Southeast student organizes walkathon to bring clean water to Haiti

Caleb Francois, a senior at Southeast High School, is organizing a walk to give back to Haiti, almost six years after a natural disaster devastated the country. PHOTO PROVIDED
Caleb Francois, a senior at Southeast High School, is organizing a walk to give back to Haiti, almost six years after a natural disaster devastated the country. PHOTO PROVIDED

BRADENTON -- Almost six years after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, residents are still walking 10 miles a day for water that isn't even clean. Sometimes, families must send the eldest child, who is missing school and a chance at an education -- a way to move up and out of poverty -- to help provide the family potable water.

A Southeast High School student is organizing a walk aimed at helping to alleviate that burden.

On Nov. 14, Caleb Francois is hoping the community will help him raise $10,000 to fund one new well in Haiti through a walkathon held at Southeast High School. A 17-year-old senior, Francois was inspired by Project Light International, a nonprofit established by his father, Guy Francois, to help those affected in Haiti.

Guy Francois was born in Haiti. His son, who was born in the U.S. and is an American citizen, has not yet visited Haiti but feels a connection to his father's homeland.

"I took the walkathon upon myself," Caleb Francois said. "I feel like I have a duty to my people, in a sense, to help them."

Building one well costs $9,104.63, according to Project Light International. Francois' $10,000 goal would meet that threshold and them some. Francois said he already expects between 100 and 200 people to be on hand for the walkathon, in part through the Key Club at the school and other Manatee County schools taking part in the event.

The walkathon has a $10 registration fee, which can be paid upon arrival.

It's easy for people to forget those in Haiti who are still struggling six years later, said Cindy Rees, a business teacher at Southeast High School and the school's Future Business Leaders of America adviser.

"This is one way we can go ahead and try to help," she said.

As an adviser, Rees said she lets the students work out the details of hosting events like this, only helping to guide them through the setup and planning. Francois wanted to host the event immediately, but Rees helped him choose a weekend that didn't conflict with many other events.

"He was so eager, he wanted to have the event immediately," she said.

Francois embodies the typical Southeast student, Rees said, in that he genuinely wants to serve others and give back, and isn't hosting the event because he is forced to.

"Our students want to give back," she said. "I'm looking forward to seeing what they do as adults."

Francois has a great big heart, said his father, Guy Francois, who works at CareerSource Suncoast.

"He can't stand to see other children suffering," Francois said, adding he was amazed at the project his son took on to help others.

Guy Francois came to the United States on Oct. 14, 1990, he said. His organization was founded prior to the earthquake in 2010 and was primarily aimed at helping children in Haiti get a better education. Once the earthquake hit, the emphasis of the program shifted and Guy Francois kicked up his efforts a notch.

Guy Francois hopes he can take his son to Haiti on his next mission trip and see how his efforts will pay off.

In addition to organizing the walk, Caleb Francois recently finished an early application to Georgetown University, where he wants to enroll in the Walsh School of Foreign Service and continue to work on ways to give back on a global scale. Georgetown will announce those accepted early on Dec. 15.

The walkathon runs from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Nov. 14 at Southeast High School, 1200 37th Ave. E in Bradenton.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.