We recently gave you the opportunity to ask our President, Wess Stafford, any questions you like. You didn’t disappoint. We got a variety of questions ranging from serious to silly.
Wess is a fascinating storyteller. We wanted you to feel as if he were answering your questions in person. So we sat down with him, recorded the interview and transcribed his answers word for word.
Instead of choosing 10, he wanted to answer them all. (We combined some of the similar questions.) Because of the length of his answers, we’ll answer one question per day.
- How did you get involved with Compassion International? (Monica @ Paper Bridges)
- What was your daily life in Haiti like? (Laurel Wreath)
My “unofficial” start with Compassion was probably when I was 5 years old, clear out in a little African village where my heart was being shaped and my respect for the poor was being formed.
My first “official” job was 31 years ago in Haiti, where I was assigned as a field worker. I was young, 27 years old, and it was wonderful. I can remember riding along in a truck thinking, “They pay me. They actually pay me to do this!” I stayed in little huts in the villages. I ate their food. I slept on the floor. It took me back to my boyhood in Africa. Most Haitians are descendents of West Africa so I was right at home.
But my biggest job in those days was sitting down and talking with leaders of poverty-stricken communities — listening to their hurts, dreams and hopes. I would write up a project, get funding for it, help that community implement that program, evaluate it and then move on to the next one. We built roads to open up isolated communities. We built hospitals and clinics. We did reforestation of mountainsides. I put in water systems, wells and captured springs and water treatment. We did a lot of relief during famine times.
At that time I represented six relief and development agencies -– Compassion was just one of six. The longer I worked in Haiti, the more I listened to the poor and the more I understood their hearts and what they would do if they had financial resources. The more I listened to them, the more they talked about children. The poor would say to me, “If you want to help me, help my child. Because that’s where my hope is, that’s where my dreams are and that’s where my resources go.”
Well I heard that enough from the extreme poor –- and Haiti isn’t just poor, it’s extremely poor –- that I realized I was not going to give my life to serving the poor unless I was able to do what the poor would do if they had financial resources. And where their money goes is to their children. So among the six agencies I worked for, it was Compassion International that honed in on children. The more I studied Compassion’s mission and what was truly important to the poor, the more strategic sense this ministry made.
After I left Haiti. I got a doctorate in non-formal education. And I have been with Compassion ever since. I’ve had just about every job in the place and have now served for 15 years as president.
So my time with Compassion goes back 31 years. And pretty much everything I need to know to lead this ministry came from the poor themselves, either in my little village in Africa or in Haiti.