Before January 12, Charlèus Louristan, Widny Laurent, and Modline Occy were working toward a brighter future by studying carrelage (laying paving stones) as participants in EDC’s Haitian Out-of-School Youth Livelihood Project (IDEJEN).
Then the earthquake struck Haiti, changing their worlds forever. Despite what they endured that day, Louristan, Laurent, and Occy remained connected to IDEJEN, which turned from creating education programs and helping impoverished youth develop work skills to responding to the urgent needs of the community.
Here are their stories.
Charlèus Louristan, 23
Before he found IDEJEN, Louristan made a living standing at the back of tap-taps, Haiti’s local transportation, collecting money, helping people in and out, and notifying the driver when to stop.
With IDEJEN, Louristan began studying carrelage, and it seemed his future had taken a turn. Then the earthquake hit, and it turned again.
“When I was in the [IDEJEN training] center, the earthquake started. It shook very hard,” he says. “After that, I ran to go outside. There was a traffic jam [of people], and we pushed to get outside. After, I went to look for my family at home. Everything was crushed. My house was crushed. I finally found my mother and sister, who had broken her foot. I lost two aunts, and other [family members] had broken arms or legs. But otherwise, everyone is fine.”
Louristan’s next job was unexpected, with a new reason to work harder: helping IDEJEN with food distributions in exchange for food.
“I give sacks of food to other youth. The youth are the same as me, and I’m happy to help them,” he says. “I would like to find a job to have hope to help myself to help my family. I can clean. I can take down buildings to create more space for people. I would really like to do carrelage to help my family and myself.”
Widny Laurent, 18
Windy Laurent’s father died when he was young.
“I always hoped to find money to learn a trade to earn money to live. I went to school but after second grade, I had to stop. I didn’t have the money to continue,” says Laurent.
Then he found IDEJEN.
This was his chance to finally learn a trade, carrelage, and that’s what he was doing inside one of IDEJEN’s training centers in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake shook. He didn’t even have time to think.
“A block fell on my head during the earthquake,” he says. “A lot of blood was falling.”
Laurent wrapped an IDEJEN shirt around his bloody head and rushed to a nearby hospital, only to find it was mobbed. He went to another, and then to a third before giving up. He returned to the IDEJEN center and listened as his trainers confirmed, one by one, that his peers’ families were safe.
He waited to receive his own good news, but instead, heard nothing. The injured teenager finally set out to find his family in the wreckage.
“I spent the night looking for my family and asking people for information,” says Laurent.
Finally, at 1 a.m., Laurent got some good news. “Someone told me they had seen two of my sisters and took me to them,” he says.
But Laurent never found the rest of his family or his home. Now, he sleeps with neighbors under a makeshift tent at Place Boyer in Pétionville, Port-au-Prince.
Modline Occy, 17
Occy had only one year of schooling before she began studying carrelage with IDEJEN in February 2009.
“I was doing nothing. I sold things to eat,” says Occy, the youngest of four, all street vendors in Port-au-Prince.
She joined IDEJEN after hearing about the program through friends, and she says she did it to help support her family. Now Occy is just relieved they are still alive.
“When I was in the [Pétionville training] center, I felt the earth shake. I was going downstairs, and people were pushing to get out,” she says.
Occy was thrown down the stairs by the others who were trying to rush out, injuring her finger and foot. It was later that she found out her home had been demolished in the quake.
Occy’s foot was healed, and now she travels every day from Tabarre, where her family is staying, to Pétionville to help search for the many IDEJEN youth who are still missing. IDEJEN has given her a purpose in a time of uncertainty, the support of her peers, and food in her mouth. IDEJEN provided Occy and her family with assistance at a time when they weren’t able to find it through any other organization.
“I don’t have hope because I don’t have a place to sleep. I don’t have anything to eat,” says Occy. “I will have hope in the future [after completing IDEJEN] because if I can work, I can earn money to find a place to live, to find food to eat.”
Originally published on May 5, 2010