ALLOUEZ — When Golds Mithe Joseph was growing up in Mirebalais, Haiti, with her two brothers, her sister and her mother, she loved school, even when she had to go to middle school and high school in another town about 20 miles away from home.
Golds also loved doing community service, even cleaning streets. That service and her grades gained her a United States Agency for International Development scholarship. The scholarship brought her to Wisconsin in 2013, to earn a business administration degree at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau.
“I was happy but scared,” Golds said about coming to the Badger State.
However, she found other scholarship students at the school, from Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador.
Freezing in August
“American culture is a different culture — and the weather,” she said. “I had to learn. I came here in August and I was freezing all the time.”
Golds soon adapted and even ended up touring the ice caves on Lake Superior. She also learned about American football and now says the Green Bay Packers are her favorite team.
Upon her return to Haiti, she was hired by Hands and Hearts with Haiti (HHH), a Catholic lay group started in the Green Bay Diocese to twin with a parish in Haiti. That parish is Golds’ home parish: St. Louis Parish in Mirebalais, which also has chapel communities in two other towns.
The parish oversees Msgr. Remy Augustin College High School in Mirebalais, which offers both middle school and high school classes, the chapel of Our Lady of Deliverance in Noyau — which is also used for preschool and primary grades. (They also serve the village of Boyer.)
HHH includes members from St. Matthew Parish in Allouez and Assumption BVM Parish in Broadview Heights, Ohio. Members from other parishes, such as Assumption BVM Parish in Pulaski and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Green Bay also help.
In Haiti, Golds works with education programs, youth and women’s groups, the clean water project and assists Fr. Leveque Bien-Aime, pastor of St. Louis. Her salary is paid for by HHH. At the end of October, she was in Green Bay to visit local schools and parishes and update HHH members.
“I work as a community development manager,” she said in an interview with The Compass. “We have a youth group where we train youth to believe in themselves and the Haitian culture. So we teach Haitian dance, Haitian arts — especially macramé.”
Mary Van Den Heuvel of St. Matthew Parish in Green Bay said, “When members of our group (visited Golds in Wausau), we were impressed with her response to the question, ‘What is your goal when you return to Haiti?’ She said she wanted to work with the youth in her country — getting them to move from the ‘I’ to the ‘We.’ She wanted them to understand that, by working together, positive change could occur in their communities.”
To market on motorcycle
At her parish in Mirebalais, Golds also works with women to develop home-based businesses through which they sell food, drink or animals at home or in local markets — some of which are as far as 90 minutes away by motorcycle, the main means of transportation.
Golds also oversees a microloan program which gives business loans to these women, while helping them set up budgets and savings plans. Her dream is that the group will one day be run by the women themselves.
“The women, I’m so proud of them,” she said, sharing the story of “one of the youngest ones, Linda.” Linda, who still attends high school, sold cold drinks during summer vacation. She was not a candidate for a microloan during the school year, because she attended classes during the day. However, last year, Linda insisted that she could continue to run a business by selling drinks after school and on weekends.
“So she convinced me,” said Golds, “and I gave her half the money that I would give to the other women. This year, before school started, she came in and told me that she was able to contribute to her tuition, just because she had the microloan. So that was something that made me proud.”
Golds’ work on the water program in Mirebalais is also critical. She explained that there is a local well and a water purification system, but water is only piped to the parish area, not homes. People need to come to the office with buckets to get water. Golds also teaches people about using the safe water.
“In this community, they didn’t have clean water before so that means that they were exposed to cholera or other sicknesses,” she said. “When we got the clean water, they are able to better themselves, because it’s safe.”
128 students in one room
Her biggest dream is expansion in the education area. In Noyau, the school is one large room, divided up for classes totaling 128 students. In Mirebalais, there are presently a total of 172 students. Some of the classes for high school are held in a tent.
“When I was going to school, they didn’t have the middle school or high school,” Golds recalled. Most young people studied for “a couple of years. Now (with a local secondary school), they are the best students.”
She explained that, besides regular classes — there is no electricity in the town of Noyau, so there are no computers — they also try to teach vocational skills.
This is in part why the macramé classes for students are so important now.
“If they learn to make a bracelet or sandals, the students can sell it,” Golds said. “The goal, when the school (expansion) is done, to have a vocational school to teach carpentry, sewing, arts class and dance, so students can learn while they are in high school. That’s where we can make a difference. Sometimes they don’t have the opportunity to go to university when they are done with high school. So, if they can do something (vocational), they might want to work for a year or so and save money so they can start going to the university.”
Van Den Heuvel explained that Golds came to Green Bay for the October visit so HHH could “spend more time learning about what is working and how we can help the people in our twinning parish move toward a life of self-sufficiency and fulfillment.”
While in the area, Golds was also able to share information about the efforts to build a school building at Noyau and to replace the chapel there with a church building. While in Green Bay, she met with students at Aldo Leopold School and hopes to establish pen pals between its students and those in Noyau.
Education is where Golds hopes to focus her efforts, whether that is schools, youth programs, clean water awareness or women’s programs.
“My main point is education,” she said. “Education goes into a lot of things.”