03/20/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Our Big Idea for Haiti

In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the world's focus is rightly directed to the emergency relief effort -- medical care, food, water, security and housing should be the urgent focus for at least the next several weeks. As political leaders and NGOs begin to discuss and address Haiti's long term needs, though, their efforts will be complicated by the fact that this was already the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.

David Brooks may have gotten it right in his recent New York Times column when he wrote, "This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story."

Despite the millions of dollars in aid that have been invested in Haiti, little has changed in recent decades. As the top-down approach becomes discredited and the search for a bottom-up solution is discussed, many have recognized the need for a new generation of motivated, educated, ethical leaders.

Service For Peace, an international non-profit committed to service programs designed to break the cycle of poverty in developing nations, has developed a model to do just this. We are focusing on the rebuilding of Haiti's elementary schools, complete with libraries that can be a resource for their communities. That in itself has merit but it's the means by which the schools and libraries will be created that holds real promise for Haiti. By bringing international students and Haitian students together, these service programs can give them the means to lift themselves out of poverty, the rewards of which will be felt for generations.

Take a minute to vote for this important goal in the Chase Community Giving contest. Your vote will allow our international chapters to immediately expand their activities with a goal to complete 100 libraries in two years in communities across Africa, Asia and Latin America - starting with Haiti. (You can vote here)

There is no doubt libraries can change lives. During a drought that killed thousands in Malawi, self-taught teenager William Kamkwamba had a dream of bringing running water to his village. One day, he picked up a book at a local library and saw a picture of a windmill. Through scrap metals picked up at junk yards, William built his own windmill that brought electricity and potable water to his village. He went on to teach other villages how to do the same.

There are many Williams throughout the world. We plan to provide them with the knowledge they need to change the fortunes of their communities. As the emergency relief effort transitions into a rebuilding program during the coming months, Service For Peace offers an innovative model that could be just what Haiti needs at this crucial time.