My Haitian and American Stories Merge To Nurture God’s Plan For My Life

April 19, 2020

Good day dear friends and family,

     Today I want to share with you about my life experiences. I have been busy working on scholarships to help pay for my education at University of Northern Colorado (UNC). One of the scholarships was to write a 3500-4000 word essay about how I will use my education at UNC to help better my home country after I graduate. I wanted to share it with you. Hope you enjoy reading it. I also ask you to join me in praying that God provides the rest of the money to finish my school. May our Lord, Jesus Christ receive all the glory. 
     In Haiti, it is estimated that there are about 240,000 kids who cannot go to school. I was one of those kids, watching from the shadows while my favored brother went to school and everyone sacrificed to make that possible. A miracle occurred in my life that has intensified my desire to help other kids who are going through what I went through. The miracle was God giving me the opportunity for education and to study in America which opened my eyes to a new world.  Comparing the educational opportunities in America with those in Haiti allowed me to realize even more how much help Haiti really needs. 
      I would like to give you a little background about my country. In one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, school is not free. Most families have many children. The average family has eight children, and many do not have even one parent who is able to provide for them. In addition, family units often include extra family members such as aunts, uncles, and grandparents living in the same small space. This space is often only two small rooms, no bathroom or kitchen. As a result, cooking is done outside over an open fire made of coal. There is no running water and electricity is very limited or for some families, nonexistent. They live day to day on pennies reserved for the very basic necessities of life, such as food and water. These items must be purchased from the street markets daily and carried home on top of the head. 
      My mother put me in an orphanage at the age of eleven because she could not provide for her three children by herself. This is a very common desperate response by Haitian parents when they feel there is no other way for the whole family to survive. In 2016, there were around 760 orphanages in Haiti. At least 80% of these children have one or more living family member who wants them but can’t afford them. These families also have no access to health care, education, or social services in the community to help them cope with the poverty they face. While most orphanages give kids the opportunity for education, the opportunity usually only lasts until the kids reach 18 years of age. Whether a child comes from an orphanage or simply comes from a poor family, it is not uncommon for children to start school at an older age. This means they start out way behind children whose families can afford to send them at the appropriate age. Another disadvantage that magnifies the problems are that it does not matter what grade the kids are in when they turn 18 years old, the orphanage still kicks them out. Since they are no longer a part of the orphanage and their family does not have money, the funds for school normally runs out. A large majority never finish their education. In a 2013 study complied by the World Bank, 50 percent of children in Haiti did not attend school. Approximately 30% of children attending primary school did not make it to the third grade and those that did abandoned school before the sixth grade. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) stated in 2015 that only 29 percent of Haitians attend secondary school or high school. These are the harsh reality and statistics of my home country.
     When my mom decided to send me to the orphanage, I was 11 years old but started school in the 1st grade. In my situation, that gave me 7 years to complete 12 years of school as Haiti has a total of 14 years of school rather than 12 as they do in America. As mentioned earlier, very few kids start school at the appropriate age because of economic barriers therefore even fewer kids complete their basic education in primary school or are able to take their final exam in the 14th grade that would allow them to attend college. The barriers are even greater for a college education. To go on to college, each student must pass a test when they finish high school. The test costs about $20 US dollars and can be taken 3 times. If a person passes the test, the registration for college is about $40 US dollars, but there are a limited number of universities in Haiti. The cost to attend is around $2000-$6000 US dollars/year depending on the university. Only about 15% or 120 students out of the 800 who take the entrance exam are accepted to attend a Haitian University each year. This is a very troubling number considering that most jobs in Haiti that pay a somewhat reasonable wage such as a job at the airport in security, taking tickets, or working at the front desk of a hotel, etc. require a college education. As a result, there is very limited opportunity and great competition for a truly meaningful income.
     The current cost for my younger brothers, ages 13 and 15, to attend elementary school or primary school in Haiti is $75/year per child in US dollars. The average cost for students in high school or secondary school is $450/year per child. Children attending school are also required to wear a uniform, adding another $30-40/year per child. They also must buy their books as they are not provided by the schools. The total cost of school for my brothers in their current grades is around $240/year and the average income for my family is $312/year. This yearly income provides only 85 cents per day for my mom to spend which empathizes what I said earlier, families live on just pennies per day. Those pennies can only buy 1 or 2 meals a day, such as bread, sugar cane, sugar, spaghetti, rice, and mashed corn. Most families usually buy bread and sugar to make it last a little longer, since the next day’s food money is not guaranteed. Kids often eat a small piece of bread with sugar water or coffee just so the whole family can survive on 85 cents or up to a dollar a day if there are multiple family units in the same home. Currently, I’m financially helping my mom send my two little brothers to school using Christmas and birthday money that I received from my sponsor family in America. If I did not help her and she chose to send my brothers to school, that would leave her 20 cents per day for existence. I’m also helping my mom so she does not have to choose which child receives his education and which one does not.

