The video below highlights an important and exciting new economic development opportunity for Haiti and COCINA.

In 2012, the Caracol Industrial Park opened in Northeast Haiti and now provides over 8,000 jobs for the region. One of the businesses located in the industrial park is Citadelle Manufacturing which began operating in 2015. (Learn more about Citadelle in the video at time marker 5:55.)

Citadelle Manufacturing is unique in many ways. As part of Spring CoLaboratory, Inc. (SCL), a “Benefit Corporation,” Citadelle is helping grow the country’s economy while also contributing directly to education in Haiti – specifically at Institution Univers. SCL has committed to contribute up to 20% of their profits to support educational scholarships, and IU is blessed to be a recipient of their vision and generosity. 

The fit between SCL’s unique business model and COCINA’s mission is remarkable. SCL needs a talented team of local workers, and IU graduates are among the smartest, hardest working students in the country. Also, IU continually graduates more deserving students than scholarships are available. Consequently, SCL and COCINA both benefit greatly from this relationship.

Citadelle Manufacturing is already utilizing the talents of IU graduates. Sony Ton-Aime, an IU alumnus, COCINA scholarship recipient, and 2014 graduate of Kent State University in Ohio, serves as the Accounting Supervisor for Citadelle. After graduating from Kent, Sony was selected by Deloitte (an international accounting firm) out of 1,000 student applicants for their prestigious internship program. Citadelle Manufacturing is now benefitting from Sony’s education and valuable experience. (See Sony in the video at time marker 7:25.)

Economic development has long been a priority for COCINA. This relationship with SCL is a wonderful example of how a start-up company can simultaneously create jobs, retain local talent, provide scholarships, and offer equity opportunities for Haitians.


Michaela Roland“This trip is something I have been dreaming about for seven years.”

Coalition of Children in Need Association has helped create an invaluable experience for many people in Ouanaminthe, Haiti. My name is Michaela Roland, and meeting others involved with COCINA has inspired me to do more and give more of my life to the amazing and loving people of Ouanaminthe.

Institution Univers is a school run by love, prayers, support, and many hard-working, passionate people – and it has changed my life in abundant, remarkable ways. Beginning in 2009, when I was 15 years old, I started to realize that teaching children and connecting with students is my passion. After many more mission trips, I became even more reassured that I wanted to spend my life teaching children. My goal was to spend time teaching in Haiti. Every summer and winter I have had the opportunity to visit Ouanaminthe to teach English and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) preparation classes at Univers. The students continue to pull on my heartstrings, and teaching them for just a week to four weeks is not enough.

Finally, after 12 trips, I am now able take a journey to Haiti for six months. This trip is something I have been dreaming about for seven years. Shortly after graduating this May, with a degree in English Education, I will be making the trip to Haiti for a longer stay than I ever have before.

I am looking forward to…

…being able to teach my students more consistently.

…seeing all of the children and students come to summer camp every day, and then come to school everyday dressed perfectly in their uniforms.

… learning more about the Haitian culture and people, as I become their neighbor.

…creating more friendships and connections with the inspiring people in Haiti, the volunteers, and more of the COCINA community.

Most importantly, I am looking forward to building an even stronger relationship with God each and every day in the amazing country of Haiti.

Do you have a COCINA story that you would like to share? Send it to us at


Katie Green

My name is Katie Greene. I am a junior at the University of Kentucky, and last summer I got the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Ouanaminthe with Southland Christian Church in Lexington. I had never been on a plane before, much less out of the country, but I heard God say “GO” and the rest is history.

We were there for a week and got to experience many things, including a day in the life of the students at Institution Univers. I don’t know what I was really expecting, but the warmth and the love I received from everyone there, including the faculty and the students, impacted me more than I could have hoped. I was deeply touched by the genuine love of people who had no clue who I was before I got there.

Spending time with the children in the school was a blessing in particular. It was amazing to see their desire to learn and just their appreciation for the opportunity at an education. It reminded me of all the things I take for granted here in the US, education being one of them sometimes. I loved getting to help teach in the kindergarten and the primary school. One of my favorite things was recess. The children would all just run to you and want to hold your hand. They would not stop loving on us until the entire hour was over and they had to go back inside. My heart was so moved by this, and I knew I was experiencing Jesus’ love like never before.

