Through job skills training and support, single moms in Haiti work hard to create a better life for themselves and their children, sometimes in the most wonderfully unexpected of ways…
Julia Joseph Julien squats near the wall and mixes plaster in her small yellow bucket. Her black hair pulled back in tight braids and a colorful barrette, she scoops then spreads the mixture onto a ceramic tile and carefully places it on the wall, making a tight row.
The Haitian sun is hot. This is hard work, and she is the only woman doing it.
But she is smiling — she is so proud. As a single mom, she knows that these new skills will change her life and change her children’s future.
“So many single moms are taking care of children and unable to work or be trained to work because of that,” says Mike Noah, director of services for Holt’s Africa and Haiti programs. “Some moms said they were in despair for the future, not sure how they would get food or care for their children.”
Because of this great need, last year Holt started a new program to empower single moms in Haiti to earn an income and best care for their children.
Called Chanje Lavi, or “Changing Lives” in Haitian Creole, this woman’s empowerment program provides long-term, sustainable support for single mothers through job skills training, computer training, counseling support, and nutritional and educational sponsorship for their children.
When this program began in October 2016, Holt staff in Haiti saw Julia’s work ethic, determination and dedication to her children — and decided she would be a perfect candidate for Chanje Lavi.
Julia and her two children, Guerjudeson and Keisha, live in a small home with nine other people. This is not uncommon in Port-au-Prince, especially in Delmas, one of the most impoverished communities within this impoverished city and country. Further, living conditions like this are especially not uncommon for single mothers.
“If you’re a single mom in Haiti, you’re most likely living with other family members who are living in poverty as well,” says Mike. “But once they get [job skills] training, they very well could be the only one employed in their family.”
So when Chanje Lavi offered Julia the opportunity to attend a vocational training school, she knew this would uplift not only her own small family of three, but the network of extended family members who depend on her.
So Julia was enrolled in Chanje Lavi, her children were matched with Holt sponsors, she chose her job skills training program — ceramic tile installation — and began attending courses.
Chanje Lavi teaches women how to operate within their strengths — how to identify their strongest skills and the resources around them and use both to generate greater income for their families.
Women in the Chanje Lavi program have been trained is cosmetology, cooking, sewing, or even construction jobs like window installing or ceramic tile laying, like Julia.
Her instructor says Julia, the only woman in his ceramic installation class, is a model student. “She is very involved in the class work and takes an active part in the practice activities,” he says. She is both humble and eager to learn, and because of this, she will be successful.
To congratulate Julia and to ensure she has the literal tools she needs to succeed, Holt donors and staff gave her a toolbox full of all the essentials: a tile-cutting machine, trowel, metallic ruler, gloves, hammer, peel, square, level, burin, mass, scraper, pliers, mallet, safety glasses, safety helmet and tool box.
Julia was absolutely overwhelmed with gratitude upon receiving this gift. “I am very glad and satisfied for all that you have made for me. I shall never stop saying thank you,” she said. “You are in my heart.”
This month, Julia will complete her trainings course, and begin using her skills to earn an income — an income that will provide food, clean water, clothes and educational supplies for her children. Her hope is that God continues to bless Holt and Chanje Lavi “so that you can continue to assist other mothers in vulnerable situations.”
So far, in just the seven months since Chanje Lavi began, the women enrolled have experienced great success. In fact, just this month, another single mother — Daphney St. Clou — completed her window installation training and is ready to search for a job and begin making a sustainable income.
“And it looks like Julia Joseph will be following close behind,” Mike says.
While Julia’s vocational training is almost complete, that doesn’t mean Holt’s work with Julia is done — because our staff in Haiti hold Julia in their heart, too.
One reason why Chanje Lavi is so successful is because it is built upon community and relationship. Beverly Sannon, Holt’s country director in Haiti and the driving force behind Chanje Lavi, is deeply committed to each woman and her children. Beverly personally walks with each woman through the program and offers the encouragement and tools she needs for each step.
“We have guided and supported Julia through her six-month training,” Beverly says. “And we are now happy to see them through and ready to begin a new life.”
Even though her courses are completed, Julia and her children — like other moms and children enrolled in Chanje Lavi — will continue to be visited and mentored by Beverly, and supported by Holt donors and sponsors for as long as she needs. They will make sure Julia’s business gets up and running, that she has guidance in her financial planning, and that her children eat well and go to school — that they have everything they need to thrive.
“These skills increase their income capabilities and help them meet their needs and those of their children with dignity,” says Mike. Not only that, but it raises their self-esteem and gives them the confidence to pursue an empowered future.
“It’s like a catalyst in their life,” he says.
What women like Beverly, Julia, Daphney and others involved in Chanje Lavi understand is that women — especially moms — have an incredible ability and potential to create change. When a mother has skills and knowledge to successfully own and operate a business, she has the tools, confidence and dignity she needs to create a better future for both herself and her children. This investment, paired with child sponsorship, creates a sustainable, lasting difference and transforms entire families and communities for good.
As Mike says, “it gives them hope for the future.”
With the opportunity and resources Julia received, she can be what she desired to be all along — a strong, empowered mom who can take the very best care of herself and her children.
“No one has ever been so good to me!” Julia recently wrote in a message to her supporters. “Thanks to the donors and the support of Holt staff. I am now ready to start a new, wonderful life!”
Megan Herriott | Staff Writer