Wildcat rebuilds Haiti


Melvin Bui

Michaud posing for a picture infront of Plumas Hall, Chico State.

Jean Chrislot Michaud, a Chico State sophomore, was lounging on the roof of a cement building in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. The time was 8:20 a.m. on Aug. 14. An ominous noise jolted him awake. It was a huge, 7.2 magnitude earthquake that destroyed homes and businesses, leaving hundreds of thousands in peril.

“The cement building was shaking and people were trying to use cement stairs to escape the building, but I told them it wasn’t safe,” Michaud said. “We waited for a while and then it was safe to use the stairs.” He said people are sleeping outside because they’re afraid of aftershocks. 

Michaud had traveled to Haiti two and a half months earlier to host a summer camp. His Chico-based nonprofit, Sharing Blessings To Others seeks to give Haitian children the opportunity for an education. Michaud was wary of the assassination of the Haitian president that happened on July 7, 2021 but knew that the camp would have to go on. 

Michaud spent his entire childhood in Haiti. Going to school was a struggle for him and his four siblings. There were times where Michaud had to reuse old notebooks, be sent home for not paying tuition or not having a uniform to wear. “I knew that I wasn’t living a good life, and wanted better,” he said. “I knew that if I wanted to help people, I had to leave the country.” 

He grew up in a shanty town. Christianity was a way to keep Michaud out of trouble and in the right state of mind. He was born into a religious family with a strong moral code. Debi Moore, Michaud’s host mom, said Michaud was her English interpreter when she visited Haiti as a nurse with Samaritans Purse during the 2010 cholera epidemic. “I quickly realized that the education system over there was not ideal,” Moore said. “I just wanted to give him the opportunity to come here and just make a difference with his life.”

Michaud and his host mom, Debi Moore posing for a picture. (Jean Chrislot Michaud)

Michaud arrived in Chico in December 2014. He was 23. It was his first time leaving Haiti. It took him two years to get the visa that allowed him to pursue an education — Michaud’s version of the American dream. 

Moore said Michaud had never been on a plane before so she hired a chaperone to meet him at the airport, but that didn’t work. Michaud was lost at the airport in Haiti until he handed his phone to an airport clerk to speak with his host mom. 

“I don’t know what happened, the ball got dropped and so he was on his own,” Moore said. “We were just waiting to hear from him, and I picked up the phone and talked to this man and he said, ‘I just want to let you know that I helped him to the gate he’s supposed to go to and he’s getting on the correct plane.’”

Michaud is a computer information systems major. He started taking computer programming classes with no prior computer experience — the first time he ever used a computer was in Chico. Computer classes were dreadful to him at first, but Michaud has persisted, using what he learned to build his nonprofit’s website.

Michaud posing in front of his major’s department building on Sept. 10, 2020. (Melvin Bui)

He was grateful for all of the amenities that his host mom shared. Now he yearns to provide the children of Haiti with the same  basic necessities: water, school supplies and educational opportunities.

His nonprofit, Sharing Blessings To Others, started as a proposal. It turned into reality with the help of his host parents and people from the Chico Community Church. The nonprofit’s name was inspired by Bible verse 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 — “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

The organization started in 2017, but did not obtain official nonprofit status until May 8, 2020. 

People have to pay for an education in Haiti, so Michaud wants to provide a space. He envisions a place to relax, learn and eat two meals per day. This has proven hard to do since the nonprofit can’t afford a permanent location. So Michaud started looking for a campsite. He funded the first summer camp with donations and the profits from reselling handcrafted necklaces, bracelets, purses and clothing.

“Safety is our priority because we are working with kids,” Michaud said. “Working with kids requires a lot of thought, like thinking beyond yourself.”

This year’s summer camp included 200 children from Cite Soleil, Haiti, and 30 staff: teachers, counselors and advisers. 

“We do the summer camp a few weeks before school starts and give kids supplies, so they don’t have to buy it,” Michaud said. “We were the only group doing these social events for kids. If summer camp was longer, we would have about 500 people.” 

The children spent time engaging in Bible study. They also spent time drawing, dancing, learning new languages or accessing computers. 

Nicolas Jackson, vice president of Sharing Blessings To Others, is a childhood friend. He was skeptical of this year’s summer camp because of the assassination and political turmoil, but the two made alternate plans in case something bad happened. The plan was to condense a week’s worth of activities into one day. 

“We had to have a plan B, in case we can’t have a full week of camp,” Jackson said.

Haiti was already in strife from past earthquakes, a national hunger crisis and the recent presidential assasination. The earthquake made things worse. However, the alternate plan came in handy. The children of Cite Soleil went to summer camp the Monday after the earthquake to have some fun. It started late because of road closures, but the kids still came.

Jackson handles domestic affairs in Haiti while Michaud handles international affairs from Chico. He said Haiti needs a long-term goal or solution to poverty because all of the first aid and food donated only last a few weeks. 

“We need shelter,” Jackson said. “People need somewhere to sleep at night. There’s no doctors or nurses. Supplies from the organizations only go to the big cities and don’t go to the places where cars can not go, only donkeys. A lot of people are dying.”

Although Michaud now lives thousands of miles away from Haiti, he keeps in contact with family and friends and visits annually.

“I was happy to be there and be able to help my family during those experiences, difficulties because if I was here it would be much farther,” Michaud said. “I was there to support my family psychologically. 

Melvin Bui can be reached at [email protected] or @Melvinbuii on Twitter.