     These are some of the huge barriers to education faced by Haitian families. As I mentioned earlier, the oldest child or favored child often gets to go first. Often, only a few of the children in a family get the opportunity for education. That is one of the reasons why I’m so determined to complete my education so I can help my country by creating free schools and new jobs. With free schools, kids can continue their education regardless of when they start and all children will have the chance to go. This will help families keep their children while also creating new jobs as many teachers and support staff will be needed.
     There is also a huge shift coming in our society which creates another area where my college education can help my country. It is projected that there will only be approximately 70-100 orphanages remaining in Haiti over the next few years due to improved government oversight regarding the quality of care being provided by orphanages. That is a reduction of somewhere around 660-700 orphanages. There is projected to be huge growth in the need for social workers, case workers, child psychologists etc. to help families learn how to keep their families together. Placing children in an orphanage will be an option reserved for those who are truly orphans. In addition to many teens aging out of the orphanage system, kids of all ages will now also be leaving. As they leave, they will be returning to family that they haven’t known for years or to life on the streets. Many will not have finished their primary or secondary school and will be very lost. In desperation, kids often resort to very dangerous activities such as joining gangs or stealing on the street. Finishing my college education will also allow me to help this vulnerable at-risk population in Haiti.
     The lack of education generation after generation keeps my country from being able to pull itself out of darkness. The average educational level in my country is 6th grade including many of the elected government officials. The government is not doing anything to change the current situation. Instead, they are increasing educational costs. I know we cannot increase the quality of life in my country without increasing the educational level of those in leadership and within my Haitian people. In some published papers by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the studies show that just getting an education decreases poverty. According to the study conducted in 2015, if all the adults in the study received two or more years of schooling or completed secondary school, it would have lifted nearly 60 million people out of poverty. It also showed that having universal access to primary and secondary education is required to decrease poverty rates. When I think about kids who live on the streets or in a family facing severe poverty, it makes me impatient and frustrated. I was in the same spot as those kids for many years of my life and I know how the lack of education impacts every part of their lives. Understanding their pain makes me determined to finish my education, to get a job as a teacher, and develop a plan to create a free school system. However, I need help to complete step one which is receiving my college education in elementary education. 

