Trained to be Different

Trained to be Different

By: Ricot St. Paulin in Haiti with Brianne Mullins   |   Posted: August 26, 2009

Faith and Opportunity for education transform young boy into LDP student
Daniel grew up in one of the largest slums in Haiti. Today, he is an LDP student attending one of the most prestigious universities in Haiti.

When Daniel's father was a child, he was given a machete instead of an education. Daniel's mother, however, wanted her son to be different.

"When my mother asked my father for money to send me to school, he said that when he was a little child, his father, instead of sending him to school, handed him a machete to use for farming," Daniel said. "My mother understood his point of view, but was not ready to quit. Though she was illiterate, she made sacrifices in order to send me to school. She wanted me to be different. She thought that the machete could not be a greater tool than education.''

Daniel, 25, is the youngest child in his family. He has six sisters, five of them from different mothers. His father, preoccupied by two other wives and not interested in his only son, abandoned Daniel at a young age. He never believed he would be able to send all of his children to school. He also never imagined that Daniel would someday go on to be a very successful university student.

A Different Dream

Daniel's mother, however, wanted her son to have an education, so she registered him at the Free Methodist of John Wesley School. One day during recess, Daniel saw children lining up in a room to be photographed. He soon found out they were being registered for Compassion International's Child Sponsorship Program.

Daniel's school was the site of a Compassion-assisted child development center. He immediately rushed to tell his aunt, who lived nearby, about the registration. His aunt came to the site and advocated on his behalf. He was the last child to be accepted that day.

"My mother was out selling that day but my aunt stays home and this is how I got the chance to be registered in the project," Daniel said. "Though I was the last one to be photographed or registered that day, I became the first one to find a sponsor. I was about 5 years old.''

While he never really knew his father, Daniel saw his mother as a source of inspiration and motivation in his life. She used to sell cooked spaghetti in a school far away from home to sustain the family financially.

"She had to wake up every day at 3 a.m. to prepare the meals, and to go to sell at about 6 a.m. She fed us in the morning out of the meals she had prepared for selling. She gave us money to buy food at school during the day until she got back at about 4 p.m. to prepare dinner. Every time I observed my mother making such sacrifices, and every time I saw her discipline, I became more and more motivated to make progress at school,'' said Daniel.

Walking Forward in Hope

Solino, where Daniel grew up, is one of the largest slums in Haiti. Living among the violence and bad behavior of young people in that area was his greatest challenge.

"I remember when I used to study late at night during the examination period, people used to throw rocks at the roof of our home. It was stressful. Sometimes, you heard gunshots, which also used to frighten us. In the morning, you would probably find a dead body lying in the street,'' he recalled.

However, Daniel also has good memories of his time in Solino. Many professionals have now emerged from the area. People always consider them to be heroes. They also realize that spiritual education has always been a key to their success.

"Many of my friends were also Christians. We were respected in the community because of our behavior. As youths, we used to meet together to share our knowledge and have fun playing soccer. We used to clean the area and talk with others about God, progress and good behavior. We have had the chance to influence many lives," said Daniel.

At the center, Daniel learned painting, macramé ¨the art of tying knots in patterns), music, floral art and cooking. Because of his skills in these activities, he used to make paintings for schools and people in order to earn money. During summer breaks, when schools were closed and his mother could not find work, he often helped support his family. "I used to sell paintings and handbills prepared for schools and pubs. I made about $150 a month," he said.

Based on his involvement at the center, his leadership potential and his behavior, Daniel was chosen by the committee of his child development center as the youth of the year. As a reward, he was offered the opportunity to study computers. This course of study became very useful to him. He used his skills to help his center staff prepare electronic reports and make designs for the center whenever there was a big event.

From ninth grade until his completion of the Child Sponsorship Program, Daniel served as the president of the entire center. He also served as vice president of a cultural group and founder of a gospel choir. One of his favorite activities at the center was spiritual retreat because it was a time for him to get closer to God and get to know his friends better.

Shaping a Life, Preparing a Leader

The second most important event in Daniel's life was his integration into the Leadership Development Program (LDP) in 2004. After an evaluation test and interviews, the scholarship board of the Leadership Development Program realized that Daniel could excel in either business administration or economics.

"We were confident that Daniel was going to be accepted in the program based on his leadership ability and his passion for education and progress," said Jean Philippe Tresil, Director of the John Wesley Child Development Center. "He remains one of the best students we have had in the sponsorship program here. He has been useful to us in many ways. While still in the sponsorship program, he used to supervise while the children wrote letters to their sponsors after he had written his own. He was a reliable young man. Even though he was still a child, parents of beneficiaries used to think that he was a member of the staff.''

After one year at his university, Daniel chose to major in economics. He has done remarkably well in his studies, and has made many friends because of his sense of humor and his ability to take initiative.

"The LDP has given me the opportunity to attend one of the most prestigious universities in Haiti, the Institute of High Commercial and Economic Studies. There would have been no way for me to go there on my own or even with the support of my mother. My integration into the LDP brought my mother indescribable joy,'' Daniel said.

In the Leadership Development Program, Daniel has attended seminars, participated in training camps, and learned about time management, leadership principles, how to study the Bible, sexual abstinence, AIDS and much more.

"All of these things have shaped my whole life and have caused me to be very different," he exclaimed.

Standing Firm, Moving Forward

Daniel lost his mother early last year. It was a hard blow to him. "I decided to give up everything because what motivated me to succeed had disappeared. I wanted my mother to see me achieve further goals and benefit from these achievements. She had made such a sacrifice for me to be what I am today," he said.

Yet because of the influence and assistance of his best friend, his mentor and the LDP specialists, he was encouraged to move on.

"My LDP friends, my schoolmates at the university, the LDP specialists and Abbel, who attends the same church as me, were all there for me. I came to understand that my mother would have considered me a coward if I had chosen to quit. That decision would not have honored her. I told myself I had better move on," said Daniel.

Daniel is also very thankful to his sponsors, especially his LDP sponsors, who sent him words of encouragement and comfort after his mother's death. He feels indebted to both his child sponsorship and LDP sponsors.

"Without Compassion, I may have been able to go to school, but I am not sure I would have been able to make it to the university," Daniel said. "Most importantly, I am ready to apply the core values of integrity, stewardship, excellence and dignity, which I learned through Compassion.

"We have many outstanding professionals in the country, but the government is still corrupt and we cannot progress because we have a lack of genuine leaders who are ready to make a difference. I want to make that difference and I will make it with God's help.''

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