In September, HELP opened its doors to 44 eager freshmen with the usual “first day of school” jitters. This generation of students has never known either a prosperous Haiti or the terror of the Tontons Macoutes. They grew up with a different normal, marked by political instability and natural disasters; coups, takeovers, and fraught elections seemed to alternate with hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. These interruptions have long-term impacts: a whole season of crops fail, schools close indefinitely, and families are forced to move and separate. We believe that this only makes our students’ achievements all the more impressive, and we are pleased to introduce several members of the freshman class of 2012-2013.
Santa-Noella Cadet (agronomy ’17) is one of nine children from rural Carice, in northeastern Haiti. Her father died when she was six and her mother worked as a cleaning woman, struggling to make ends meet. Although, or perhaps because, she had not finished school herself, Santa-Noella’s mother knew the value of education and worked hard to ensure that all her children went to school. For Santa-Noella, this meant leaving home for a boarding school where children with good grades but no financial means could receive an education. She was always among the top three students in her class, which opened doors – she was able to earn a scholarship in secondary school and to move back in with her family. Today, her hard work continues to pay off as she embarks on her university career with HELP.
Santa-Noella wants to see an increase in local production of Haitian food staples like plantains and rice, which are now largely imported. She feels that HELP is the right place to prepare for her career. “HELP teaches us to become complete citizens,” she says. “Not only does it allow us to continue our studies, it also helps us become leaders with a sense of responsibility for our community.”
Aquime Chery (agronomy ‘17) is the second of three children from Torbeck, a farming community outside the southern city of Les Cayes. His parents are tenant farmers, meaning they do not own any land and provide a percentage of the harvest to their landowners as rent. But as Aquime points out, there are many risks involved in farming: “If there was bad weather, at the end of the season it was as if they hadn’t worked at all.” Aquime was lucky enough to attend tuition-free primary and secondary schools, which are rare in Haiti. His favorite subject has always been biology and, in spite of the hardships growing up, he is committed to farming and to the land, making agronomy a natural choice. “Watching my dad in the fields gave me a love for the profession,” he says. “I would hear the older people talk about how much better Haiti used to be with lots of trees and water and agriculture, but I didn’t see these things. I want to change the situation so that Haitian agriculture can return to how it was.”
At a young age, Jenny-Flore Charles (psychology ’17) lost both parents within two years and was taken in by her 80-year-old paralyzed uncle in the northern town of Grand Riviere. Thankfully, her uncle was able to arrange a scholarship so that Jenny could continue school, but this meant a two-hour commute each way. Jenny’s experiences have made psychology her first choice as a field of study. She would like to work with young people who feel they have no options. “I would like to help them see the world in another way,” she says. In her community, she saw that many of her peers did not finish school. “Many of the girls became pregnant and many of the boys turned to drugs. I think this is because they don’t really see a future for themselves.” Jenny thinks that, by working in schools and with communities, she will be able to engage and inspire the next generation. After all, it was not so long ago that she was in their shoes, and now she’s beginning university, with a bright future ahead of her.