     Now I would like to share a little bit more of my personal story. I hope it will help further explain why I am so focused on using my education and everything I learn to better my home country for the next generation. When I was seven years old, my father passed away and left my mom to provide for six kids. Three of the kids stayed with her and three of my siblings went to live with my aunt. Without my father there, it made my chances of going to school even smaller than before and my brother that was in school was not able to continue.  At that point in my life, I knew that I needed to help my mother take care of our family. I prayed very often that God would help me find a job and each day I found many side jobs to earn money. After a couple of months, I finally found a good, ongoing job at a farm. Each day I would ride a horse up a mountain, pick different fruit and transport the fruit back to the farm. I would do that as many times as I could to earn the most money possible in a day to help my mom and 2 little brothers.  As a seven-year-old kid, working every day was normal for me. That was how I viewed life. With no school or education, I became a workhorse. I also helped my mom take care of my brothers. 
     About five years later my mom sent me to an orphanage because she wanted what she thought was best for me. I did not want to go at all and told my mom numerous of times that I would not go, I wanted to stay and take care of her. She finally convinced me to go by promising me that if I would go to the orphanage, that she would bring me a big bottle of peanut butter as it was one of my favorite foods.
     From the day I arrived at the orphanage, I could tell by all the glares that I was getting from the workers that they did not like me. I was different than the other kids in the orphanage as I had been working for the last five years of my life and I understood life much differently than the other kids. As I mentioned earlier, I was able to start school at the age of eleven for the first time in my life in the orphanage. However, it was very hard being eleven years old and in the 1st grade. Most of my classmates were around 7-8 years old. Each new day I anticipated and waited for my mom and the peanut butter to come. After a few years, my mother still did not keep her promise. I thought she forgot about me. Therefore, I gave up hoping she would come back.
     Since my biological mother never came to see me nor kept her promise, I decided that I needed a new mom. An “American” mom is what I hoped and prayed that God would bring me. My new “American” mom came to Haiti to visit our orphanage many times and one time it was at just the right time when I was being abused and suffering very much. I observed her joy and energy which seemed endless and especially her unconditional love. She recognized signs of abuse within the orphanage. The other kids and I were getting abused to the point that we could not take it anymore. And that was when my new “American” mom began the process of peeling away the layers of lies and deceit. The orphanage director kicked the older children out and told my older brother and me she was kicking us out because we would become “delinquents, no bodies”. That was how an end was brought to those terrible times in my life.
     As I mentioned earlier in this essay, kids in Haiti can no longer live in an orphanage after the age of eighteen and when they leave, most have not finished their 14 years of educational requirements. These kids face several other enormous challenges beyond the lack of education. Having been isolated from their culture and their extended families for years, they do not have the life skills needed to successfully return to a meaningful existence in their own country. Very few orphanages plan for or prepare kids in any way for life outside the massive cement walls and iron gates that they have called home.
     I was very lucky to be able to leave the orphanage and live in a group home with other boys with assistance from a Non-Profit Organization called Youth Empowered by the Spirit (YES!). They helped me find my biological mom and little brothers. They also mentored us on how to reconnect with our culture and families, taught us life skills and I got to continue school. I didn’t start to learn English in school until I was seventeen. Before that, I was very determined and began to learn English on my own. I would read different English books and practice my English with my new “American” mom and other American friends that I met at the orphanage. At age 18, I was able to test into an English school in Haiti and I continued to study hard to learn the English language better. It was a huge learning curve for me. I learned that speaking English and learning English in the classroom was totally different than anything I had experienced on my own or in the Haitian/French schools. As my determination grew stronger, so did my understanding of what I needed to do to be successful. Since my new mom is American, I longed to go meet her family, go live there with her family and finish my education there as well. My goal was to be able to live and study in America.
     After three attempts and at the age of 19, I was able to get a Student Visa to attend school in America. In order to receive my Student Visa, I had to conduct an interview in English at the US Embassy in Haiti, English being my third language. Once I received my Student Visa, I immediately started worshiping God for that miracle and for answering my many prayers. It was very hard to get this visa and my hard work had paid off. Since that miracle of being able to study in America, I knew that I wanted to do something great for God. I promised God that I would use the education that He would be giving me to help the less fortunate. Not only in my own country, but also anywhere else he wanted to use me. I continue to work very hard and face the many challenges that come my way head on. I understand very well that there are no shortcuts in life.
     I am currently a sophomore at Northeastern Junior College (NJC). I was fortunate to be able to mentor the incoming freshmen. Every year, NJC hosts a series of seminars to help freshmen students acclimate to college life on the NJC campus. The NJC faculty select sophomore students to help with these seminars and mentor new students by answering questions, providing guidance and giving assistance in any way we can. I am also an ambassador at NJC. I give tours and guidance to new students and prospective students who are considering NJC for their college education. I feel very honored to be chosen for these roles as it gives me an opportunity to share my positive experiences, my story and gain leadership skills that I can use later in my life. When students realize that even with all the challenges that I have faced, I can be successful I believe it helps them have faith that they can also be successful.

