Haitian visitor brings message of hope


Grace Mottley

Founder of Haitian school St. Rose de Lima Gaby Thelus speaks to a class of juniors. Thelus gave an inspiring speech about hope and creating an impact in his community.

Gathering around the table, Gaby Thelus, the founder of a Haitian school, sings a song in Creole to bless our meal and our day. His words wash over the teachers’ lounge, and we fall silent. Starting to eat, he shares his experiences in Haiti. His words drive a knife through the hearts of those in the room.

On Feb. 17, a message of hope and social justice came from Haiti for students and teachers. Thelus spoke to religion and environmental science classes. He explained how he overcame poverty, received an education, and returned to Haiti to start a school that would transform not only the lives of hundreds of children, but the fabric of the town.

The main message is to try to change. I mostly speak about myself and where I come from, and how I used that to try to change my life and change others. One person can create change. ”

— Gaby Thelus

Thelus built the school, St. Rose de Lima,  from the ground up, and it is now the heart of his community in Jacsonville, Haiti. “Before we started, there was nothing at all. There was no center for the community. If you go to Google, and you google Jacsonville, Haiti, the dot [marking the town] is exactly on the building of the school. It is the center of Jacsonville, exactly,” Thelus said.

Not only does St. Rose de Lima provide children with an education, but it generates projects that help the community. The school provides children with a lunch every day, and it is “often the only meal many of [the children] receive each day,” Thelus said.

The school also teaches kids how to farm, and it grows a plant called meringue. “it is a magic tree, that can help the people who are malnourished and have a lack of vitamins, when you eat from it, you get a lot of vitamins, Thelus said. “It’s just one of the ways that we are trying to make people healthier, so they can learn better.”

St. Rose de Lima also provides medical attention to the children. Every year, the school board brings medical students to Jacsonville for almost two months to examine and treat students and members of the village. “People started coming to the clinic, and the doctors started seeing 150 people a day. The doctors only stay for seven weeks, this is why I’m trying to see if we can get a permanent clinic,” Thelus said.

Thelus’ work carries a significant influence on the community. “People even call me the mayor, but I don’t want that title,” Thelus said.

Thelus overcame adversity to create such a positive change in his town. He was born and grew up in Jacsonville. His family was destitute, but his father valued education and encouraged Thelus to attend school and continue on to high school, which was a rare undertaking for students in Jacsonville. “Not a lot of the other children went to high school, but I did,” Thelus said.

Thelus walked almost six miles every day to attend the local school. In sixth grade, Gaby had to attend a different school, which was, according to Thelus, twenty miles away from his home. He would walk twenty miles one way, spend the week at school, then walk another twenty miles to go back and spend the weekend at home with his family.

Thelus finished high school, but was not able to immediately attend the local university, as he was unable to afford it. Then, four years after finishing high school, a delegate from the Archdiocese of Virginia visited Jacsonville and offered to fund his college education.

He attended Virginia Tech in 1992, and received a bachelor’s degree in agronomy, the study of farming. After graduating, Thelus was faced with a serious decision: to stay in America and create a life for himself or to return home and help his village and his people.

Thelus has created an impact in his town, but he wants to create an impact with students at JC as well. “[When I speak to students] the main message is to try to change. I mostly speak about myself and where I come from, and how I used that to try to change my life and change others. […] One person can create change,” Thelus said.

Students who saw Thelus’ presentation were impacted by it. “It was really inspiring. I took away that more than just money will help [Haiti], and that education is why they are moving forward,” junior Caleb Olsen said.

Teachers agree, and wish that Gaby had been able to visit every class. “It was so powerful, and my kids were very impacted by it,” Campus Minister Michelle Sullivan said.

Grace Mottley is a News Editor for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.