How an Earthquake-Affected Haitian Teenager is Rebuilding Life in US

The World

Jardonna Constant. (Photo: Alex Gallafent)

In 2010 we profiled a Haitian teenager who'd arrived in the US in the wake of the major earthquake that devastated her country. Now, on the eve of the earthquake's 3rd anniversary, The World's Alex Gallafent speaks with Jardonna Constant again to find out how she's been building a new life in the United States.
Rapid progress

When we met for the first time Constant spoke, in French, about the dramatic shift in her life:

"After the earthquake I started going to school under a tent," she recalled. "Then, without any warning, my aunt called me to tell me I was coming to the States. She was sending for me."

Now Constant speaks in fluent, accented English.

"Yes," she says. "Because when you come here young you learn very quickly."

Over the last couple of years, Jardonna has been on something of a tear. Back in 2010, it wasn't clear what the future would hold. She was living with her aunt in Brooklyn (the borough is home to many Haitians) and she held only a tourist visa. Since there was little chance of her returning to Haiti, there was a concern that she might end up living here undocumented.

By the end of that year, though, she'd already taken a big step forward by winning a place at a Manhattan high school that specializes in helping immigrant kids catch up. Constant graduated in June. Her aunt became her legal guardian here in the US, too, leading to arguably the most consequential change in her status: a green card.

'After the quake'

Darnell Benoit has known Jardonna since she arrived in 2010. Benoit runs the Flanbwayan Haitian Literacy Project here in New York, a community group for young immigrants from Haiti.

"I'm so excited for her," she says "because the thing she wanted the most she got, because I know it's really hard to be here undocumented."

After the earthquake, Benoit was seeing new Haitian kids turn up at Flanbwayan every day. Things have quietened down a bit, but everything in Haiti is still, as she puts it 'after the quake'. Newcomers are still arriving, moving in with family members who are already here; not all of them do as well as Constant.

"We see many other young people that are in her situation and that [progress] didn't happen. So she's special, basically."

One of the things Benoit's youth organization does is to encourage Haitian teenagers to look beyond the confines of the community. The community is necessary, but not sufficient. Jardonna Constant has already flown the nest: in September she began community college in Queen's. Thanks to her green card, she's eligible for financial aid. Right now, she's studying international relations.

Choosing a career

"I wanted to be a diplomat," she says. "[But] when I told my parents, my aunt, my dad everyone, that I was going to choose the major international relations, they told me diplomacy is not for me."

Constant's parents in Haiti want her to pursue a career that will provide sure work, and enable her to make a financial contribution to the family. She speaks French, Creole, English, and a good amount of Spanish. She loves the idea of traveling and translating for a living. But she'll be changing her major next semester.

"The diplomacy has turned into nursing, so I'm really confused."

It's a challenge, but hardly greater than any of the challenges Jardonna Constant's had to face already. Darnell Benoit is confident about her prospects.

"The beginning's always tough, you know. Once she's done with the school and … as she gets older, I think she has a very, very bright future ahead."