Tech Thursday is an occasional series that looks at how Haitians are faring in tech, a sector that offers more money, caché and potential to drive change to a new generation of Haitians and Haitian-Americans. This is the second installment.
Growing up in Cap-Haïtien in the 1970s, Pedro Herivaux noticed bare-footed children throughout his community kicking cans around, imitating superstars like Pelé they saw on television. Intrigued, he began playing as well and his fascination with the sport piqued a lifelong interest, career — and devotion.
“In Haiti, I came from the poorest of the poor and it was soccer that gave me an education and kept me out of trouble all my life,” said Herivaux, 53, a former professional soccer player with Gamba Osaka in Suita, Japan. “I was thinking [back] about how difficult it was as a kid playing soccer barefooted and I wanted to go back to help out.”
Herivaux co-founded TapIn Mobile Solutions in 2020, an app that serves as a platform to organize the Ligue Nationale de Football des Jeunes D’Haïti (LNFJH). Through the league’s companion app, referees are assigned to matches, games are scheduled and players are rated based on talent.
TapIn Mobile joins other organizations working throughout Haiti to help children from low-income families cultivate a love for sport. The app’s founders also aim to support communities by helping young players pursue higher education and the chance to enter the professional leagues.
“It’s sports and education that will help Haiti,” said Herivaux, who lives in Boston. “For those players that are really good, we’ll try to get them an I-20 [visa] to come to the U.S. or take them to see if they can play in Europe.”
Opening opportunities, one player at a time
Herivaux dreamt up TapIn Mobile after he returned to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake with his friend, Steve Schecter. After seeing the devastation, they began brainstorming different ways to help and reached a mutual conclusion based on one of their common pastimes: soccer.
“These kids are incredibly passionate about soccer and really talented, but there aren’t really platforms for them to compete in an organized way,” said Schecter, CEO of TapIn Mobile and co-founder of the league. “We wanted to try to bring that to other countries like Tanzania and Kenya, and in particular to Haiti first.”
So far, 7,000 youth ages 6 to 18 in all 10 departments across Haiti have joined the league through TapIn, according to Herivaux. The app keeps track of the players and stores data about the coaches, referees and fields. Fans who download the app can see the game locations, players, scores and penalty cards issued.
The league has hired local referees and coaches who can vote for the most impressive player on the other team.
According to Schecter, an average of 250,000 people watch the live-stream of each game via the app.
Herivaux and Schecter have partnered with private schools in the U.S. looking to provide scholarships to soccer players. Herivaux said he makes sure all players apply for and receive passports with the goal of either attending college or playing in major leagues overseas.
One player, Groutchov Pierre, received a scholarship and now plays for the professional OKC Energy FC soccer team in Oklahoma City, O.K. Herivaux said he felt great joy seeing Pierre score two goals in the final minute of the championship, giving his team the victory.
“After he scored, he came running to me and I gave him the Haitian flag,” said Herivaux. “There was a chill that I got because I knew that if he had been in Haiti, this kid would not have had this opportunity.”
Herivaux and Schecter also make sure all their players receive passports so they can participate in soccer camps and compete in tournaments abroad, including the Gothia Cup annual youth competition in Sweden.
How the app works
In addition to Haiti, the app is available in three different countries: Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. To download it, participants go to the app’s website, enter their phone number and a link is sent to their phone with a download page for the app.
Once it is downloaded, users sign up by choosing their country of residence and providing their name and phone number. A phone verification code is sent to them, which the user fills in. After creating a username and password, they locate which area of the country they live in. For Haiti, this is the department and then the commune.
After filling this in, the user provides their email and address, followed by their date of birth and a profile photo.
This completes the registration process. Afterward, they select their role: coach, referee, player, field manager or fan. They are guided to a screen where they can then view matches by date, location and result for the area they selected.
Upon selecting a match, they can see the referees and coach for each team. In another tab, they can access different teams’ standings and statistics.
Tech support emerges for teams across region
Heads of organizations similar to Herivaux and Schecter’s Youth League said the love of soccer is ubiquitous across the Caribbean, Central and South America.
“Soccer is the main sport and you don’t have to speak the same language if you can kick a soccer ball,” said Walter Pratte, co-founder and international director of Girls Soccer Worldwide. “Because we have this one love, we all have this passion that can bring us together.”
After seeing the lack of economic and educational ability for young girls in his native Argentina and neighboring Paraguay, Pratte decided to start Girls Soccer Worldwide to foster cooperation and leadership in low-income communities. Through its 360 Program, they pay for the education of young female players.
Organizations like GOALS Haiti also work to help youth play soccer while giving back to their communities.
“If we’re creating more stable youth, they become more stable community members when they go to raise their own families,” said Kathy McAllister, its executive director.“There could be less issues when they’re really learning how to tackle problems within their communities together and we think that this can kind of have a cumulative effect.”
GOALS combines the sport with community service and literacy programs, as well as a high school scholarship initiative to ensure the young players attend school.
For Herivaux, coming back to his home country and giving back through his love of soccer has made him optimistic about where the league can go in the future.
“I know these kids and I know all that they have is a soccer ball and their field,” he said. “We need to work together to try to show the world that we can come and do something positive for these kids in Haiti.”