The journey was not far. Down the hill, beyond the busy road and through a labyrinth of rebar and concrete. We followed a dirt pathways lined with cloudy streams, in between wafer board walls fashioned with skirts made from tarps and topped with sheet metal hats. We traversed an alley that led to the sea, an oasis in a desert of patchwork homes and tattered cloth. A large pig settled herself in a small muddy pool not far from the water's edge, content as she cooled herself off in the afternoon heat. The smell along the path was undesirable and it met our senses with a jolt, reminding us that within these tight corridors ALL aspects of life are lived and sanitation is a privilege not offered to the people who live here. We reached our destination, a small one-room home carefully pieced together with a blend of building materials. This is where Mona lives with her husband and six children, “bo lanme” (by the sea).
In many parts of the world, living by the sea is a luxury that often requires a lot of money. However, in Haiti, living by the sea can mean you are living in conditions of extreme poverty. Some of the poorest people live by the sea because when it rains, all the trash, mud and water wash down towards the sea. When you live by the sea, you are on the receiving end of a system that fails to protect the most vulnerable people.
Four out of six children in this family are candidates for RISING scholarships. Tyson is the oldest at nearly sixteen, then there is Lovelyca (9), Peterson (7) and Wideline (5). Of these four, only Tyson has had the opportunity to attend school at all, while the others wait and hope for their turn someday. Neither Mona nor her husband currently have work, which makes just feeding the family a difficult priority. They did not always live here, by the sea. It was only after their home was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake that they were forced to seek shelter here. The land is government-owned and was once used as a garbage dump. Now it is home to many families that had nowhere to go after the earthquake. The population is dense and there are limited resources and no running water. In addition, it is known to residents here that every so many years, high tide waters come in, flooding homes and sometimes killing people.
Etienne, one of the RISING mentors and our guide here, has become familiar with this family, and introduced them to RISING. We spoke with them for a while, getting to know them and trying to understand a little bit of their story. After a while, we asked if we could take a picture of the kids for their updated profiles on the website. Mona agreed but then promptly disappeared around the corner. We waited a few minutes before she reemerged yielding a bathed Wideline, shy of strangers, waiting to take her photo and wearing a pretty white dress. In this moment, we saw how Mona desperately desires a better life for her children.
There is dignity and pride in how she carefully prepared her children for their photos so that the world can see what she sees—children who are worthy, beautiful, and deserving of the chance for an education.
We took a few photos, said our goodbyes, and were on our way back home feeling hopeful their scholarships would be funded, and that this would be one small step toward a longstanding change for this family.
It is our great pleasure to note that since the writing of this story, all four of Mona’s children—Tyson, Lovelyca, Peterson, and Wideline—have received RISING scholarships and will be heading to school this fall!