She giggles as she leans in and whispers to me, I want to get married some day. I smile at her, reassuring her her dream of marriage is sacred. I want a good man, someone respectful, faithful and kind, she explains, dwelling on the qualities, valid qualities, she desires in a spouse and a partner in life. But she is also hesitant, because to be alone is better than to have her heart broken.
Darline. Her expression is gentle as she slowly uncovers details of her past. One of nine, she grew up in Port-au-Paix, a city on the northwestern coast, with her mother and father. She reminisces on the love she had for playing with dolls when she was young. Even when my mom would call me to eat, I wouldn’t go because I was too occupied, she notes as she laughs, replaying the memories over in her mind. She remembers, too, often reenacting marriages with the figurines, a dream she’s kept in her heart since she was a little girl. I can’t help but find it ironic that so many years later, she has found herself nestled into a seat in the sewing room at Papillon, crafting several different products, but even more specifically, the company’s dolls, representing the different regions of Haiti.
Darline, as an employed, young, single woman, is fighting the odds, beating the statistics and looking toward a better future. But not just for herself. At 28 years old, she has taken on the responsibility of caring for her younger sister and her two young nieces, putting them all through school, providing a roof over their heads and ensuring they are fed every day. This isn’t typical. In fact, it would be much easier to give it all up, to say, I can’t. But she rises, every morning, with hope in her heart that maybe for her it will be different, that maybe for her family it will be different.
Her sister, six years younger than Darline, has two more years until she graduates high school. Following her graduation, she hopes to continue her education in college. I ask Darline if she, too, finished school. But after her mother died in 2007, her family didn’t have the means to provide for her schooling, so she was forced to give up her academic career. I want to give my sister what I didn’t have. She wants to get her doctorate, and I pray God will allow me to help her. Her voice is soft. Her words, humble. To look into her eyes, to catch of glimpse of the life she has experienced during her short time on earth, is nothing short of admirable.
I wonder how she does it. How does she have the strength to go on when all is against her? To have lost both parents at a young age, to care for three girls, to be in a culture where women are suppressed. But she accredits God for her strength. She attends a local church regularly and is an active participant in the choir. When I sing, I feel like the best version of myself, she remarks of her passion. Daily, the women who sew pray together at noon, fervently, for one another, uplifting each other’s needs and struggles.
Darline fiddles with a piece of cloth in her hands. She has been employed by Papillon since 2015 and she is best known for her hard work and dedication. It isn’t difficult to see the evidence of such qualities in the pieces of her story. Darline could have chosen a different path, but she chooses hope. When she rises in the mornings, she chooses to fight for those she loves. And at the end of each day, she thanks God for seeing her, for knowing her and for loving her.