Sitting along a cinder block wall in the shade of a tree near the school in Terre Blanche, Etienne reminisces about being a student there.
Now 24 years old, Etienne attends an engineering school in the nearby city of Gonaives, where he focuses on learning construction skills such as plumbing and electricity.
But his education started in Terre Blanche. At the time, he lived with his aunt, uncle and four cousins in Gonaives. That meant he had to travel to Terre Blanche – about 30 minutes each way – to attend school. He would pay for a tap-tap (Haitian bus) or motorcycle taxi each day. On the days when he didn’t have money, he would walk, stopping to rest along the way when it was too hot.
Etienne remembers teachers helping him learn French and writing. His favorite classes were English and French. He remembers playing soccer with friends and eating rice for lunch in the cafeteria.
Today, there is a new cafeteria at the school. Etienne, no longer a student when it was built, was on the construction crew. And that wasn’t the first time he saw construction at the school. While he was a student, he saw the Clinic of Hope being built. He also saw the secondary school building being constructed. These are all part of the reason he decided to go into engineering.
Giving back to the community was the example Etienne’s aunt, Silia, provided for him. She is a community health volunteer in Terre Blanche and the surrounding area and now works at the Clinic of Hope. He saw her volunteer selflessly for three years before she became a leader in the program.
Etienne still lives with his aunt and sometimes helps his younger cousins with their school work.
If he could tell today’s students one thing, it would be to keep the school challenging. “Every day work hard and they can find the key to happiness,” he said.