Syndie Pierre-Canel

Chemistry – Class of 2008

2003 may seem far away for a lot of us today, but for me it is not. I was at the top of my senior class at an all-girls high school in Port-au-Prince. I was living with my sister and two brothers.

My father died when I was eight years old leaving my mother with a family of two boys and three girls. My mother could not do much for us because she was getting old and weak from taking care of all of us by herself. Things were getting harder. Each day I made it to school was a small miracle. Sometimes I went to school knowing that I would have to walk the four miles home because I had no money for the bus. And nothing says I will find something to eat when I finally got home. Of course I could not afford a book of biology or history or anything else. So many times, I had to wait for one of my classmates to lend me a book or make a few copies, so I could study.

When I graduated in June I had to decide what I was going to do. My brother, the fourth child, was the only one to go to college. My sisters and I were trapped in the same traditional system of a poor family in Haiti: “We cannot send all of them so let’s send the man first.” I did not see how I was going to make it to college. I was thinking about a certificate in sewing or baking or as a receptionist. The alternative was doing nothing, which is what most girls do in Haiti after high school because of their financial situation.

One day in August, some classmates and I went to see our principal, Ms. Policard, because we wanted to do something for ourselves. She told us about HELP but it was only two days before their deadline so we hurried to get our applications in and six of us were accepted; I started studying chemistry which was my favorite subject at school. HELP provided me with what I could never expect from my family: books, a quiet place to study, computers and activities like English classes and conferences. I had my tuition paid on time, money for transport and, most importantly, a group of people who I could talk to and who supported and understood me. Mr. Delice, the director, was a great support. He taught me how to survive, how to be independent and how to be professional. Today I carry with me what I learned by being around somebody who respects people but who also has high standards. He pushed me to discover myself and all the things that I was capable of. I will be always thankful for that.

I graduated in 2008 at the top of my class, and moved to the United States where I enrolled in a biotechnology program at the University of Rhode Island. It was a hard decision for me and I would have preferred to stay in Haiti but I knew I couldn’t refuse this opportunity. I also can’t wait to return to Haiti with new skills to work in medical research.

HELP created in me, and in so many others, the desire to help our country and other people in need. The way they oriented our lives they taught us that, as little as we are, we can do great things if we have this spirit of leadership. I learned that from Mr. Bohan. With my training I will bring new ideas, new opportunities and new ways to see things and solve problems in our environment.

Today my life is what it is because HELP saw my potential and gave me the privilege to fulfill it. Our limit should not be just a high school diploma and a sewing certificate, that we have a natural desire to lead successful lives and invest our knowledge in others. It is an honor to be a living example of what HELP is fighting for.