(Post 1 of 2)
This is the 1st blog in a 2-part series. Stay tuned for the next part of the story.
As the plane sped down the runway and began to lift off, a fearful Soso Benoit firmly clasped her hands together, squeezed her eyes shut, and mumbled a prayer for safe passage. This was her first flight in her 36 years of life in rural Haiti, and her first opportunity to visit her family in the United States. Her papers, tucked away in her backpack under the seat in front of her, identified her as a person who was seeking asylum in the United States. It had taken her months to finally obtain these official papers, and now, she was on her way.
The journey for Soso had begun in her home in Arcahaie, the home where she was raised with her siblings. Her family had scraped and saved enough money doing whatever jobs were available over the years, enabling Soso to first attend elementary school, then high school. After a few years of working and saving post high school graduation, she was accepted to a local laboratory technician program. With working, doing her tasks at home, and her new educational demands, Soso had many nights each week with little rest.
Determined to finish, she pushed on, finally completing her requirements and testing to become a documented hospital laboratory technician. Her family was not only proud of her, but was dependent upon her to provide for them, as none of the other people in her home had regular employment. Her search for employment began! The development of her resume, the search for places hiring, and the challenges of transportation made finding a job even more difficult. Days of resume distribution turned into weeks, which turned into months. The prayers of her and her family focused upon their hope of Soso to work and provide for them. They not-so-patiently waited.
From 2016-2018, Soso served her lab tech internship at Hôpital L’Eglise de Dieu Réformée (HEDR). As God would have it, HEDR was expanding services to become a 24/7 facility in 2018, and seeking to expand its laboratory capabilities. After exhibiting her strong work ethic, honesty, and professionalism during her internship, the administration of HEDR unanimously voted to hire Soso as a member of their laboratory team. It was a celebratory time for not only the hospital, but for the Benoit family, as “one of their own” had gained steady employment. They praised the Lord for His goodness!
Soso continued to demonstrate her abilities, and when an opening arose in late 2019, she was again unanimously voted to assume the lead position in the HEDR laboratory. She revamped the scheduling process, developed maintenance logs for the equipment, wrote protocols for various lab procedures, and planned continuing education for her fellow laboratory technicians. During her non-work hours, Soso could often be found back at the hospital sharing extra clothes for patients who had little, or caring for a child who was abandoned at the hospital gate. Once when asked what she liked best about working at HEDR, Soso said she enjoyed working with the HEDR staff because she “loved people who loved people.” Soso loved her work at the hospital, and the patients and staff loved her.
Beginning in 2019, Haiti began experiencing a continuous decline in its infrastructure. Inflation began to escalate, safe travel on the roads was becoming unpredictable, and the availability of goods and services was increasingly questionable. By the latter part of 2022, gangs had nearly seized full control of the main roads between HEDR and Port au Prince, making travel to the capital city to procure personal necessities and hospital supplies extremely dangerous. Shootings became commonplace, and insecurity found its way into the areas surrounding HEDR.
For Soso, the situation was growing increasingly complicated. Many nights, she was forced to extend her work day and sleep at the hospital due to unsafe roads. Eking out even a basic existence was growing increasingly difficult. Violence in surrounding areas escalated, and one of her family members was shot and killed just north of the hospital. Soso’s family encouraged her to apply for asylum to the United States, but she resisted, as she knew her family needed her financial support to meet their basic needs. They prayed together, but Soso still had no clear conscience about attempting to leave her family.
One night, after a long shift at HEDR, Soso returned to her house with her family. Exhausted, she crawled into her bed. That night, as if a revelation, Soso had a very vivid dream about arriving in the United States. It was frightening to her, but after sharing with her family, they felt it was a sign from God that she needed to pursue asylum in the US. More than two months after her dream, and after hours of filing applications, presenting her credentials, and waiting in dimly lit offices, Soso was accepted into the asylum program with passage to the US.
The paperwork was completed for her legal passage, and now her new challenge was to find safe passage to the airport in Port au Prince, along with funding for an airline ticket. Thankfully, her sponsoring family, namely her cousins in Philadelphia, agreed to fund her airline passage. A friend offered her assistance to get to a local wharf and catch a small sailing craft to Port au Prince, thus avoiding the gang blockades along the road.
With all of her belongings in a single suitcase, Soso set off on her journey through the sea. The sea tossed her as she sailed toward in Port au Prince, and her cloth suitcase quickly became soaked with sea water. All of her belongings, inclusive of the Bible given to her as a small child, were drenched. After several hours at sea, she landed, dripping, at the wharf in Port au Prince, and found a motorcycle-taxi to take her to another friend’s house near the airport. She arrived late that evening, and began to dry out her belongings. After a few days recovering with her friends help, she made it to the airport, and boarded the plane for the United States.
The flight to the US was not extraordinarily long, but as a first-time flyer, it seemed an eternity. The landing felt bumpy, but with her eyes still closed, her hands still clasped, and her prayers continuing, she braced herself nervously for her new adventure. The strange surroundings at the US airport accentuated the distance between Soso and her family back in Arcahaie, whom she already dreadfully missed. With memories of her days at the hospital held close in her heart, she was determined to focus on this new beginning.
Next Month’s Blog: Stay tuned to continue following Soso’s journey to her new US life!