When a Lack of Funds Meant No Education, This Young Woman Cleaned Classrooms to Pay Her Own Way

Sponsored by Jeanette Hughes

Name: Shella J.
Big Goal: Start a nutrition business catering to people with diabetes, providing jobs for others as well
Big Obstacle: Tuition fees
What Shella Needs: Tuition support; work experience

The second of four daughters, 21-year-old Shella lives with her parents and sisters in a small house in Carrefour, Haiti.

She loves to learn and devours everything she can read, mostly via the Internet, in her quest for knowledge. But the education we take as a right in North America is far out of reach for Shella and for many women like her.

With neither parent working (her father suffers from a cardiovascular disease that has rendered him an invalid, and her mother needs to care for him full-time), the family struggles to provide basic needs and sometimes cannot eat.

Yet Shella is optimistic and creative. When she found herself facing adversity in the form of insufficient funds to attend school, she implemented her creative and negotiation skills and approached the school director. Together, they hatched a plan that would enable Shella to complete her high school education: after class and on weekends, she would clean the classrooms, enabling her to earn the money she needed to pay for her own education.

So, why is education in Haiti so far out of reach? The country’s legal minimum wage is just $4.00/day and its estimated unemployment rate is 60%. This means that, out of desperation, people will accept any work they can get at even lower rates of pay. Plus, university fees in the country run between $2,000 – $3,000 per annum, pushing a post-secondary education out of financial scope for many.

Spreading Her Wings

With a high school diploma under her belt, Shella is now studying at a medical school, where she is honing her technology skills, and learning English at the union school because, she says, “Knowledge of English is not just a choice in Haiti; it’s part of a personal obligation to succeed.”

For Shella, success means contributing to her community, helping it to grow and develop the infrastructure that will bring jobs for its people. Her vision for her part in this change is the creation of her own company, which will provide nutritionally suitable foods for people struggling with diabetes. As her enterprise grows, she will see her vision come to life as opportunities are created in her community.

But Shella isn’t stopping there. Using technology, she wants to create a social platform that will enable young people studying or working in the medical profession around the world to network, so that they can share experiences, resources and knowledge.

Says Shella, “Technology has changed the world. It’s easier for us to connect with one another and share valuable information and it makes learning more interesting. In my personal life, I use technology at home, at school – everywhere.”

As part of her master plan, Shella dreams of securing a job with a non-government organization (NGO) on the continent, where she can help others while learning the technology and business skills she’ll need to start her own enterprise and bring her goals to fruition.

by Aileen Provan