Julio Volcy grew up in Haiti, the son of an absent father who had 18 other children. He traveled to the United States for his university studies, eventually earning a doctorate. He could have stayed in the U.S., but after losing a friend to gang violence here and seeing similar suffering in Haiti, Volcy felt called to travel back to his home country to work with ministries there.
Volcy helped start Haiti Teen Challenge (HTC), which has grown from its 2008 beginnings into an organization that today has 200 staff members. HTC uses discipleship to train Haitian youth to overcome the challenges they face in their country.
Haiti’s population ranks as the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, according to the Public Reference Bureau. A 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 people, widespread corruption, civil unrest, and ongoing gang violence have further exacerbated problems.
International organizations responded quickly to the humanitarian crisis caused by the earthquake, providing aid and training to get the nation back on its feet. Twelve years later, multiple crises are starting to push those aid groups away.
In 2021, gunmen assassinated President Jovenel Moïse, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake killed another 2,200 people, and a gang kidnapped 17 missionaries working for the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries (CAM).
After the kidnapping, David Leid of CAM said the group “changed the way we look at Haiti.” All of the missionaries survived: Five were set free and 12 later escaped. CAM is pausing expanding its operations in Haiti for six months to evaluate the situation. Programs the organization already has in place in Haiti are pivoting to help people displaced by gang warfare, Leid said. The organization has begun flying its staff members across Haiti instead of driving due to how dangerous roads have become.
Other groups, such as Water of Life Community Church in Fontana, Calif., had organized missions trips to Haiti every year since 2012, partnering with Mission of Grace orphanage in the north of the country to provide vacation Bible school programs and visitations for the elderly. But ongoing insecurity has caused the church to postpone sending teams until 2023 at the earliest.
For Volcy and HTC, the work never stopped. He moved back to Haiti within five days of the 2010 earthquake. The disaster killed, injured, or displaced about a fourth of Haiti’s total population, damaged roughly 60 percent of administrative and economic infrastructure, and caused over $8 billion in damage.
In the midst of the disaster, Volcy took up running HTC’s 18-month residential discipleship training program and still works with it today. The program targets 16- to 24-year-olds, most of whom come from backgrounds of gangs and prostitution. Volcy says that with a waitlist of 2,000 applicants, many in Haiti who grew up only knowing violence and drugs hunger for something more.
After graduating from the program, students connect with mentors, gain scholarships to further their education, and find jobs. Many end up working for the ministry, the staff of which is made up of about 20 percent HTC graduates, Volcy said. Almost all the leadership is Haitian, which Volcy believes has allowed the organization to become stronger through the ongoing suffering of his country. And the work of HTC is revealing that Haiti is developing the capacity to change itself for the better without outside support. “Don’t see us just as our government,” he said, emphasizing that the politicians who lead the country are not reflective of the rest of Haiti.
Ultimately, Volcy said, that is his biggest hope for the future: “We are stronger than we were before. … We believe we can change the nation in one generation.”
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