On March 6, Shrove Tuesday, when churches traditionally have pancake dinners the night before Lent begins, St. Thomas Episcopal Church will have a different type of pancake festivity – a Crepe Dinner to raise scholarship funding for impoverished girls in Haiti to attend school and eventually college.
The Women and Girls Initiative (WGI) was started in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that killed thousands and left tens of thousands homeless. As part of the international organization Partners In Health, the WGI began by supporting 22 girls, ages 8 to 16, with a package including scholarship awards, health services, life skills training, and leadership development. One of those girls – we will call her Mara – has shared her story with us.
Mara had lived with her father, stepmother, and five siblings in a one-bedroom house in a Port-au-Prince ghetto. After the earthquake (when she was 10), the family found shelter in the largest of the capital city tent camps, The Jean Mary Vincent Camp, with 20,000 other people – for five years. Mara was chosen to be in the first group of girls helped by WGI. Life in the camps was grim, but on Saturdays Mara and the 21 other girls were taken by bus to the space rented by WGI in Port au Prince where they could have a meal, talk with mental health professionals, and receive help. When she entered high school, still living in the camp, Mara was given a scholarship to go to a good school.
At 15, Mara had grasped the vision of succeeding so that she could be a leader and help others. She wrote: “I’m from a ghetto, but I want to be a successful woman with a lot of influence and money to help my family and my country. I want to start from the poorest neighborhood to help others.”
Mara finished high school last year with awards and recognition for a book she had written. She is now in her first year of college as a pre-med student. The picture of her in a white, second-hand medical coat reflects her hopes for the future.
In her words recently, “The steps I took [through WGI] gave me motivation and courage. After the earthquake, despite my young age, I started seeing the reality of my country. My parents worried about paying for our food and rent and school fees. I remember the desperation on my dad’s face when it was time for me to sit for exams in elementary school and he couldn’t find the money. The people who came to my rescue gave me a hand and accompanied me through high school. I will never stop being grateful.”
St. Thomas’s connection with the scholarship program began through Didi Bertrand-Farmer, co-founder and president of WGI, and a parishioner at St. Thomas since her family moved to Miami from Rwanda several years ago. Bertrand-Farmer works with girls in Haiti and Rwanda, and in March will participate on a panel at the UN Conference on the Status of Women. At St. Thomas, the personal connection with the leader of WGI makes the ties with the girls and young women receiving the scholarships even more meaningful and inspiring.