Naperville Native’s Charity Helps Empower Haitian Communities

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A Naperville native’s charity provides Haitian communities the tools and education to help themselves and the environment.  Josh Goralski created ‘Unlocking Communities’ about three years ago, but his inspiration and ideas for the project have been years in the making.

A Naperville North High School alum and St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church attendee, Goralski’s first brush with Haiti came when he was just eight years old when his family hosted a Haitian priest. “When people ask me what’s my connection to Haiti, I say ‘Haiti kind of found me,’” he said.

Goralski started his involvement with Haiti through the work his church did alongside the Haitian priest.

“Fast forward a long time, I got to understand the difference between charity and long-term development,” Goralski said. “And what does it mean to truly empower communities to be agents of change in their own communities?”

Working Alongside Haitian Communities

Across multiple trips to Haiti, Goralski started a dialogue with Haitian communities to come up with the idea for Unlocking Communities.

The organization connects with community leaders in Haiti to identify people who would be interested in entrepreneurship. It then trains them in marketing, finance, accounting, and business fundamentals.

Unlocking Communities equips these newly trained entrepreneurs with products “that are good for peoples’ health, that also save people money, that are also good for the environment,” Goralski said.

These products include water filtration systems and clean burning stoves – both of which many Haitians don’t have access to.

Water Filtration Systems

The water filters are made from clay, silver, and sawdust, and provide families clean water for over two years. The whole filtration system costs an equivalent of about $35 US, with no-interest micro financing available to help families afford the first one. It will save them about $150 per year.

It also eliminates over 150 million plastic water bottles from waste streams.

“We’re going to produce over $200 million in economic savings long-term,” Goralski said. “And that economic savings will really help to fuel the model. It helps to fuel Haitians to use that economic savings, instead of buying bottled water, to invest in their businesses or invest in their local community in different ways.”

Goralski said the filters are currently being produced in Guatemala, but he plans to open a factory in Haiti to make them locally. It would employ over 50 people, produce 200,000 water filters by 2025, and make the filters 30% cheaper by removing import costs.

Clean Burning Stoves

Unlocking Communities also sells clean burning stoves under the same model.

“The stoves aren’t a perfect solution, because they still use charcoal, and Haiti is over 90% deforested now,” Goralski said. “They still use charcoal, but they use 50% less. So that puts 75 cents a day back in their pockets, and to someone earning $3 to $5 a day, 75 cents is 20% of their income roughly.”

The stoves produce less CO2 and carcinogens than traditional cooking, and help to slow the island’s deforestation. A partner of Unlocking Communities makes them locally in Haiti.

Unlocking Communities is currently involved in 13 Haitian communities, with about 180 entrepreneurs.

Moving forward, the organization is considering ways to introduce solar powered lighting to their model, and for ways to expand in Haiti and globally.

Handling Political Unrest

Goralski was in Haiti when the country’s president was assassinated in July. He said the recent political instability has made larger projects like the water filter factory hard to complete, but the basic model has been able to continue.

“Because we’re decentralized, because we don’t rely on Americans going down to Haiti, our work continues. All during the pandemic, our work continues. Throughout this political instability, our work continues.”

Goralski said while disasters like this call for creativity to work through, it’s important to stay resilient. “We’re in it for the long-term with our Haitian brothers and sisters in these communities.”

Naperville News 17’s Casey Flanagan reports.

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