Name: Frank Schulze
School: UMass Amherst
Major(s): Finance, History, and Economics
Class year: Junior
When and how did you get involved with YSI?
I never thought traveling abroad was something that I wanted to do. I got a Facebook notification from one of the officers at the time letting the Class of 2017 know that YSI was heading down to Haiti to do some research and my first thought was "definitely not doing that."
There are always so many reasons not to do something. I decided to ignore those signs and take a risk on myself, so I applied and traveled to Haiti with the organization. I was the only one on the expedition who knew absolutely no one, and it was an oddly liberating experience. I could be whoever I wanted to be; there was no precedent for me!
Which expeditions have you gone on?
I traveled to Haiti in January 2015 as a community analyst and January 2016 as a manager. In the interim, I've worked on a number of projects for YourStory, my favorite of which involve educating new members. The people of Haiti have a wonderful history that isn’t told all that often. It's a unique honor to tell the story that has shaped the lives of my friends on the island.
What is your favorite memory from your trip(s) to Haiti?
Can I share two? The first would definitely be the audit of JPG. I led a team to do a full-scale examination of a local firm that YSI was hoping to invest with, and it ended up being a bad place to put our funds. Many of the people on my team had been excited to work JPG; it was a vocational school that offered a lot of different programs. We were disappointed that it was being run so irresponsibly, but what made the memory special was my group's attitude. They adapted and turned their disappointment around, proving to be great sleuths for dishonest business practices in the process. Our meetings were very productive precisely because they were so invested in the work.
My other favorite memory was the night of the storm during the dry season. It hardly ever rains in Haiti during the dry season, so we didn't plan for massive downpours. So of course, we got one. There was no drainage in our compound at the time, so the management staff and I had to literally sweep the water, which was accumulating quickly, off of the roof. Instead of complain, we just laughed. The circumstances that had brought us all together were so fleeting that we chose to be grateful for each other's company. If we had to be sweeping mud off of a roof, we were glad to be doing it together.
Why did you choose to become more involved with YSI? (What makes us so special to you?)
I got involved with YSI during its very early startup phases, and I saw it as an organization that could really make a profound impact if more people were involved in planning its logistics. It's never been easy, but two things make it worth it. First off, the people we serve are unquestionably kind to us. I've spent significant time in one of the world's poorest communities, and every time I go, they treat me like family. Think of the best host you've ever had. Now multiply that impression by a giant factor, and you've got the experience in Haiti. And that's not just how they treat you, that's how they treat everyone! These people are worth getting to know; every time I see my friends in Haiti, it always feels like they have something I don't, despite our vastly different economic situations. Whenever I go to Haiti, I get a little closer to learning what that thing is.
Thing two, the people on this staff are fantastic. Extreme situations bring people together, and the management staff of YSI are all wonderful people. No other group of people could motivate me to spend a Sunday hacking my way through a cane field, shower next to an angry pig, or slog through heavy rain to get our people sheltered. I couldn't ask for much more.
What is your biggest take away from the experiences that you have had with YSI?
People are products of their surroundings, and I never knew how rapidly my personality and values could change from a change in surroundings. In the states, I'm a different person than I am in Haiti. In Haiti, anything I'm normally insecure about just evaporates away because my mind just has so much else to take in, and I'm the best person I can be.
I invite you to find that version of yourself, it gives you a better idea of what really makes you happy.