As many of you know, we received heartbreaking news of the unexpected passing of our dear friend and Program Director at Na Rive, Lavarice Gaudin, who died of natural causes in his hometown on November 11th. Lava, as we affectionally called him, was a compassionate and visionary leader fueled by a deep love and hope for his country. His humanity and devotion to the children and the Ti Plas Kazo community, and his indomitable drive and ingenuity to make miracles happen, have been an inspiration. His kindness and big smile will forever be lodged in my heart.
Within the heartbreak of his untimely death, we are ever more determined to focus on our mission and support our partner Na Rive though this time of grief and transition, as they continue to provide critically needed programs for children and families.
As someone who knew Lava since the very beginning, I’ve asked What If Foundation founder, Margaret Trost, to share her reflections at this juncture in the organization’s history.
I remember the day Lavarice took my hand and led me to the front of the new Father Jeri School. It was 2016 and after many years of planning and work, construction had just been completed. It was my first time seeing the beautiful three-story building, all painted and ready for students. We stood in silence for a while with big smiles on our faces taking it all in. “It will be a beacon of hope for the community, Margo. Just as Father Jeri envisioned.” Lava said. “A place where lives will change and leaders will be born. It wasn’t easy to create, but we found a way over, around, and through every obstacle.”
Lava’s determination to make possible what might seem impossible to most people has always inspired me. He was a deeply courageous leader who led from the heart and worked tirelessly to create positive change in Haiti. He loved the Father Jeri School and was so proud of its students and teachers. In my last phone call with him, he shared that he’d just received word that 100% of the 9thgrade students passed the state exam, an enormous accomplishment given the insecurity in Haiti and the stress and anxiety the students and faculty face daily.
“Education is the most important force for change,” Lava said. “There is nothing better than education. With education, over time, you cannot lose. We keep the progress going, even though we’re in this challenging, tough time. At the Father Jeri School, we make sure that we take care of each student, to help them with the struggle. To go to the state exam and pass it, it’s a big thing. Na Rive loves doing what we do in Haiti. Whatever we do, we make sure we do it with love.” This commitment to the children and determination to provide quality education with loving support will continue and is part of Lavarice’s legacy.
The grief of losing such a dear friend and leader so suddenly is only starting to be felt, but my experience over the years has shown me that we will move through this time of transition with perseverance and keep this important work alive. What If and Na Rive have navigated through many challenges over our 22-year history – the coup in 2004, the great loss of Father Jeri in 2009, followed by the catastrophic earthquake in 2010, devastating hurricanes in multiple years, ongoing political and economic crises that have led to so much suffering and the current state of emergency throughout Haiti, and now Lava’s passing. I deeply trust our partnership and its shared vision and commitment to serve the children, to lead with the heart, and to live the wisdom of the Haitian proverb Father Jeri taught me so many years ago, piti piti na rive. Little by little we will arrive.
Lavarice and I talked often about how the foundation of What If and Na Rive is love, and that love is the most powerful force in the world. Now that he is no longer physically present with us, the love that he poured into his work in Ti Plas Kazo and the difference he made remains and will continue to inspire us all.
Thank you for your love, ongoing support, trust, prayers, and for being a part of the What If Foundation.
With appreciation and hope,
As we remember and honor Lavarice and his legacy, the What If Foundation has been working closely with the devoted team at Na Rive to plan the transition into the next chapter of our partnership. While mourning his loss, they are working hand-in-hand with the community to further their mission and are already in action.
The needs in Haiti given the current humanitarian crisis are immense and it’s never been more important to keep providing support on the ground. However, we could not do this work without you. Your donations help change and save lives and bring hope and opportunity to countless children and families in Ti Plas Kazo and beyond. As we enter the season of giving, I invite you to share what you can to support the children at the Father Jeri School, which as Lava shared with us many times, has become a beacon of hope for the community. Your gifts will help ensure this continues.
Please join us in honoring Lavarice and his legacy by making a meaningful contribution today
What If Foundation