On January 12, 2010, a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, killing more than 230,000 people and displacing approximately 1.5 million. Children were orphaned; families were left homeless; and homes, schools and hospitals destroyed. Five years later, SOS Children’s Villages, the world’s largest organization providing care for orphaned and abandoned children, remains unwavering in its ongoing, long-term commitment to the people of Haiti.
The road to Canaan was a bumpy one. The lack of a paved highway may have explained an overturned car on the roadside. Up in the hills, the only haven from the scorching sun was the shelter of the Community Center. There were few buildings, and children’s singing and laughter echoed in the warm air.
Photo of Marie-Ange Billy, President of SOS Canaan Community Center
Standing nobly by the door, Marie-Ange Billy walked over to welcome us. She is the president of the SOS Canaan Community Center, and this is not the first time she has led a project supported by SOS Children’s Villages (SOS). Mother of four, Marie-Ange’s primary role in her family echoes a common reality in this country where women are the foundation of families.
In 2009, there seemed to be no way out. Marie-Ange and her husband had become unable to provide for their children. Unemployed, they had no income to pay school fees or to buy food. “After I brought my two youngest children to the community center where they had free education, I was able to focus on problem solving and my next steps. I saved some money to send my older kids to school,” she says.
Now, the president is studying to be a teacher while she dreams about becoming a pediatrician. And, leading by example, she works to empower women. In Haiti, they play an important role in ensuring the sustainability of families, for they are the ones in charge of children – their education, nurturing, and feeding.
“When I became president of Canaan Community Center, I started to work more closely with the families. I talked to parents about health, about how to raise their children, how to take care of them. I encouraged them to be the owners and directors of their lives, and to find ways to support themselves so they may help their children.”
Marie-Ange says, “I believe that women have an extremely important role for both the family and the community. This is why women should have confidence in themselves, and must work to guarantee their independence. The more women are empowered, the more they have ability to manage themselves, and the more they give their children opportunities to succeed. We must believe in ourselves; we must rely on our capability to change our society.”