A Graduate in Haiti Defies Poverty With Hope

By Salmon Yves, OneChild Haiti Country Director, and Bonnie Wellensiek, Child Champion, U.S.A.   |  Photos by Faella Eustache and Jean Elie Vilnord

Neither hunger, abuse, loneliness, nor fear could quench the hope of a gentle young woman from Haiti. She shares her experiences and the hope that sustains her.

Wilienne is a shining example of her own advice that hard work pays off.

Sometimes having hope is an act of defiance.

Wilienne*, 19, lives in Haiti where she has experienced hunger, abuse, and the uncertainty of a land in turmoil.

Yet her advice to the children of her country is, “Learn, be patient and work hard. Hard work always pays off.”

Those words defy the hopelessness that could have swallowed her. They are a courageous declaration that a better future is possible.

“I have a lot of good and bad memories of my childhood,” says Wilienne. “I cherish them all because they have led me to the place where I am currently.”

Hunger and Abuse

Wilienne’s journey to adulthood has been as rough and winding as the rocky pathways and river crossings that thread through her community.

Wilienne, center, stands alongside her sisters.

She is one of 10 siblings. They live with their parents in a small square house plastered with a thin layer of cement and topped by a corrugated metal roof. Typical of homes in the area, it’s nestled between palm trees and thick foliage and is impossible to access without a rigorous hike.

Their mother cares for the children while their father works as a day laborer and sells cacao (beans used to make chocolate) when it’s in season. But his earnings are never enough to meet the family’s needs.

Some days they have hardly anything to eat. Yet Wilienne says, “My family raised me to be always kind to people, always strong and motivated in any kind of situation. That state of mind persists today.”

Because they were struggling to provide for their children, Wilienne’s parents sent her to live with her godmother when she was 3 years old. But her godmother was busy selling in the public market, so she left little Wilienne in the care of a neighbor who often neglected to bathe and feed her.

Wilienne walks up a rocky path near her community.

The toddler was then sent to live with a friend of the family. But the woman physically abused Wilienne throughout the year she was there.

Finally, Wilienne returned home to her parents.

“During the time I have spent away from my family I remember how much I missed them and how happy I was to be back to my family,” Wilienne recalls.

The Right Place

When Wilienne was 5, she began a new adventure — this time a good one.

One Sunday at church her parents heard about a OneChild Hope Center in their community. It was appropriately called A Place of Hope Center.

Wilienne, and eventually four of her younger sisters, were all enrolled. Wilienne remembers her first day at the Hope Center — how she felt frightened seeing so many unfamiliar faces. But the Child Champions there taught the children how to sing and pray and how to write their names, which made a big impression on the little girl.

“That was my first time writing my name,” says Wilienne. “And since that day I was convinced that I was at the right place.”

Wilienne, who is now in her last year of high school, recently graduated from the Hope Center.

A Bigger Family

Looking back on her 14 years there, Wilienne’s favorite memories include Christmas and birthday parties and Labor Day celebrations, sewing classes, soccer matches, trips to the beach, and participating in talent shows. She adds that she loved any training she received through the programs at the Hope Center.

Wilienne helps out with younger kids at the Hope Center.

But what she remembers most is the time she spent learning and having fun with her classmates.

“I remember how I built a strong bond with my new sisters and brothers,” Wilienne says. “Coming to the center felt like being in family.”

Her Child Champions also played a big part in that sense of belonging, especially the Hope Center Director, Louisane, and secretary, Dadeline.

“Their dynamism, their love, their guidance, their support, their care are inspiring,” says Wilienne. “They always make me feel valued, they always show that they are proud of me and encourage me to go further. They are always available for me.”

Wilienne hopes the children currently at the Hope Center will learn every good lesson they are taught.

“I wish that they respect and appreciate every Child Champion at the Hope Center who is ready to serve them because they are guiding to build up a better future for Haiti,” she says.

Wilienne walks with her Child Champions through the forest near her community.

Wilienne’s Child Champions also speak highly of her. They say she is always ready to serve and is a role model for the younger children at the Hope Center.

And Wilienne’s father says with pride, “My kid is kind and respectful to people.”

Faraway Family

Wilienne also found a family in her sponsors, Kenneth and Fallon.

“My sponsors are gifts coming from God to me through OneChild,” she says. “They are my family, and I love them with all my heart.

Wilienne enjoys playing with the kids at the Hope Center.

The letters, prayers, and advice Kenneth and Fallon sent were a source of strength and inspiration to Wilienne as she grew.

“They always encourage me to love God, and to work hard at school so I can succeed in life,” she says.

She knows that their sponsorship enabled her to attend the Hope Center and covered school fees. But there is one gift she especially remembers.

“I remember that time when I was in second year secondary school [eighth grade],” says Wilienne. “I did not have materials to do research for my homework. My sponsors helped me by providing me with money to purchase a cellphone to make things easier for me. I cannot thank them enough for that because we did not have a cellphone at home at all, in the immediate neighborhood neither. This act of kindness goes straight to my heart and made me feel loved and cared for. I will never forget that!”

Tools for the Future

Her years at the Hope Center will continue to help Wilienne now that she has graduated. They equipped her with vocational skills and a resilience that is indispensable in the hard place where she lives.

“My time at the Hope Center has been fruitful,” she says. “I have two professions: I am a dressmaker and I have competence in computer science. My Child Champions have taught [me] to be whole. They build me up to be strong, resilient, kind, and truthful. I don’t know what God has in His plan for me, but I can say that being enrolled at the Hope center is three-fourths part of my success in life.”

Wilienne earns an income by sewing clothes for people. She learned the skill at her Hope Center.

Though she is still in high school, Wilienne is already earning money by sewing clothing for people. And she was able sew school uniforms for herself and her sisters.

But the most valuable lesson Wilienne says she learned at the Hope Center is even bigger.

“I have learned to always love and respect one another, to love God and to please Him.”

A Tenacious Hope

Wilienne wants to become an administrator one day, but she is aware of the hardships she faces.

“Currently I am in my last grade at school; very soon I should go to the university,” she says. “But my parents don’t have enough means to pay for that. Life is hard in my country. What I am making at my professions will not be enough to provide for university.”

She is also aware of the dire situation in Haiti.

“Currently there is insecurity, there are no jobs, no food, lack of education in my community,” she says. “We need great leaders to help us bringing peace, develop the community, create jobs so people can have a decent life and take care of their family.”

But in the face of these hardships, Wilienne holds tight to hope.

“Hope is a feeling which helps you standing strong and not giving up in the hardest times,” she says.

Wilienne also clings to hope for the children of her community.

“Love them, protect them, provide for them,” she says. “Spend time with them, take care of them because they are the future, and we need them to create a new generation of people who care.”

But the ultimate source of hope for this kind, brave young woman is one that will never disappoint.

“I have the hope that God will arm me to overcome my challenges,” she says.

*Name changed for privacy reasons.

You can become a beacon of hope, like Wilienne’s sponsors were to her, by sponsoring a child today.

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