I like the way they teach us how to communicate, how to treat other people, she says, reflecting on the benefits of her participation in the literacy program she attends twice a week after work. Silyanis is one of many in the class hosted by PRODEV, Caribbean Craft, West Elm and The Clinton Foundation, a collection of businesses and NGO’s working together to empower the people of Haiti. The class, hosted in Caribbean Craft’s space, caters to those like Silyanis who never had the opportunity to go to school growing up.
Silyanis was raised by her father in the Artibonite Valley, a region of Haiti known for its lush terrain, its extensive fields and its cultivation of agriculture. Her mother died during her adolescence, and while her father was able to support his children, Silyanis was robbed of the chance to learn to read and write due to the expectations he placed on her to help around the house. She eventually left the rural area, known as the province, for the city of Port-au-Prince, where she met the man she fell in love with and the father of her children.
On January 12, 2010, she was visiting her family in her hometown with her children. It was on that fateful afternoon, the day of the catastrophic earthquake, that her partner was killed when a building collapsed on him, crushing his body. Silyanis returned home with a heavy heart, realizing the gravity of her future without a mate to help support and raise their children.
But her life took a turn when, two years ago, she was offered a position at Papillon. She now not only feels capable of raising her children as a single mother, but it’s what she desires. Silyanis does not crave the attention of another man, but wants to see her children succeed. And when the opportunity arose for her to take part in the literacy program, she seized it.
The program, started by the founder of Caribbean Craft, Magalie Dresse, focuses on building the potential and fostering the capacity of each of the attendees. Not only are the participants learning subjects like reading, writing and mathematics, but they are also taught life skills, including proper communication, financial management and their basic civil rights as Haitians. They boast of their accomplishments at the bank when they are able to write a check and in their home when they are able to sign their kids’ report cards. The personal testimonies are evidence of the program’s success, as these parents, both mothers and fathers, are now capable of helping their children with their homework and can understand what they are learning at school.
Silyanis is one testimony of many. It has not been the reading, writing or mathematics that has impacted her the most, but the way she has learned how to interact with and treat others. And while she may have lost years in school when she was younger, what she gains now is perhaps even more valuable than what she could have gained then, still dreaming of a brighter and better tomorrow.