As reported in the March 2013 edition of Architectural Digest, Ben Stiller originally went to Haiti in 2009 with Save the Children. Only six months later, in January 2010, a disastrous earthquake hit Haiti, causing devastation in a country that was already suffering.
To remedy the suffering, Stiller started an online fundraising campaign called StillerStrong with his trademark humor. His motto is “stealing great ideas from other people’s charities to build a school in Haiti.” The goal of his charity was at first to rebuild Save the Children’s Cévérine Community School in the central plateau of Haiti, a remote area of the nation. The school was retrofitted to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes, and the architects are now working on collecting rainwater and on building composting latrines. In addition, the reconstruction of the school involved expanding the number of existing classrooms and making them more conducive to learning.
In Architectural Digest, Stiller describes the central plateau area as a place “where living conditions are so hard and basic services are so scarce as in the most undeveloped parts of Africa.” To raise money for the school, Stiller featured humorous videos with personalities such as President Clinton, Ryan Seacrest, Lance Armstrong, Owen Wilson, and Robert DeNiro. To date, the organization has raised over $300,000, including a $100,000 grant from Bulgari. The school opened in January 2011 and is now educating 250 children. Some students walk two hours each way to reach the school each day.
On the website of his foundation, Stiller explains his commitment to the project in the following way: “It is clear that one of the keys to solving the problem of poverty is education. With all the immediate challenges of living in poverty, the long term goal of educating kids in the most at risk areas is a basic building block to help people have better lives. Unfortunately, for many children around the world, access to education is a formidable challenge, and in many areas, non-existent. That is why our foundation has made the challenges of poverty and education its focus. And right now we are focusing our efforts on helping Haiti.”
In addition, the Stiller Foundation has broadened its work to help children worldwide, and, in partnership with the non-profit organization Architecture for Humanity, it started the Haitian School Intiative. To date, the organization has rebuilt two other schools in Haiti and is currently working with a third in Port-au-Prince, the capital. Stiller’s foundation is also working with Digicel, a cell-phone company based in the Caribbean, to construct eight new school buildings that are resistant to earthquakes. Recently, Stiller has turned to more local humanitarian efforts, including relieving the suffering caused by Hurricane Sandy.
Despite humanitarian efforts by Stiller and others, schools in Haiti remain in desperate straits. According to reports, 75% of students in the country lack schoolbooks, and reconstruction efforts have been frustratingly slow, in part because materials are hard to come by, particularly in more remote areas of the island nation. In addition, many parents cannot afford to send their children to private schools, even schools with very small tuitions, and they require assistance to be able to do so. Haiti is still contending with a high crime rate, particularly around the capital of Port-au-Prince, and with a lack of basic services and sufficient medical care, even in the face of diseases such as cholera. However, the aftermath of the earthquake and the mammoth task of rebuilding the country mean that an educated workforce is more necessary than ever, which is what makes efforts such as Stiller’s to rebuild the nation’s schools so important.