     I have already mentioned that I always wanted to start a school in Haiti where any child can attend without the cost being a barrier. My desire has intensified after experiencing school in America, learning even more and understanding how education helps improve poverty. The impact that free education has on a child and a country gives me more purpose and my passion to make that become a reality someday is even stronger.
     My dream is to help children and teens learn to be themselves and to always observe their environment and surroundings. To help them see others around them that are determined and hardworking and to learn from them. As they watch and observe others fail and succeed, they should learn from the consequences or rewards of other people’s actions and choose the right path. Above all, I want them always to search for people around them who are wise and use multiple mentors to help encourage and hold them accountable. Helping them finish their education, encouraging them to be themselves, and utilizing wise mentors will lead them to success and help Haiti out of the darkness into the light.
     As I learn new things about the world, especially in America, I have discovered many things that make a country successful. Haiti lacks many of these keys for success. For example, I have identified some educational areas that I have participated in during my education in the America that I think could be instrumental in helping to change/improve my country. One of them that I think is critically important is acquiring the confidence to speak in front of an audience. I think this is crucial for developing leadership skills and being able to communicate thoughts and ideas to others in an effective way. One of the first classes I took at the college level was a speech class. It was very challenging but eye opening because I realized that being a teacher would require me to speak in front of children. I would need to be able to effectively communicate the content of their various subjects in a way that they can understand. The speech class helped prepare me for all the other classes as most of them require doing presentations in front of other students. I feel this is a vital subject that should be required in the Haitian school system. Our country needs to prepare leaders who can efficiently run our country as sharing information is a key to understanding and following their lead.
     Two additional keys that I believe are missing in the Haiti school system are learning comprehension and teamwork within the classroom. The Haitian schools hardly ever mention or use teamwork, collaborative work or learning comprehension. The school system is mostly about memorization. The students know how to memorize very well, however, they do not know how to take the information that they have learned and apply it. During my years in Haitian schools, very rarely did we do in-class or outside group projects and/or read information and then have to use that information to make or build something. It is everyone for themselves. This is especially true for the governmental leaders in Haiti. They don’t realize that learning about the true meaning of teamwork will help them effectively lead the workforce. Schools in Haiti should not only focus on math, science, reading and the basics but also on the other aspects of learning that will help improve our whole country.
     In my country, sports and physical education is very unstructured. Many young children in Haiti have natural athletic ability and a desire to compete, but they have no instruction and no one to help them put their talents to good use or an incentive to push themselves. Most activities are spontaneous, and the players vary depending on who has the funds to pay for transportation. Thus, it is impossible to take their desires of competition to the next level. Therefore, if schools in Haiti incorporated sports in the curriculum, the cost of transportation would already be covered in the cost of getting to school.
     Transportation is another factor that keeps Haiti from evolving. Public transportation is provided via “Tap Taps,” These consist of colorfully painted buses, pick-up trucks and minivans that offer transport within cities and between cities. Since the average Haitian is living pennies to pennies, most families are not able to afford transportation. Very few Haitians have access to a personal vehicle. Since sports are not incorporated into most schools most students do not get to experience the true meaning of working together as a team. I was one of those students. I was able to play soccer at my high school in America and at first, teamwork was a challenge for me. I did not know when to pass the ball. Even though I was a talented player, my coach had to teach me when to pass and how to be a team player. After playing in several games, I finally was able to understand teamwork and I was able to help our team win the championship.
     My “American” mom has been instrumental in my success and continues to be the cornerstone of my life through her faith in Jesus, always mirroring His unconditional love. I have always wanted to leave a legacy behind, something for others to remember me by when I pass away from this world. I want to be a good example to my country and the world. When I think or imagine myself extending my skill set and education to a younger generation, I’m very excited to get started. I cannot wait to complete my education.
     Thank you so much YES! family for all you have done for my life. I could never be here without each one of you! Bless you for helping kids like me be successful. Love, JP

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