God opened my eyes to the way I need to be looking at and loving others through these kids. Love isn’t about what someone can do for you, or conditions, it is about having an open heart to anyone who comes my way. Jesus doesn’t wait to see what we will be or all we will accomplish before pouring His love into us – He just loves. No strings attached. These kids showed me that. The love they poured out to a complete stranger, who knew only a few words of their language, has forever changed my life, along with the kindness of so many I came into contact with on our trip.

Seeing the work COCINA is doing in Ouanaminthe made me so excited. God is really working there. I was only there for a short time, but felt like I was leaving another home after the week ended. I hope and pray I get to return and serve this place that has already impacted my life and my heart more than I could express.

Matt White Blog

by Matt White


“Jesus Christ and education are the only things that will change this nation.” – Hugues Bastien

Haiti is a true dichotomy within itself. Once known as one of the wealthiest regions in the world (around 1780), Haiti now has over 60 percent unemployment. From what I gathered on our trip, those who are employed tend to be in politics or involved in some level of corrupt business, which continues to destabilize the country, in general.



Pride, Joy, and Love in the Middle of Poverty

However, even with all the political unrest and corruption taking place in the country, we entered Ouanaminthe (about 5 hours east of the capital of Port-au-Prince) near the Dominican Republic border. While I saw poverty like I’ve never experienced, there was also pride, joy, and love emanating from even the deepest areas of poverty.

HAITI 14 test

As we were driving through the streets of Ouanaminthe one afternoon, with several of us standing in the back of a Toyota Tundra, the children would scream out with joy, “blan…blan…blan” (pronounced “blon”), which means “white” in Haitian Creole. They would wave and laugh and run to their gates to get a closer look.


And this happened all week. We ran camps and worked on service projects Monday through Wednesday while the kids were out of school for the Haitian Carnival holiday. And, on Thursday, it was back to school for the students of Institution Univers (IU), COCINA’s 2,400-student K-13 grade school, which was founded in 1996.


Feeding of the 5,000 (or 2,400 in this case)

Each day IU serves lunch to the entire student population, and for some it may be their only meal that day. I wanted to see this process for myself – how in the world can you feed 2,400 kids every single day?!? Several things stood out to me as I observed:

  1. There was a process – everyone was respectful and followed the system.
  2. There was NO waste – as I walked around, nearly every drop of food was cleaned off each tray.
  3. Even with the need for food, the excitement of a “blan” in the room was quite a distraction!

I started taking pictures of some of the children, which started out as a calm request for a “foto.” They love getting their picture taken; and they really LOVE “seeing” their faces on the phone screen. And, suddenly, I was mobbed by children all around me trying to get in the photos – smiles on every one of their faces!



An Experience I Wasn’t Expecting

One of the boys – I think he was about 11 or 12 – took a liking to me and said, “Come,” and waved at me to go with him. I was hesitant at first; I wasn’t sure where he was taking me, but he continued and I finally caved. He held my hand as we walked outside to the massive open “soccer field” (all dirt with goals on either end), and he led me across the expansive field (8-10 others following, giggling, touching) to a shaded area where many of the students gathered for what I assume was recess.

He held my hand the whole way, and led me right up to a short brick wall circling one of the large shade trees. He wiped off an area of the brick and motioned for me to sit. I sat, and he grabbed a stick and drew a tic-tac-toe grid in the sand, marked a circle in the middle square, and handed the stick to me. He just wanted to play a game with me!

That small game of tic-tac-toe led to drawing pictures in the sand, now with 15-20 students gathered all around. I would sketch out something and then hand the stick to one of the kids. He or she would draw a car or boat or something and then hand the stick back to me.


Over the next 10-15 minutes, the crowd must have grown to about 30 or more; and then they noticed my tattoos! They were enthralled. They touched. They rubbed. Some read the words. Some asked what they said. One even took my arm and touched it to his in an effort to “stamp” his arm with my tattoo. The boy who brought me to this place – I hate that I didn’t get his name – asked if I had a pen. I pulled one out of my backpack. He pointed to his hand, as if requesting I give him a tattoo. Once again, I caved – how could I not?!?

I drew a little spider web on his hand, and others asked for the same. So, I inked up a few Haitian kids, and then the original boy came back to show me his own tattoo. He had written, “Do. Love. Walk.” on his arm just like mine! I was nearly brought to tears. This young boy had found me in the cafeteria, walked with me hand-in-hand across the field, cleaned off a spot for me to sit, traded tic-tac-toe and drawings in the sand, and now had mirrored my tattoo on his own arm. It was the sweetest, most humbling thing I’ve ever experienced.



