Doudly Elius was visiting America from Haiti during his Partners of the Americas Legislative Fellow program in 2013 when he developed a motor disability. “I struggled a lot to walk, to climb stairs, or even to raise myself up from a chair,” Elius said. Still, New Jersey, where he was stationed, was well-equipped to support his needs.
“I was extremely grateful for Partners' New Jersey-Haiti Chapter, who took care of all of my needs throughout my fellowship. They provided me with endless support and guidance,” Elius said.
After his fellowship with Partners completed, Elius returned to Haiti. “When I came back from the fellowship, I realized that people with disabilities don’t stand a chance in Haiti. There is no accessibility for people like me, like I witnessed in New Jersey,” Elius said.
This is shocking considering more than 300,000 people were left disabled after the devastating Haiti earthquake in 2010.
Elius returned home from his Partners’ fellowship with a new outlook on life. Studying abroad had taught him that no goal is impossible. “When we study together, we learn more, and we learn faster. It empowers us with new skills and the necessary tools to succeed in life, and to make a long-lasting change in our community,” Elius said. “The fellowship was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.”
Combining what he learned during his fellowship with his business skills, he created a program that he calls, Empower Haitian Women. The program would train 40 Haitian women who became disabled as a result of the earthquake on how to create their own business plans. He then submitted his project to the U.S. State Department’s 2014 Alumni Engagement and Innovation Fund.
And he won.
Elius was the first Haitian to ever win the Alumni Engagement and Innovation Fund. He was awarded $20,000 to execute his project. Equipped with local teachers, volunteers, and State Department alumni, Empower Haitian Women implemented its two week program this past September that helped disabled women create a business plan from start-to-finish. The program took place at Haiti’s Bureau of Integration of the Disabled (BSEIPH) in Port-au-Prince, a city heavily affected by the 2010 earthquake.
Elius chose to use his program to empower women because women, in particular, are looked down upon for being disabled in Haiti. “Women are the most vulnerable in the Haitian society. Though they have a lot of responsibilities, they are often rejected or humiliated because of their disabilities,” Elius said.
Through training and empowering women with disabilities, Elius hopes that a new generation of leaders will emerge.
The women were taught business, leadership, and communications skills. Many prominent speakers came and talked with them about their goals and abilities, including Gerald Oriol, Jr., Haiti’s Secretary of State for the Integration of the Disabled; and Mrs. Jennifer Noisette, U.S. Embassy Haiti’s Cultural Affairs Officer.
Mercilia Aurélus is one of these women. Aurélus is a wife and mother of two. To support her family, she manages a business that sews linens for homes, called Mercilia Bel kay. There’s one thing - she lost 4 fingers on her right hand.
Empowering Haitian Women allowed her to improve her managerial and communication skills, and increase her income. She learned how to manage a budget, about liquidity, gross salary versus net salary, and profit and loss.
The program was Aurélus’ first experience with other women living with disabilities. “I was surprised to see the full potential, the courage, and the determination of these women,” Aurélus said.
Aurélus also saw the psychological benefits of Empowering Haitian Women. “With the new business skills, these women will be more mentally prepared to face their financial issues, start a business, or even get a job. This is a new start in their life,” she said.
Guerrier Marie Julie is a woman with a strong mind and conviction, who has had her left arm amputated. She left Empowering Haitian Women with a business plan to create a grocery store, Merci Jesus Provision Alimentaire.
In those two weeks, Julie had drafted a business plan, learned the role and importance of credit, and how to create and manage a budget. She also learned about entrepreneurship and leadership.
“It was a healthy and pleasant environment where 40 women with disabilities got together to network and learn new skills related to entrepreneurship, communication, and leadership,” Julie said.
By the completion of the program, each of the 40 participants had created her own business plan, ultimately increasing her autonomy, financial security, and independence. A graduation ceremony was held at the end of the two weeks, on September 20, 2015. With the continued support from their mentors and each other, Elius is certain these women, and therefore the next generation, will succeed.
Each of the 40 women who attended Empowering Haitian Women put her entire heart into the program. They worked tirelessly, building lasting partnerships with each other, and their work is already paying off. Five women have already started sewing businesses after receiving a donation of sewing machines from Klaus Langauer. Four women are receiving scholarships to learn English, a skill that will make them very competitive on the Haitian job market. And all 40 of these women are now empowered with the skills and mentality to succeed.
Elius has no plans of stopping. He hopes to expand Empowering Haitian Women across Haiti, giving women and girls the tools they need to create successful lives for themselves and their families.