became an adviser to the Haiti Salt Project, which seeks to eliminate lymphatic filariasis and prevent iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) in Haiti through the production and distribution of fortified salt. Pulling on his professional design and construction background, Chip assisted in the development of the project’s salt production facility in Port au Prince. The facility has since become the only producer of food-grade, iodized, and fortified salt in Haiti. 

Recognizing the importance of salt to combat malnutrition and various other diseases as well as the serious limitations of Haiti’s research infrastructure, Chip and his wife, Patty, facilitated the development of a bioscience program at the University of Notre Dame Haiti-Hinche (UNDH-Hinche). The bioscience program will include a laboratory with the capacity to run health diagnostic testing in IDD and other diseases while simultaneously providing unprecedented training opportunities to form the next generation of Haitian researchers and scientists. Notably, the program has already attracted global collaborators such as the ETH Zürich Institute of Food, Nutrition, and Health and the IGN, Iodine Global Network, to equip Haitians with the tools and capacity to conduct life-changing public health research for fellow Haitians. 

Education and Opportunity

Through numerous visits to Haiti, Chip witnessed firsthand the richness of the Haitian culture and the immense potential of Haitian youth. In 2002, Chip co-founded the Maison Fortune Orphanage Foundation (MFOF), a project that houses 230 underprivileged youth in the town of Hinche and supports their tuition in subsequent education programs. Amidst the success of the MFOF, during their visits to Haiti, Chip, Patty, and their children, Riley, Erin, and Patrick, identified a further need for increased economic opportunities for youth and founded the Kwansans Foundation. Kwansans is an organization committed to fostering growth and sustainable futures for the people of Haiti by addressing gaps in education, healthcare, and community development and infrastructure. Through Kwasans and the MFOF, the Wirth family connects Haitian youth to UNDH-Hinche. Programs at the University such as a bioscience program and an entrepreneurial center, currently under construction in collaboration with the University of Notre Dame-South Bend, create unique opportunities that leverage the innovative and creative minds of Haiti’s youth and invest in Haiti’s future by investing in Haiti’s present. 

Sustainability and Community Development

Most recently, in collaboration with the GC-DWC, Chip and his family have launched Mail Boxes Etc. (MBE) to create sustainable funding for University of Notre Dame school communities in Haiti. Since the Haitian government provides minimal investment in education, long term solutions to education cost barriers for Haitian students and their families are essential. Through MBE’s social enterprise model, there are opportunities to sustain schooling needs through a pre-existing Catholic school network. MBE will offer state-of-the-art shipping, design, computer, and copying services to a target audience of Haitian residents and US-based diaspora. Representative community committees in five selected communities will decide how net income from their local franchise is utilized to support school resource needs in tuition and teacher salary compensation. This model both allows communities to chart their own course to change and provides a local source of financial sustainability and employment beyond current grant cycles. The Wirth family is purchasing the franchise rights to MBE in Haiti, with the first store to open in Cap-Haitian in 2022. 

Finally, the Wirth Construction company is supporting the GC-DWC in the procurement, refurbishment, and delivery of ten shipping containers to be used as community resource centers in Haiti, with plans to ultimately transfer production to UNDH-Hinche. Equipped with solar power, tablets, and the latest in ed-tech, play-based learning, and culturally relevant learning materials, these Centers will expand access to high-quality education materials and online learning resources for learners and their families. These Centers will be instrumental in limiting the impact of the digital divide and providing learners and their families with access to learning in both times of crisis and normalcy.  

It’s clear that what started as a commitment to improving the health outcomes of Haitians has spiraled into an entirely new conspiracy of goodness. The Wirth family’s commitment to Haiti and to the work of the GC-DWC is sure to have a ripple effect and reach tens of thousands of Haitians.