What Haiti Did to Me

I realize that was the long version of that story, but it made such an impact on me, I had to share. There were so many other situations like that, but to circle back to the “dichotomy” mentioned at the beginning…and Hugues Bastien’s quote: “Jesus Christ and education are the only things that will change this nation.”


Hugues has a love and hope for Haiti and its people. After hearing about the corruption in both business and politics, it’s hard to see any hope for the country. But, when I come back to Hugues’s quote, I am encouraged instead. It’s not going to happen over night, but what COCINA is doing – focusing on the children, showing them Jesus, educating them, and addressing their overall well being – is exactly what needs to be done…raising up a new generation who loves Jesus, who knows right from wrong, who wants to make a difference, who has the education and drive to do so.

Institution Univers (the school) is only a piece of the COCINA puzzle. There’s a medical clinic, a bakery and storefront to sell the baked goods, a college placement program, a technical school, a chicken farm, and a connection to an industrial park that currently provides more than 10,000 jobs in the northeastern region of Haiti.

Change in Haiti will have to come from the bottom up, because it’s not happening from the top down. COCINA is doing its part and will continue to do more – certainly the more funding they have, the more programs they can offer.

For me, the thing that stood out the most was the trash. I’m not sure if there’s a sanitation system or program in Haiti, possibly in the larger cities? But, in Ouanaminthe and Cap Haitian (on the northern coast), and the places in between, there did not seem to be any. In Cap Haitian – a port city – there had been some recent flooding, which drove all the trash from miles up the mountains and in the city streets all down to the river and into the bay. Tons of trash scattered all over the waterline, where I’m told just weeks before was blue water and sandy beaches.




I’m not sure what it is yet, but the way I feel I can get involved is somehow related to the trash situation. I honestly don’t know anything about anything when it comes to such things, but that’s the story of most of the characters in the Bible, isn’t it?


Matt White traveled to Ouanaminthe in early February with a team from Christ Community Chapel in Hudson, Ohio.


Zips for Haiti Group Travels to Ounaminthe

By Michael Robinson, The University of Akron

Zips for Haiti’s second trip to Institution Univers (IU) was a great success. Zips for Haiti paired with the Global Leadership Initiative at The University of Akron (UA) College of Business to make this trip a reality for 21 students. Of the 21 students, 19 attend The University of Akron, one attends Kent State University, and one is from the Akron community. Additionally, three students and one faculty member returned to lead this trip. All of the students were of diverse majors and ages ranging from political science to education to business and from freshmen to graduate students. The students and faculty member spent five awesome days on IU’s campus.

The tangible goals of this trip were to build mosquito net frames for the mission house at IU and to teach select lessons of Art and English. Art was taught in grades 1st through 4th and English taught to 4th through 13th. With the 13th grade, we also shared our college experiences and gave them a feel of what the university experience is like in the U.S. The net frames and lessons were accomplished and we even managed to set up one portable basketball hoop that had been left before us.

The non-tangible goal of this trip was to inspire personal change in our students, including increased self-confidence, determination, motivation, and leadership as well as many others. This goal was a success. During our reflection sessions, the students dug deep into themselves to learn, feel, and understand Haiti and in turn themselves. Along with inward reflection, the students quickly built strong peer relationships with students at IU. The students from IU and UA were mutually encouraged by each other and both learned so much. We all had a wonderful experience on the trip, filling our time with a tour of IU, a trip to Fort Liberté, a trip to La Citadelle, a visit to Danita’s Children and workdays at IU. Some of the students have already committed themselves to continue to work with Zips for Haiti to plan future trips and to raise funds for IU. For the trip leaders, it’s exciting to see the university organization grow and be fueled from other students. Others who didn’t join the organization still take an unforgettable memory with them that becomes a part of who they are. We asked them after the trip to be advocates for Haiti wherever they end up.

Overall, our trip to Haiti was simply fantastic. The students learned about and experienced Haiti all while enjoying themselves. We are thrilled to continue with another trip currently open for 20 students that will be coming up this May. Zips for Haiti wishes to continue these trips even further into the future, completing two student-led trips per school year for The University of Akron community. The students are learning so much about Haiti and even more about themselves. We will be forever thankful for opportunities like these to grow and learn.

Global Leadership Initiative- University of Akron