Wadson Desir and Jimmy Pierre are two young men in Haiti. Against all odds, they work to make a difference in their local communities and provide steady income to care for their families.
Desir, 39, and Pierre, 31, work as guides and translators with mission groups that travel into Haiti. The men have been friends for seven years, meeting on a mission team project, where Pierre worked as translator, and Desir was overseeing windows installation in a local church. The friends have recently founded a cultural travel service, working with American visitors to show them museums, festivals, and historical sites in their country.
Desir is married and the father of two. He was born and raised in the steep and impoverished mountain community of Boutillier, which is perched about 3,000 feet above Port-au-Prince. Deeply devoted to his community, Desir has represented it in local government, and advocated to bring schools, health centers, and other services to the residents of Boutillier.
His latest project was inspired after the massive destruction of Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Even before the hurricane, the people of Boutillier struggled with public health, water sanitation, and fighting cholera, a waterborne disease that ravaged much of Haiti after it was brought in by United Nation workers after 2010’s devastating earthquake.
Desir saw that Boutillier residents tried having clean water by relying on small individual filters. For families already stressed by daily life, the filters were tough to manage for the little quantities of water they provided.
Working with the community, Desir raised the funding with support from American mission groups and others to create water-filtering stations. He designed an innovative system using barrels to collect and filter water. The safe-water stations, which service whole communities, are operated by two agents, who are responsible for cleaning filters and monitoring the flow of water.
The stations are open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and each family can fill up a 5-gallon bucket with clean water for about 20 cents. Desir learned that for families accustomed to getting water for free, this price was too much and many families stopped using the stations.
To help change the culture, Desir attached the two stations to either a school or community center. “I know that the churches and schools,” he said, “would be important in helping teach Boutillier residents the importance of clean water. Using them, we could help get a healthier place.”
He also used the churches and schools to spread the messages of cooking with and washing hands in the clean water. “Since they’ve worked with us,” said Desir, “we’ve noticed a decrease in abdomen pain and the lessening of skin rashes” caused by dirty water.
Each water system costs about $2,500 and Desir is hopeful of building a station at each of the 10 districts in Boutillier.
Pierre grew up in Thomassin, a community of green hills and valleys not too far from Boutillier. He said his parents had enough money to feed the family and send him to school but not much else.
As a teenager, in 2006, Pierre’s older brother earned a scholarship to an academy to learn English. The brother was unable to attend and Pierre asked and was granted the opportunity to attend the academy. He said, “learning English changed my life.”
Pierre admitted he was not the smartest guy in the class, but no one worked harder than he did. He was only expected to attend class three days a week. He went everyday.
His dogged preparation and a few fortunate encounters with Canadians and Americans who lived and traveled to Haiti gave him an assist in getting a steady job as a translator for mission groups.
About two years ago, in 2015, Pierre, a married father with a young daughter, took a leap of faith. He decided to open his own English-language academy, the Successful Institute.
It was not easy. He started with almost nothing but a vision to help others. He went to churches and schools marketing his idea. He started teaching his neighbors for free. Only three people showed up for the first day of class. He kept going. “I put my heart into it,” he said. He desired to build an institution that taught not only language, but also became a place for young Haitians to feel important.
After a month, the business grew. An American missionary whom Pierre had worked with on a mission trip paid for the enrollment of 10 students. The financing helped, but the difficulties did not disappear. Pierre experienced hardships with landlords, one of whom closed the building without warning, leaving the students stranded during an exam.
With investments from American mission workers, Pierre was able to buy chairs and rent another building. In March 2016, help came from the Triumph Church of Pittsburgh. It sponsored 11 students and helped to pay the teacher.
Many of Pierre’s students saw this struggle. As some received jobs at translation, they gave 10 percent of what they earned back to the school.
Pierre now has anywhere from 200 to 400 students enrolled. The students are a mix of adults to elementary school students, whose parents aim to give them an early start on learning English. The school is in Kenscoff, about 30 minutes from where Pierre was born, and the tuition varies on how much families can pay. He and his wife, Julienne, live in the same building where they teach. The five classrooms are upstairs and the family lives downstairs with their newborn daughter and Jude, an 11-year-old they are raising as their own.
“Successful Institute,” said Pierre, “(teaches) the spirit of self-help and shows our students we value them.” Birthdays are recognized, the students are called Mister and Miss, and they are given soap, to teach them the importance of hygiene and public presentation. The students are given filtered water. The school wants them to stay healthy.
“We want them to feel important,” said Pierre. “My students learn not just English, but it’s an opportunity for them. It’s like family.”
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