zWORKS startup builds houses in Haiti

A former pastor has turned her mission work into a non-profit startup called Zanmi Fondwa. Zanmi is the Creole word for “friend” and Fondwa is the area in Haiti in which they build houses.

Jamalyn Peigh Williamson and her husband, David, met in a graduate school at Duke Divinity School. Jamalyn ended up taking a trip to Haiti where she got some advice that would change their lives.

The professor on the trip suggested to live outside the country before leading churches (they wanted to become pastors).

Jamalyn and David moved to Haiti in 2003 and lived there for two years – she was an administrator at the school and he taught English. Ever since, they have been taking trips down to Haiti.

On January 12, 2010, the earthquake hit.

“It’s a point of demarcation in a lot of ways in our lives – pre- and post-earthquake,” Jamalyn said.

She said the schools, churches and guest houses had all collapsed and they started to help rebuild. They coordinated with the head mason in the community and ended up building 17 new homes in the next six years.

That’s when they decided to start a non-profit dedicated solely to building homes in Haiti. At the time, they were both associate pastors in Indy and Jamalyn decided to start working full time with Zanmi Fondwa.

“It’s very personal because these are people that I know,” she said. “I know their stories. For the house we just dedicated, we had those kids in school when we lived there.”

She said her favorite thing about Fondwa is how hospitable everyone is.

“When you go, everyone that lives there is so happy you come to visit,” she said

She said some people have asked whether it is better to donate money rather than spend the money to visit. She asked the community leaders if they liked when groups visited.

“They told me – ‘Yes, because we can show off our community. We don’t have a lot to give but we can open our doors,’” Jamalyn said.

Their goal is to build 40 houses in three years. They launched Zanmi Fondwa in September of 2018 and their first house was dedicated in February of this year. They have just recently finished their eleventh home.

Jamalyn added that they have three goals to help the families’ stability – housing, education and economic development. They provide seminars for finances, budget, health, hygiene, etc. And as payment for the homes, each family is required to volunteer 200 hours on another home and make 36 small payments.

“We didn’t want it to be small but we didn’t want it to be unattainable,” she said.

Part of Zanmi Fondwa’s mission is to create economic opportunities.  Therefore, American groups visiting Fondwa do not build the houses.  Instead, they work alongside one of the 65 Haitian Zanmi Fondwa employees.

“I feel fortunate that we’re in a position where I can dedicate all my time to this,” Jamalyn said. “It’s been really exciting to start something new even though we’ve been there 16 years.”

To take part in a Zanmi Fondwa mission trip or to learn more about what they do, check out their website.