Name: Stefania E.
Big Goal: Bring Haiti’s young people into the 21st century by teaching them about technology and improving their employment opportunities
Big Obstacle: Tuition fees
What Stefania Needs: Tuition support; greater access to technology

Like many Haitian families, 18-year old Stefania’s is a large one, comprised of both parents and nine children. It’s common for large families to struggle financially, and when you compound that with the reality of Haiti’s economic state, the food, shelter, clothing and education equation is unrealistic – families are dealing with limited, and often non-existent, resources to address a seemingly endless scope of needs. So, often, the education of the children suffers.

Here’s why. Haiti’s legal minimum wage is currently $4.00/day and its estimated unemployment rate is 60%. However, many roles pay much less than minimum wage and desperation forces people to accept this as they strive to support their families. Plus, university fees in the country run between $2,000 – $3,000 per annum. When one looks at these numbers, it’s easy to understand how education – and a brighter future – is so far out of reach for many young Haitian women.

In the case of Stefania’s family, both parents work. One could be forgiven for thinking that this means the family is better off. But when you consider the family’s economic efforts for survival – her father is a shoemaker and her mother sells used clothing in the street – you can see how feeding eleven mouths would be a challenge, let alone affording education.

A Leader in the Making

Stefania is in her first year at university, studying Management. Here she encountered one of the first social challenges of her economic state. A committee member and class leader, she was responsible for collecting funds for an important event, but found herself unable to contribute her portion. This had a profound effect on her. Concerned about the perception of others, she set about thinking of other ways in which she could contribute.

Stefania approached the committee with her plan, saying, “We can divide the event into various segments of responsibility such as food, drink, decoration and culture, so that if a student cannot pay money, he can choose one of these fields to which he can contribute. This will avoid the exclusion of some people.”

The committee accepted Stefania’s suggestion, and she was able to contribute by using her creative skills to decorate the venue and develop a presentation for the cultural program. Stefania’s leadership brought the team together in the use of their resources, for which they received accolades on their organization of the event.

Stefania’s Vision – Success and Leadership

According to Stefania, “success is not just about achieving a goal; it’s about keeping the goal alive by using the collective to help you. The real success is when you help those around you to achieve success too, by having both a personal and collective vision and upholding the standard.”

Stefania also has a clear vision of how strong leadership looks; by leading from behind, she can direct others to shared success, rather than showcasing herself and taking the credit. One way in which she envisions this as a reality is by helping her fellow Haitians to learn and use technology, improving their employment options.

Self-described as reserved, helpful and hard-working, Stefania also acknowledges that she can become impatient when she sees better ways in which things can be done. It’s one of the reasons she loves technology so much: it helps people to do things faster and better.

Stefania likes to be busy and spends her spare time reading, listening to gospel music and playing soccer. She also spends her time formulating plans for improving her community, such as using technology to change the way goods are sold. Her plan is to make the streets safer for both buyers and sellers by removing vendors from the streets. This plan will also create jobs, improving the economic lot of the Haitian people, most of whom she says “are looking for food every day.”

Stefania is a visionary. She’s also a realist, who understands that such a project will require a tremendous amount of work. Stefania is already using her management skills to formulate a plan for a combination of public funding and a volunteer labour force to help get her idea off the ground.

“In all my projects, technology will be very important. Day-by-day, it’s becoming more indispensable. I believe that technology, and the improvements it can bring when used properly, is the shining light in Haiti’s future. And I want to be a part of making that future a reality.”

– Stefania E.

by Aileen Provan