I recently sat down with one of my greatest friends in Haiti: Helton (pronounced like “Elton”).
I first met Helton at Cité Soleil Community School (CSCS), one of our partner schools. He was taking English classes and I was a volunteer teacher at the time. I remember he was one of my best students, and over time we got to know each other more and more.
When I first met Helton, he worked sporadically with various organizations in Cité Soleil. Now he works as a security guard and kitchen helper at CSCS, where three of his children go to school.
Though I knew Helton was a father, I didn’t really grasp what that meant until recently. On this hot day, I sat down with him in the front office at CSCS, and asked my old friend if I could learn more about him as a parent. He smiled and pulled his chair in.
I started by asking: “What is it to be a parent in Haiti? Specifically in Cité Soleil? What are the joys and challenges that you have personally experienced?”
Helton looked down as he always does when he is thinking hard, and then began to tell me of his real, everyday hardships as a father in Haiti.
Here is our conversation:
S: Bonjou Helton! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
H: Bonjou zanmi m (hello my friend)! Well, I am 32 years old. I have 4 children, ages 11, 7, 5, and 3. I have a wife, and we all live together not far from the school.
S: What are some of the major expenses and worries you have as a parent?
H: Too many. School, food, clothes, housing, books, tap-tap rides (the local transportation), telephone, cleaning materials, and much more.
Sometimes I try to buy my children a simple toy like a ball. They cost about 25 gourdes (roughly USD $0.63) each, although they wear out easily.
S: What stresses you out the most?
H: I would say food and housing. We have to eat everyday, and sometimes we don’t have enough money for a proper diet. Sometimes we only eat once a day.
S: How do you manage when you’re all hungry?
H: God gives me hope. I can do something. I have work. When we really have no food I put my children on the bed. Then we pray and go to sleep to conserve our energy.
Often we struggle so much that I don’t eat. I always make sure everybody else eats first.
S: Incredible. And you mentioned housing?
H: Yes, this is particularly stressful. To stay in Cité Soleil for about six months, it costs 600 Haitian dollars (roughly USD $75; $12.50 a month).
We have electricity about 5-6 hours a day. We in the community chipped in 60 Haitian dollars (USD $7.50) for a transformer.
There are no flushing toilets. Sanitation is always an issue here. I have a home with two rooms and seven people living in it. Me, my wife, the four children, and my wife’s sister. I am the only one who works to support the family.
S: What would you say are your daily expenses?
H: Minimum 500 gourdes (USD $12.50) a day. That’s about 15,000 gourdes (USD $375) a month! I only make USD $100 working at the school. I try my best to help at the local clinic and work any other small job I can find.
S: Does CSCS help with any of these things?
H: Yes, the school is such a blessing! We get most of our school supplies, uniforms, and a hot meal every other day from CSCS. The school provides clean drinking water and juice. When the school struggles, all of the parents feel it.
S: What would happen if CSCS didn’t exist?
H: Too many problems. It would be difficult for me to educate my children. Many of us would lose a job. Over two hundred children would just be on the streets. You see how many children don’t go to school and stand outside the gates of CSCS peeking in. They want to be educated. They don’t want to end up in a gang. These children have bigger dreams.
S: How do you keep your faith so strong?
H: God is everything. If you walk the right path, God will open all doors for you. I really believe that.
S: What happens when you’re at the end of your rope?
H: There is a small support system. It mostly composes of family. We’re always there for each other.
S: Right now, what are your biggest concerns?
H: Living in Cité Soleil is in itself the most difficult thing. You know, everyday we hear at least three people dying by a gun. Many children die by voodoo — by poison — because people take their antics as disrespect. Accidents and illnesses happen all the time because we just do not live in ideal circumstances.
We live so close together and none of us really have doors. Children walk in and out and often see things they never should at such a young age.
Life is especially challenging for young girls in the slum, and I worry because I have three little girls.
For my children’s sake, I’m trying to save up and look for a better place to stay outside of Cité Soleil.
S: Do you have anything to say to those who love and care for CSCS and the CSCS family that you’re a part of?
H: Yes! When you help us, God will give more to you. Help us with strength and courage. Help us to help ourselves — don’t just give us money, but sit with us and learn about our real problems.
S: Thank you Helton, for being so honest and real with your story.
H: Oh, it is my absolute pleasure. Thanks to you and anybody reading for showing your care and interest in our reality here in Haiti and especially Cité Soleil. All of you give us hope.