By Elizabeth Rush ’11
Jan. 12, 2010, was the 150th anniversary of the School of Law and Economics Sciences at Haiti’s State University, and students were given the day off to celebrate. It was a fortunate coincidence.
Just before 5 p.m. the earthquake hit, and the school collapsed. Shultz D’Meza Pierre Louis, a fourth-year economics student, was traveling home.
“I was riding in a Tap Tap. Then the earth was shaking for 35 seconds,” Pierre Louis said. “I got out of the car and there were so many accidents. Everywhere – dusty and confusing. I saw many people with their hands in the air. They think we are in a war, so they are trying to show that they surrender. We Haitians are used to storms, hurricanes, floods, but we did not know what that was. We had heard of earthquakes, but we never lived through one.”
In less than a minute Pierre Louis lost nearly everything: his home, his school, his church. Just months away from graduating, he also lost the promise of a good job that would help him support his sister and illiterate mother.
Half a world away, in Hooksett, N.H., School of Business Alumna Annette Tuttle ’84 and ’87 was going about her daily business. In less than a month’s time, she would change Pierre Louis’ life.
Meditations in an Emergency
Following the quake, Pierre Louis and his family lived on the streets of Port-au-Prince.
“When it rained, we woke and waited for the rains to pass,” Pierre Louis said. “And some animals come in the night and they eat our things. Rats, cockroaches, dogs, snakes. They eat everything. I was crying sometimes because I do not know how I can take care of my family.”
During the day, Pierre Louis, who is fluent in Creole, English, Spanish and French, walked to various fringe communities in search of work as a translator. First he went to the U.S. Marine Corps camp. When nothing came of his hours and days jockeying with the thousands of others who had flocked there hoping for employment, he ventured to the British Red Cross camp in Pétion-Ville, a wealthy suburb. At first he was afraid; he had heard that a person might be attacked or persecuted simply for looking too poor or like a thief. But fear led to anger.
“When I got to the British Red Cross, I had my resume in my hands and was confident that the guard at the gate would let me in to give it to the secretary. But he didn’t let me pass. He was only taking resumes from his family or for bribes,” Pierre Louis said.
Pierre Louis speaks of his walk back into the city as one of the lowest moments of his life.
“I was cursing God, saying, ‘I don’t believe in you anymore.’ I knew I was qualified for a job with the Red Cross. And I had thought I would be accepted. But they wouldn’t even look at me. My hope fell down,” he said.
That night Pierre Louis’ mother heard American missionaries were setting up a medical clinic in her cousin’s village. Before the sun rose the next morning, Pierre Louis was on his way.
When he arrived at 6 a.m., there were already many translators assisting the Americans. Pierre Louis stayed to receive treatment for his malaria. Tuttle was offering prayers to the clinic’s patients. When she realized Pierre Louis was fluent in English and a Christian, she asked for his help translating her prayers into Creole.
Close to Home
When the quake struck, Tuttle joined members of Vision International Mission, which was facilitating health clinics around Port-au-Prince.
“The destruction was devastating,” she said. “I had never seen anything like it in my life – hundreds of thousands of people in the street, buildings collapsed, everywhere the smell of trash and death, fires burning, people sitting on the road. It wasn’t the most opportune time to go to Haiti, and then again it really was.”
Tuttle spent her fourth day with Pierre Louis. Together they lifted up the spirits of those who had lost so much. When she returned to New Hampshire, she could not keep him from her thoughts.
“My son Phil, like Shultz, was in his final semester of college. And it made me wonder, what if Phil lost his school, his home, his church? I really hoped that someone would help him,” she said.
So Tuttle organized her church group to start praying for Pierre Louis and raising money. Then she went to Paul LeBlanc, SNHU’s president, to see about
Agent of Change
LeBlanc described the meeting as fruitful.
“When Annette approached me, she provided an opportunity to put a face on the crisis and to reach out and help an individual in a way that aligned with SNHU’s mission: to educate people and change the world,” he said.
Within a matter of months, Pierre Louis was enrolled in SNHU’s Global MBA program.
“I want to be a real agent of change in Haiti,” Pierre Louis said. “That’s why studying economics is so important. It is almost always about money. In Haiti, the resources are limited but our needs are unlimited.”
Pierre Louis has begun to live his dream.
“I couldn’t require better,” he said. “I am always well dressed, and rested, and I even have to count my calories. I am way bigger than when I was in Haiti, and I am getting stronger – mentally and physically. When I return to Haiti, I will be able to help my island develop.”
In the meantime, Pierre Louis has become an honorary member of the Tuttle family.
“It has been tremendous seeing our life through his eyes,” Tuttle said. “It makes me slow down and see the unbelievable blessing of living here.”
For Pierre Louis and Tuttle, 2011 will be marked by opportunity. It will be a year where almost anything is possible, where the world is rich with promise.