Our True Beauty series typically features the most influential and stylish women in Texas, but today we’re venturing outside the Lone Star state and heading back to my roots in Indiana. Emily Hays is the founder of Nadege, a non-profit organization restoring hope to victims of gender-based violence in Haiti. My mother (who sits on the board of Nadege) first introduced me to their purpose when she asked me to help brainstorm ideas for their Breakfast with Santa fundraising event a few months ago. Since then I have gotten to know the vision of this incredible group of people, and I’m honored to help support them in any way I can. The Breakfast With Santa event is now this upcoming Saturday, December 12th, so if you live in the area I encourage you to support an amazing cause. Even if you don’t live in Indiana, I think you’ll find Emily’s story inspiring. Read on below to find out more about her and how Nadege came to be.
Haute in Texas: When did you first know you wanted to help the people of Haiti? What led you to that moment?
Emily Hays: I love this quote by Christine Caine – she says, “The oppressed do not see much difference between those who keep them down & those who do nothing to help. There is no in-between.”
It accurately depicts my sentiments after returning from Haiti on my first trip in 2010. Images of poverty. Images of joy. Images of a woman selflessly trying to give me her daughter in order to give her a better life filled my thoughts as I returned to U.S. soil. I saw oppression on a new level, and I innately knew that God had sent us to Haiti not for our own benefit but to benefit others in some way.
HIT: Tell us about the women and families you’re helping there. Are there any special personal connections you’ve made?
EH: After our first trip, God allowed my husband and I to play a small part in starting an organization called Project 117, which is a group on a mission to build and operate schools for left behind kids in Haiti. It was through our involvement with them that I met a woman by the name of Nadege. She was a single woman with three beautiful children. Upon the mention of the father of her children, she became visibly upset. We were confused by her response, but it initiated a research effort to reveal possible reasons for her reaction. What we found was sexual violence in Haiti is the most prevalent form of violence there.
We went back to Haiti last August to try to find Nadege and tell her about this new organization formed in her honor, but we were unable to locate her. Our interaction with her, although brief, changed the trajectory of our lives. God used our connection with Nadege to break our hearts for what broke His and gave us a new mission to chase after.
HIT: How does being involved with Nadege affect your daily life?
EH: It has given me a unique sense of peace. For the first time in my life – after a lot of years of asking God to reveal His perfect will for my life, I now know that this is what I was put on Earth to do. He is asking me to devote my life to restoring hope to the hopeless in Haiti, and ultimately leading these precious women to the ultimate restorer of Hope – Jesus.
There is also a lot of weight associated with starting an organization. The to do list never ends. I think as women we naturally struggle to find balance in our lives. From marriage to raising a family to climbing the corporate ladder, there is a lot of pressure to do all things perfectly and effortlessly. I could literally work on Nadege tasks all day everyday and still find more things to do. However, doing so, neglects my family. Because of that reality, I’ve had to be intentional about prioritizing my life. Here’s my list of daily tasks, even though I fail to adhere to these on some days:
HIT: If someone wanted to help, what’s the best thing they can do to have the most impact?
EH: Our first step is to build a safe house for victims of gender based violence in Haiti. First and foremost, we are asking for bold prayers of provision on our capital campaign as well as for the future women who will walk through our doors.
For those who are in the Kokomo, Indiana area, we are hosting a Breakfast with Santa and a few of his reindeer on December 12th at Oakbrook Church. All proceeds will help us build the safe house. Tickets can be purchased at nadegehaiti.org/christmas/.
We also accept online donations at nadegehaiti.org/donate for those who aren’t in the Kokomo area and still want to get involved!
HIT: Who has had the most influence on your remarkable life thus far?
EH: This is a difficult question. It is hard to pick only one person because so many people have had a positive influence on my life – family, coaches, friends, teachers, pastors, etc. If I had to pick just one, it would be Haven Shank, a teammate from college. God used her influence on my life to lead me into a relationship with Jesus. She never forced it on me; rather she lived it out in her everyday life. I saw something different in her that I desperately wanted. She loved God and loved others extremely well, and I longed to emulate that in my own life. Although she now lives many miles away, her influence has truly transformed my life!
HIT: What’s the hardest part about operating a non-profit?
EH: The unknown. We obviously know our general direction, but it is the getting from point A to point B that is a constant learning and surrendering process. We’re doing work in a country full of corruption and a lack of formidable systems. Things change daily so our team has to be willing to surrender to God’s perfect plan and be content with living in the land of the unknown to some degree.
HIT: What advice would you give to women hoping to make a positive impact on the world with their lives?
EH: I would remind them of the quote I mentioned before from Christine Caine. If you have been exposed to an injustice in this world that breaks your heart, remember that the oppressed don’t see much difference from those who keep them down and those who do nothing to help. I would encourage them to do something. Take one step. Give their time or resources to a charity that is working to end the specific injustice they’re passionate about. In the words of Mr. Mandela, be the change you wish to see in the world. We’re only given this one and only life. Make it count!
HIT: Finally, an Haute in Texas tradition: pancakes or waffles?
EH: Oh, definitely waffles topped with fresh cream and berries!
A big thank you to Emily for taking the time to sit down with Haute in Texas! Our True Beauty features never fail to motivate me to reach for bigger, grander, better life plans for myself and others. I hope you feel the same way! Again, for more information about Nadege check out their website here, follow them on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, and be sure to have Breakfast with them and SANTA this Saturday if you can!