Isemonde Joseph grew up in Haiti’s notorious Cité Soleil slum and was the top girl in her high school class. In 1997, shortly after she graduated, she asked her former teacher, Conor Bohan, for $30 to register for secretarial school. Conor encouraged Isemonde to pursue her dream of studying medicine and paid for her first year’s tuition and books. Realizing that many high school graduates never reached their potential due to extreme poverty, Conor began matching other deserving students with sponsors and HELP was born.
From 1998 to 2004, HELP operated without salaried employees or a fixed address. We moved into our first Student Center in 2004 with 40 students. By 2010 that number had risen to 110 before the January 12th earthquake seriously injured 40% of our staff and destroyed the Center, forcing us to move into a new building in July 2010.
At first, HELP scholarships covered only tuition and books. Over the years we expanded our support to assist students from outside the capital who need housing, students who were not able to get enough to eat at home, or who could not afford the $1 daily bus fare. We now recruit nationwide and provide students with a complete range of services, including stipends, housing, academic counseling, language classes and a leadership curriculum, computer training, library access, internships, and career services.
Dr. Isemonde received her MD degree in 2005 and immediately found work as a staff physician at the renowned Gheskio Center in Port-au-Prince. Her starting annual salary was $14,500. HELP has graduated more than 60 students to date, over 95% of whom are either employed or pursuing graduate studies.