Thursday, January 26, 2017
Matante - Humans of Espwa
If you have visited Pwoje Espwa, we’re sure you’ve seen the little pink house that sits outside of the Quad. While this home is small and humble, the woman who lives inside has a history that is tremendously important to Pwoje Espwa Sud. This 77-year-old woman is called Matante.
On January 19th, we had the privilege of learning more about Matante’s life, her faith, and her involvement with Pwoje Espwa. She walked into the Quad promptly at 9:30 that morning, decked in a flowery head scarf and ruby red earrings; she was ready to tell her tale.
Matante was born on April 24th, 1939 to her mother and father; they named her Denise Jules. When asked if she had any siblings, the woman laughed quietly and responded that she has one sister and one brother who have different fathers. Her father passed away when she was only 11-years-old from an unknown illness. She paused after explaining this; it was clear that this event had a big impact on her life. Her eyes became glassy as she explained that she was in school when it happened and people came to deliver the news to her that day. After this tragedy, Matante explained that her mom “…suffered a lot. I suffered a lot with her.” It was hard for a single mom to take care of her children, but it became even harder when her mother developed a cardiac illness and passed away when Matante was 21-years-old.
Once her mother passed, Matante’s great aunt welcomed the young orphaned woman into her home. At this point in her life she became involved with a group called “Karismatik” which met to pray for people who were sick. After some time, Matante became the President of “Karismatik.” She was also involved in her church’s choir and was known for her beautiful singing voice. Later in life, Denise served as a community leader in Camp Perrin where she lead a women's group called "Gwoup Fanm." Her involvement in these groups lead the young woman to deepen her relationship with God. We asked Matante if the suffering she experienced in her life ever caused her to doubt her faith. She responded immediately and confidently – No. “God can call or speak to people in different ways.” She expanded on her deep love of prayer and her ever-growing trust in her Heavenly Father.
After a miscarriage, the birth of two daughters, the murder of her husband of 28 years, and the establishment of a school where she taught Kindergarten, Matante found Espwa. She helped Father Marc in Camp Perrin, which is where Pwoje Espwa was founded in 1998. In 1999, she moved with the organization to the city of Les Cayes where she worked with Father Marc to make important decisions about the children. She did all of the work as a house mom for the children as well – cooking, cleaning and educating them. She has been with Espwa since the beginning. She never attempted to negotiate a salary when joining the project; she loved Father Marc's charisma and saw the opportunity as a way to serve others as a Christian.
She was and continues to be respected by many. When asked why she is called “Matante” which means “Aunt” in Creole, the wise woman explained that one of the children that she helped raise in Camp Perrin saw her later in his life. He exclaimed joyfully “Oh, look! It’s my aunt!” He smothered her with an embrace and from that point forward everyone called her “Matante.”
Before Matante left us that morning to reclaim her place outside of her humble home, where she would pass the day humming and caring after her chickens, we asked her what she hopes for all of the children that live at Pwoje Espwa. She answered, “I hope the children become good people and I hope they find opportunities to study. I pray for them all the time.”