By Randie Ellington
On Tuesday Jan. 12, 2010, a little over three years ago, at 4:53 p.m., a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, 16 miles from its capital city of Port Au Prince. In less than 45 seconds, more than 200,000 people were killed.
One of the survivors, Séphora Pierre-Louis, found herself mourning for the family and friends that she lost, while simultaneously contemplating her own future. “That evening I was miserable – I just sat down and cried. I thought about what happened, but most of all I thought about what I should do next,” she said.
Years late, this is the first time that Pierre-Louis has been able to take a quiet moment for deep reflection and to think deeply about her life and how it can be more meaningful.
Times have been difficult and stressful, she said, but she has embraced a philosophy that gives her strength: “Every experience has a lesson. Every situation has a silver lining.”
Finding good in the midst of adversity is nothing new for Pierre-Louis. Though her family was middle class by Haitian standards, she has had to struggle to get an education. The young woman graduated from high school at 18 with secretarial and typing diplomas. She worked at night while taking undergraduate study classes.
At the age of 19, hshe lost mother who died at 45, leaving the young woman to care for her 9 year-old brother, while continuing her own studies.
She also learned to speak English, and Spanish, in addition to her mother tongues of French and Creole.
She eventually graduated from college, attained career successes and a family. She won a scholarship at Mills College in Oakland, where she is now studying for a masters in business administration. When she graduates, she plans to return to Haiti and launch a non-profit organization that provides business and entrepreneurial skills to help empower others to build self-sustaining lives.
“Businesses and industries in Haiti face many obstacles including low education levels and poor money management,” she said, “My calling is to provide the skills, knowledge and tools to be self sustainable.”
She is a member of Imani Community Church, which helped strengthen her yearning to make a difference in the world. She also joined and became an active leader in Toastmasters International.
In 2003, Pierre-Louis joined the Flamboyant Toastmasters International (TI) club in Haiti to overcome her shyness.
She earned Toastmasters’ highest education achievement, the Distinguished Toastmaster, in six years. She is member of two Bay Area Toastmasters clubs and serves as club coach for a third
She and her husband Verlaine are members of Heart2Heart, an Advanced Toastmasters club that focuses on communication in relationships. Recently, she placed first in the Laugh Lovers Comedy Club Toastmasters International Speech Contest.
“Toastmasters has been a great way to share all that has happened in my life and to use my experiences to help others,” she said. Pierre-Louis will represent her club at the Area D-30 Speech Contest on Thursday, March 21 at Vo’s Restaurant in Oakland at 7 p.m. For more information call: (510) 832-2628 Ext 230.