A graduate student in International Public Service and Development at Rutgers University, Tyler Tappendorf (VU ’08) spent last fall semester in Haiti as an intern in microfinance and poverty alleviation with a non-governmental organization. Through Facebook and Skype, he has learned that all of his friends there lost their homes in January’s devastating earthquake, and many lost friends and family members as well.
Tyler’s two best friends describe grim living conditions in the makeshift campus set up around Port-au-Prince. Tarps provide them shelter and rain floods their beds, attracting rats. Contaminated food and raw sewage cause sickness.
“They haven’t had solid access to relief supplies and eat about once or twice every two days,” says Tyler. ”Their situation is tough, but they (all Haitians) have a resilience that I can’t even begin to understand.”
While interning this semester with Africa Unite in Cape Town, South Africa, the compassionate Actuarial Science major is using his personal time to work out the logistics to develop “some sort of organization” that will help Haiti.
He envisions, “Groups would come from the US for a week, help build new earthquake proof housing, and get to see some of the rich culture there as well. It would allow me to employ some of my Haitian friends, which is my number one goal right now, and help at least a few of the millions of homeless.”
Tyler’s current duties as acting manager of the Sisonke Savings and Entrepreneurial Development Program are time consuming but should prove beneficial toward realizing some of his dreams for Haiti. The very new program he manages is aimed at growing entrepreneurship among 18-30 year-olds in Cape Town’s many poor surrounding communities.
“This program will essentially consist of two components,” the young humanitarian explains. “Right now, I’m still very much in the planning stages—designing, networking, seeking funding, and forming partnerships with other organizations. The first component will involve 25 young adults who’ll have regular group meetings to discuss and learn entrepreneurial skills. They’ll save money as a group to fund some sort of business venture at the end of their training. We’ll try to connect them with community business leaders who can provide advice and help them build their own networks. The second program component will be directed at high school students and involve entrepreneurship workshops and clubs.”
Tyler adds, “There are few jobs in South Africa, so our organization sees entrepreneurship as a way for individuals to pull themselves out of poverty rather than wait for job openings.”