29-year-old Sherley Philistin owns and operates her own catering business in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where she lives with her one-and-a-half year old son. Sherley was born in a rural area of Haiti where her parents were farmers; but she moved into the city to attend school and live with her aunty, who Sherley says, “was my mother … It was her who did the big things with me, not my parents.” Both her parents and her aunt chipped in to help pay for her school, but life was not easy. Sherley recalls going to school hungry and getting up early every morning to study before the electricity ran out, explaining, “Living in Port-au-Prince without your parents, with an aunty to sometimes give you money to buy food or the books; and sometimes you go to school without eating something …. Survival’s a big, big challenge, not only for me, for a lot of girls and women in Haiti. Studying in Haiti is not easy. You have to study without electricity, without light. To wake up every morning to study before a blackout …. It’s a challenge.”
Sherley went on to graduate not only from high school, but also from the well-known hotel management school, Ecole Hoteliere d’Haiti. She was also one of 27 women selected to participate in a 22-day training course in hotel management at the Arizona School of Management. “We have the best teachers in the world,” Sherley added with a smile, “they trained us to make more money and how to grow our businesses.” Sherley recalls with pride how she started and grew her catering business: “I began with $500 dollars and three people. Now I have more than 10 people, I organize ceremonies with more than 400 people, and I have my Facebook page. I organized the opening of the [Cine] Triomphe [the first cinema to open in Haiti in five years].”
Still, being a female small-business owner is not always easy. “When you want to create a business in Haiti there are more difficulties when you are woman,” Sherley explains. It can be particularly hard for women to raise the capital needed to start a business, with banks less likely to loan to them, Sherley adds.
Sherley notes that none of her successes would have been possible without access to family planning, explaining, “I plan to become a big entrepreneur from Haiti, but to do it I must do family planning.” According to Sherley, access to family planning is “important because … life in Haiti is very difficult … but when you have one child, you can do something; you can work. It’s better, I think.” Sherley does not plan to have any more children after her son, explaining, “I want to give the possibility to my son to have a better education. When I use family planning, it’s the right path to educate my son. It’s very important to have a better life.” Sherley chose the three-year contraceptive implant as her method of family planning.
When asked what her biggest fear is, Sherley replies, “I don’t want to fail.” She plans to continue growing her catering business and to start a school of her own to teach young women in Haiti about tourism. She also plans to include education on family planning for her students, adding, “I can talk to them about family planning. Why? Because it’s very important.” Sherley adds that her one wish would be, “A better life for my county. A better life for the women living in Haiti.”
“I began with $500 dollars and three people. Now I have more than 10 people, I organize ceremonies with more than 400 people, and I have my Facebook page.”