We rolled off the tarmac mid-morning Thursday after a short two and a half hour flight from Miami, FL to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The skies had been clear for the entire flight, and I ended up next to a gentleman who had started non-profit ministries in both Haiti and Guatemala. He was on a last-minute trip to Haiti to give a speech in French and receive their official non-profit status there. During the flight, we chatted on life, ministry, travel, and mission work. Wonderful conversation was had, and he provided wisdom on what to expect in Haiti. We said our goodbyes as we exited the plane, exchanging business cards and pleasantries, and I headed on towards the unknown with our group of 20 people.
Just a few months back, I had received an invitation to go on this trip from a few fellow real estate investors in a mastermind I was a part of. Although I didn’t know the vast majority of those going, I knew a few—Dave, Stan, and Matt. I knew if these guys were going, I would go just to be a part of something with them.
The impetus for the trip was that Scott, also a part of our mastermind, had started an orphanage in Haiti a few years ago after he had a transformational experience on his first trip there. The goal of the trip was to bring love and joy to the 15 kids there, haul 100-lb. bags of concrete and giant jugs of water up an insanely steep hill, and build a chicken coop to provide the kids and their caretakers fresh eggs, fresh meat, and a potential source of income.
I’ve traveled to quite a few places throughout the world where there is poverty through mission trips and church groups, and I can say without pause that this was one of the hardest places to wrap my mind around. There was poverty, trash, and filth everywhere. Amidst an incredibly beautiful country and kind, wonderful people was this overwhelming sadness of what could be but simply wasn’t.
I’m not writing this article to tell you how to buy real estate in Haiti—or anywhere else for that matter. Rather, my goal is to get you to think about how you as a real estate investor can use your resources and time for different opportunities, opportunities that give you unique experiences and allow you to help others.
I believe mission trips always start with the idea of “we are going to help ‘X’ people.” Still, the people there to help often feel they receive more love, care, and perspective than they were able to give. It’s so easy to get stuck in the day to day, the minutiae of life that we become completely absorbed in our own relatively small problems. After leaving Haiti, I had a massive appreciation for safe drinking water, a warm meal, a sanitary bathroom, a clean city to live in, and a safe home for my family. It’s amazing how simple life becomes with a little perspective.
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Finding Our Ride
The entire group rolled through customs, and we made our way through the crowded walkway. We started our voyage together, walking towards the large diesel truck waiting for us. The truck had vibrantly colored paint and words on the outside, with army style benches on each inside wall and an open metal-framed top covered with a tarp. We loaded bags full of children’s clothes, school supplies, games, and toys in the very front of the bed of the truck, and we all jammed into the back. The truck started up.
We started driving out from the airport and were immediately shocked by our experience on the road. You can pretty much do whatever you want on any road, as long as you can make it past the trucks, motorcycles, and scooters in the way. The main roads were passable and decent for the most part, but anywhere off the main roads took extra caution for even the most stout four-wheel drive vehicle and the best driver. Since our truck had an open-back top with many people riding in the back, we had to be conscious of both our driver, the other drivers, and the constant dust and dirt that would accompany our many long rides to and from the orphanage.
Related: 3 Ways Investors Can Give Back to Their Communities (& the Larger World)
We arrived first at the orphanage, where we immediately got an introduction from the kids in English. We gazed around the hills and valleys and tried to take it all in. One of the requirements for a child to be at the orphanage is that both your parents must not be living. To be honest, it was hard for me to even comprehend what we were seeing. Behind the giant metal gate and the walls that surrounded the large property was the first building that housed the children, their school area, and a small area to prepare meals. They had an outhouse off to the side, another small building for storage, and a shade source for the tiny, adorable neighborhood puppies who hung around.
The Jobs At Hand
We left the orphanage, headed back for a meal at the hotel, and hung out late into the evening over dinner, drinks, and conversation. There were many successful real estate investors and other entrepreneurs there, and many stories were told. An instant camaraderie formed as we lived, worked, ate and hung out. We set a time for the next day, when we would again get into the giant diesel truck and trek the hour or so from the hotel to the orphanage with the wind in our hair, the dust in our eyes, and the sites and smells of a 4th world country, a term I didn’t know existed until this trip.
We arrived on site Friday morning at the orphanage, unloaded, and got into action. There were three groups at work—the hill climbers hauling heavy materials up the hill for the security wall, those playing with the children, and the chicken coop group. I was with the last.
As with nearly every construction project I have even been a part of oversees—and I’ve been in five or six—we had about a third of what we ordered, a generator with a few gallons of gas, no screws for all the screw guns we brought, twice as much lumber but nearly all in incorrect sizes, nails, and one small hammer that the captain of that coop project had thrown into his bag at the last minute.
Most of the first day was spent digging the six holes for the posts, mixing concrete on the ground, and cutting and building the frame. Day one was hot, slow going, and tedious, working with the scare material we had. We figured out immediately who was good at what. My new buddy and coop-partner was Robbie, who was the cutting and measuring master. Since I’ve swung a hammer since I was little, I was able to aid in the cutting and then nail what I believe was the world’s largest nail with one of the world’s smallest hammers. I could have sworn there were a million nails to nail, and we only had one hammer. Luckily Robbie could cut, I could hammer, and Jason could tell us all what to do. We all well worked together.
The Next Two Days
We worked hard for the next two days. It was even hotter on Saturday, but we managed. We ended up receiving two more hammers and a few more shovels, and those really increased our ability to get a few more people on the coop. Given that there was only a pseudo-plan, we went through the process of conversation, testing out ideas, and performing a lot of measurements. Robby and I did our best to deliver to Jason whatever he asked. Several others came to our aid, and we made great strides.
Then Sunday, knowing we absolutely had to finish, a group of about five of us got up and out by 6:00 a.m. and worked like crazy people to complete just a bit after 4:00 p.m. that day. It was incredible to watch the coop come together. We all knew it would literally change the lives of the kiddos living there and would improve the quality of the food they would eat. We couldn’t have done all the work that day without the support of numerous other members of the group who brought in water, snacks, and sunscreen, making sure we were cared for.
Like I said, I feel that I got more out of helping than I could ever have given in return.
Each evening, we would gather after dinner by the ocean, listening to the waves and debriefing on the day. We shared about the relationships and bonds we’d formed with the kids, our desire for this orphanage to have all the resources it needed, and our own dreams of what this group could come up with. At one point, we were able to raise over $30k in less than five minutes between just a handful of people. We made plans to construct the next building there over trips to come.
It’s so easy to get lost in our own day-to-day lives and miss opportunities that sit right in front of us in terms of our own work, family, and life. But when you are forced to focus on just a few things, like how to get from point A to B safely with 20 people in a country you don’t know, you might start thinking differently. Building a coop out of materials you had to scrape together and building connections despite language barriers are powerful experiences that will help shape you.
This trip wouldn’t have been possible without the power and financial success of real estate in my life. The experience and my desire to return to Haiti again has helped fuel my passion back here at home in the office. I’m better able to appreciate what I have and to find ways to use my resources, financial or otherwise, to help change the world.
It’s not too big of a dream. Just decide where you want to go, what you want to do, and have some people you may or may not know help you with it. You will go expecting to change the lives of those you are there to help and return with your own life changed.
What has real estate helped you achieve outside of your business?
I’d love to hear about your experiences below!