Overcoming a Difficult Childhood to Now Help to Feed Haiti
When Jacqueson lost his parents at a young age, his world fell apart. However, NPFS took him in and gave him the education to establish a career in agronomy. Today, he aims to pass on this knowledge to his NPH siblings.
June 4, 2021 - Haiti
Jacqueson Cinéus is a 28-year-old agronomy student. He has a brother named Kesy who is two years older. They grew up at St. Hélène, the NPH Haiti home in Kenscoff, approximately 25 kilometers (15 miles) south of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, after their parents died. If weren’t for NPH Haiti though, they wouldn’t had been able forge the careers they have today.
Jacqueson and Kesy are from Carrefour, a large residential commune in the Port-au-Prince area. Only faint signs remain of Carrefour’s tourist industry that boomed back in the 1970s and ‘80s. Nowadays, most of its inhabitants struggle amid the gang violence and political instability that engulfs the country. The two brothers spent their first years here, in Waney 87, a rough neighborhood plagued by gangs.
Jaqueson’s father was a poor farmer, his mother walked several kilometers a day selling fruits from a basket. All four of them lived in one small room, with no radio or TV. The boys did not go to school because their parents could not pay the school tuition fee.
“We were never a settled family, but we were close,” says Jacqueson. “My father died when I was three, which made things hard for my mother, who passed away in the summer of 2001, after suffering from an illness for several weeks. I was 7-years-old at the time. How can you expect a young child to understand something like that? All I know is that my mother’s name was Marie Rose Jean Jacques and she did everything she could for us.”
He finds it hard to talk about reasons behind the passing of his parents. He prefers to keep it in the past. His philosophy is to forward in life. “I will never forget them. But I cannot dwell on it. I only know they look down on us from heaven.”
However, at the time, Jacqueson and Kesy were left without anyone to care for them. A community priest named Georges Matelier was moved by their difficult circumstances, supporting them in his home for almost two years with the little he had. Then he helped arrange for the boys go to live with Nos Petits Freres et Soeurs (NPFS) Haiti, thus allowing them to grow up in a home with access to education, medical care, childcare, and therapists. The bond between the priest and the boys was so close that Jacqueson and his brother would spend their summer vacations with him while living at the NPH home.
The brothers arrived at the St. Hélène home in 2003. “I remember when I first arrived. I was age 9 and I entered the courtyard. I thought I was only going to be there for a few hours and return with the priest to Carrefour. Obviously, this was not the case; I ended up remaining with NPH up to the present,” says Jacqueson.
He became curious when he saw so many new faces there. Being a few years older, Kesy was sent to live with older children, causing Jacqueson more grief. For several days he did not say a word to anyone until one of his roommates gave him a little but important gift.
“It was a little book of prayers, which I still have today,” says Jacqueson. “This resonated with me. It is symbolic, because it demonstrated to me the spirit of NPH, and this motivated me to take the opportunity to study and accept what is given to me.”
Jacqueson and his brother were happy when they were reunited at school. Jacqueson began to thrive with his new NPH brothers and sisters. To this day, Bievenu Badio, the boy who gave him the book, is still a close friend. Jacqueson overcame the loss of his mother and believes he had a happy childhood at NPH Haiti. Some of his favorite memories are of the visitors from around the world who came to Kenscoff every December, as well as the summer camp activities played between the children’s homes. Jacqueson also recalls Fr. Richard Frechette and his caregiver, Met Julmiste, with great fondness.
In 2009, Jacqueson left the St. Hélène home. He graduated from 9th grade and moved away to continue his high school. He lived in Port-au-Prince for four years with other former residents of NPH Haiti, known as the Ex-Eleve, in an apartment rented by NPH. Afterwards, he went on to live in Tabarre as part of the Don Bosco program, an education initiative for youths that have graduated from St. Hélène that supports their studies in high school, university, or vocational school.
As Jacqueson grew up, he became aware of the difficult challenges facing his country. In 2012, United Nations Development Program in Haiti estimated that 58.6 percent of the country – 6.3 million Haitians – live in poverty, with 2.5 million living in extreme poverty, mainly in rural areas where the economy is largely informal, centered on small family farms and businesses. Today though, it is difficult to estimate how many people live in poverty, especially with the devaluation of the gourde and the constant civil unrest which impacts the entire 11.26 million population.
“It made me depressed and angry that Haiti had the title of ‘the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere’. This was also a personal breakthrough moment. I realized I had the drive, intelligence, and capabilities to change the world,” he remembers. “I was very good at chemistry, I enjoyed problem-solving, and I studied hard. Thanks to NPH Haiti, after 10th grade, when I turned 21, I went to study Agronomy at Université Quisqueya.”
With support from NPH Haiti, Jacqueson is now finishing his degree in agronomy at Université Quisqueya, one of Haiti’s best private universities. One reason for his interest in agronomy was to help improve Haiti’s high level of food waste, a problem caused by poor transportation and infrastructure systems.
In fact, the overall food situation in Haiti has reached crisis levels. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) says that Haiti has one of the highest levels of food insecurity in the world, with one in three Haitians now needing urgent food assistance - nearly 3.7 million people out of 10.9 million- and they categorize over 1 million people as living in an emergency situation.
Haiti has a lot of fertile land but due to complex reasons, the country has problems growing enough food to meet the nation’s needs. Many Haitian farmers work small plots using archaic methods, resulting in low productivity. Most workers just sell their crops as raw material for a low price, with few processing them into higher-value products. Other factors combine to limit Haitian agricultural output, some natural, while others are man-made.
Some natural factors that affect Haitian agriculture include the island’s rugged mountainous geography, hurricanes and tropical storms, earthquakes, erosion from deforestation, and droughts. Add to these man-made factors like inadequate government policies to support agriculture. For example, inadequate investment in rural roads and agricultural infrastructure makes it hard to implement policies to mitigate the effects of natural disasters. Political upheaval, crime, and corruption also add to the difficulties that inhibit rural populations from achieving an adequate income and limit food from reaching the market, worsening food insecurity for all of the population.
Despite the current political instability, Jacqueson continues growing peanuts on three small plots. Working with a partner, he employs five neighborhood residents to help with the farm. From this, he makes approximately 145,000 gourdes, around US$1,800, every three months. Jacqueson hopes to work with NPH Haiti, which supports 2,557 students on community scholarships from deprived areas, to grow more food for the children living at the NPH home and for those attending community schools.
Jacqueson continues being an active member of the NPH family. He currently belongs to G20, a group of youths and adults who used to live at NPH Haiti that provide supervision to children, reporting to the Don Bosco office. They help supervise the children’s home and help to keep track of the children’s academic progress and school attendance.
“I am proud to be part of this group, to help give the students the discipline and confidence to push forwards in life. We have many young intelligent students who are capable of creating change in their lives and the lives of those around them,” says Jacqueson, proudly.
“NPH invested in my life, and I am determined to invest in the children at NPH who went through a difficult childhood like me. I want to activate them, motivate them to make positive changes to Haiti and the world. If I can do it, so can they.”
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