Isemonde Joseph

Medicine – Class of 2005

I am from Cite Soleil, a poor neighborhood in Port-au-Prince. Most people call it a slum. I grew up with my grandmother, father, mother, two sisters, and two brothers in our two-room house, with no plumbing and two light bulbs.My mother was a seamstress in a factory making $25 a week for a family of eight. Some days we could afford to eat. Some days we couldn’t.

Every morning my grandmother would take us to school. There were 40 people in my seventh grade class, half of whom were girls. Over the years, many girls dropped out. Some got sick. Some didn’t pass. Others got pregnant. Others left school to work, selling in the marketplace to help their family. I always had hope that school would help me succeed and I was determined to make that hope a reality.

When I graduated in 1996 there were 13 students left and only two girls. Carla and I both took the entrance exam at a local secretarial school. Out of 30 candidates, I got the highest grade and they offered me a 50% scholarship. My mother’s factory had closed in 1994 and she had developed arthritis. So I told the Director I couldn’t afford to pay 50%. She offered me a 75% scholarship but I still couldn’t afford it, so I asked some of my high school teachers for $30 for registration and books. They all said they couldn’t help me because of their other obligations.

Then I asked my English teacher Mr. Conor. He asked me if that’s what I really wanted. I told him that when I was a little girl and played with dolls, I would pretend they were sick. I would give them injections from syringes that I found in the back of a local clinic. I would give them stitches with my mother’s needle and thread, and would bandage them afterwards. I remember whenever I went to the clinic with my family, they would treat us badly. It was a clinic for poor people so the staff didn’t treat the patients with respect. I always dreamed of running that clinic a different way. I told Mr. Conor that my dream was always to become a doctor.

Mr. Conor told me he would pay for the medical school entrance exam but he wouldn’t give me any guarantees. I passed the exam and Mr. Conor paid for tuition and books but nothing else. It was very difficult. I couldn’t tell my classmates where I was from because my neighborhood had such a bad reputation.

I used to hide at lunchtime because I had no money to buy food at the cafeteria. Sometimes there were gunshots near the bus station and everyone would panic and run. Sometimes I didn’t even have money for the bus so I would walk over an hour to school and back. Studying was hard. I wouldn’t get home till late. I would study by candlelight late into the night and then wake up early to get to school on time. But I still had hope and determination and when I saw my classmates, who had so many more advantages, fail and repeat a year, I was encouraged.

I graduated in 2005 as a doctor and got a job at a clinic close to Cite Soleil. I was so happy to see people from my neighborhood at the clinic and they were happy to be treated by a neighbor. At a graduation party I met Ronald, the cousin of a classmate. We fell in love and in 2007 we married and I moved to Boston where he works as an engineer. We now have two children – a four-year-old daughter and a three-month-old son.

After the earthquake in January 2010, I went to Haiti for two months to volunteer. I saw that the needs were greater than ever and I knew I was the right person to help. I started thinking about moving back and so, a few months ago, I asked Mr. Conor to help me look for a job there. I know that I can bring hope to young people in need and show them they can have a better future in Haiti.

In Haiti, education is a luxury. For girls it is almost like winning the lottery. When I was a student I could only dream of finding an organization like HELP. Now, thanks to HELP, hundreds of poor students can sit in university next to wealthy students and become the best students in the class. Because of HELP and its supporters, my dream has come true and I can help my country now. There are so many other people like me who need the same chance.