David and Jamalyn Williamson Rebuilding the Haitian Economy One Home At a Time
In 2010, a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the nation of Haiti and killed an estimated 230,000 people, injured 300,000 and displaced 1.5 million people. The quake damaged nearly 300,000 homes and destroyed 106,000 of them. A decade later, tens of thousands of people still live in tents in camps, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Zionsville residents Rev. David “Dave” and Jamalyn Williamson have spent the last 15 years working in Fondwa, Haiti, building lasting friendships and improving lives. Jamalyn was in Fondwa when the 2010 quake struck and witnessed firsthand the diabolic devastation. Upon her return to the U.S., she and David wasted no time in assisting with the rebuilding efforts in the beautiful and hospitable rural community that they’ve grown to love.
Through their foundation that they founded, Zanmi Fondwa (Zanmi means “Friend” in Creole), the Williamsons and the compassionate supporters/donors are helping to create stability through housing, education and economic development. The foundation’s goal is to provide jobs for Haitians by building 40 homes in three years.
Following Their Calling to Serve Abroad
The Williamsons shared that each had a “calling” to go into ministry and to experience mission work abroad. The couple attended graduate school at Duke Divinity School, where they met, and the two eventually got married in 2003. While most couples spend their engagements planning a wedding and a honeymoon, the Williamsons planned their wedding and were preparing to embark on their first mission trip as a married couple.
David is currently the senior pastor at Zionsville United Methodist Church. Prior to his coming to Zionsville, both David and Jamalyn were pastors at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. After moving to Zionsville, Jamalyn has put her efforts into growing their foundation’s efforts in Fondwa.
“While at Duke [Divinity School], I took a class called ‘Healing in the Third World,’” Jamalyn shared. “It looked at both medicinal and spiritual healing. We went down to Haiti [as a class] and visited three communities. Fondwa was one of them. I really loved it, and when we were leaving, I remember feeling a ‘nudge,’ and I knew that I would be coming back.”
The Williamsons shared that unlike Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, Fondwa is a rural, mountainous and, they described, beautiful community with clean air.
“There is a sense of hospitality and welcoming that I’ve never experienced anywhere else,” Jamalyn said. “There is a deep sense of community, and the whole experience is really wonderful.”
January 12, 2010
Jamalyn and her team were in Fondwa on a mission trip when the earthquake struck. Her husband, David, was back home in the U.S. While the anniversary date is a difficult one for her, it has become a day of positivity and renewal as the couple’s foundation continues to assist in the rebuilding efforts and playing a role in the community’s economic progress.
“Being there [Fondwa] that day, I call that the point of demarcation in my life,” Jamalyn shared. “There was life pre-earthquake and life post-earthquake. If the earthquake hadn’t happened, we’d still be involved down there but working from a different perspective.”
David added, “I think we sensed that we were all exactly where we were supposed to be [that day and in the days that followed] in order to help.”
Jamalyn witnessed the destruction of the three-story guest house that served as the hub of the Fondwa community and where she and David had stayed in previous trips. She saw the destruction of the Protestant Church where they had worshipped with their Fondwa friends and neighbors, the school where she and David had worked together and the homes of all of their friends that had collapsed in a matter of seconds. David visited Fondwa after the quake to see the devastation for himself and to get a scope of the immediate needs of his friends and Haitian people.
“In the five years previous to the quake, we would take groups down whenever we could to Fondwa,” David said. “We would go the neighbors’—our friends’—homes for coffee before the start of our day. That is what you do down there; it is their social networking. When the earthquake happened, the people that we had taken down and had been welcomed into these homes that were no longer standing began asking us how they could help, and that was when the fundraising began.”
David recently ran the Walt Disney World Marathon on the 10th anniversary of the January 12 quake in an effort to raise $1,000 a mile for the builds. The Williamsons are extremely grateful for all the support and donations they continue to receive and are hoping to keep the momentum going as they continue with these remarkable and noble efforts.
Zanmi Fondwa’s Housing and Economic Impact
Zanmi Fondwa’s goal is to build 40 houses in three years. They are currently building their 17th house. Each home costs $22,000 to construct and consists of a living/dining area, a bathroom with a toilet and shower stall, two bedrooms, a concrete kitchen and a front porch.
“We’re building houses to last for generations,” Jamalyn explained. “We’re funded roughly through 25 [homes], and we are hoping to buy some land to build a headquarters and start our own concrete block factory. By making our own blocks, we will create more jobs and a revenue stream by selling those blocks to people in the area. It’s exciting to be part of something that is bringing so much joy to other people, and it has really rallied this community. While building homes is a big part of our mission statement, economic development has become the star of the statement.”
David added, “We have a list of 45 people [from Fondwa] who are asking for help to go to a vocational school to learn construction trades because they know if they get these skills, they will be employable. It is fun to see this cycle happening.”
Jamalyn expressed, “I think building houses will always be at the heart of what we do, but we are dreaming about additional programs that we can wrap around this mission.”
The Personal Impact
When asked how it feels to look back upon the last few years and realize that they are making an immeasurable difference in the lives of the people of Fondwa, Jamalyn replied, “It is a personal mission for us. These are people that we personally know and have developed lifelong friendships with and have seen grow up.”
David concluded, “It’s humbling. These homes are built for people who are so grateful and thankful. We are just the conduits—we’re connecting people from the U.S. who want to do good things with people in Haiti who have legitimate needs.”
To learn more about Zanmi Fondwa and how to get involved and/or donate, visit zanmifondwa.com.