A Story of Empowerment – Gaëlle Lubin, Haiti

Date: 02 July 2012

Gaëlle Lubin was on her way home from school when the earth started to shake. As she ran towards her house, she was stopped by friends who told her that a wall had collapsed, trapping her sister and mother inside. Two days later, they were dug from the rubble. Gaëlle’s sister was only injured, but her mother was dead.

With her house destroyed, Gaëlle was one of the 1.5 million displaced by Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake, so she moved into a tent with 14 of her relatives. The tent was unbearably hot, and there were days when they did not have food or water.

“She stayed alone, she would not even play with her friends,” says Gaëlle’s cousin Francelise Nommelus, 28, who was also living in the tent. “She would not talk to any of us about what she was feeling. She was just sad, all the time.”

Gaëlle did not attend school for several months after the earthquake—more than 80 percent of the schools in and around Port au Prince were destroyed—however, her relatives encouraged her to go to the YMCA, so that she would be around other children.

In August 2010, Gaëlle, in an effort to overcome the trauma she had experienced,  left Port au Prince for Cabins of Hope summer camp  in Huguenot, NY along with eight other children selected by the YMCA d’Haiti. During her first few days at camp, Gaëlle spent a lot of her time alone, crying, still thinking of her mother. But she soon made friends with the five other girls in her cabin.

“I was sad in the beginning, but step by step, I started to feel better,” says Gaëlle. “The counsellors got me to play, to interact with others, and little by little, things got better.”

At the end of the two weeks, Gaëlle was happy to return to Haiti to see her family, but sad to leave behind the friends she had met at camp.

It was very hard to come back to Port au Prince, to return to living in a tent, not just because Gaëlle was without a home, but because living in that tent brought back memories of her mother’s death.

Still, Francelise her tutor, says that when Gaëlle returned, she seemed happier.

“She was more joyful, and she played more with the other children,” says Francelise. “At camp, Gaëlle learned how to make bracelets with plastic thread, and when she came back, she started making them for her friends.”

Guerline Frederic, Program and Activities Director; has  also noticed a change in Gaëlle. “[She] was traumatized,” says Guerline. “Now, she’s stopped crying. She says, ‘The earthquake is behind me, my mom is behind me. I have my life and I have to live it.’”

Gaëlle now lives with Francelise and her three children in an apartment in Nazon. She still attends the YMCA’s afterschool program, and on afternoons, after finishing her homework and helping the younger children with theirs, she spends time chatting and giggling with her friends.

Gaëlle cannot pinpoint what it was about her time at camp that eased the deep pain caused by her mother’s death, but speculates that spending time playing with other children didn’t give her time to dwell on her mother’s death.

“I still think of my mother, but not as often,” says Gaëlle. “I think my mother would not want me to stay all alone crying. She would want me to go to school, to play, to live.”
Guerline Frederic works hard  to instil in youth such as Gaëlle the ability to dream, and look forward to the future.  “I think every child should have a dream, to have something to believe in,” says Guerline. “Though Haiti is poor, even though Haiti is damaged, if you have a dream, you will succeed.”