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From poverty to proprietor: “They call me ‘Kayiman’ ”

LEOGANE, HAITI — The vivid reptile design on the back window of his “pap-padap” (mini-bus) sets John-Baptiste Joseph apart from other drivers converging on the busy transportation depot on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.

“They call me ‘kayiman [alligator],'” says Joseph, who regularly stops here to pick up passengers commuting to the capital city. He’s become well known as the proprietor of the distinctive vehicle with its soaring reptile, a symbol of the strength and spirit that led to Haiti’s independence.

It’s an apropos image for Joseph, 46, whose hard work and determination have propelled him from the acute poverty of one of Haiti’s most violent slums to becoming an entrepreneur who’s able to support his family.

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“Now we have a future, because I am working,” he says. And that means he and his wife, Lucie, are even able to save a small amount of money after buying rice, milk and spaghetti, and paying for school tuition and buying uniforms and supplies for Lucianna, 15, Rebecca, 14, Pierre, 12, and soon for Ericsson, 3, who will start preschool next month.

“Even if we are sick we can see the doctor,” adds Lucie, 42, who needs regular medication for hypertension, and who now can make sure the children get care when they are ill.

The kayiman design is also a nod to Joseph’s partnership with Antrepriz Vole Kayiman, NFP, (“Flying Alligator”), that has been a catalyst for Joseph’s life transformation.

While it was his dream to launch a transportation business (he’s worked before as a driver and mechanic), VK Haiti found him a mentor to help him develop a plan for a viable business and rallied supporters to invest in his vehicle, fuel, maintenance and other startup costs.

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And in just several months, Joseph has become a preferred transportation provider; many passengers now request to ride in Joseph’s 18-seat Toyota Hiace bus, complete with air-conditioning, a rarity here.

To keep his business going, though, Joseph works extremely long hours, often seven days a week, getting up long before dawn and driving from his home near the southern coast, over steep, rutted mountain roads just to get to the Leogane depot.

But his grueling routine is the result of a smart business decision to target an under-served route. Joseph is also pursuing charter transportation contracts to supplement his commuter income.

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VK Haiti believes in Joseph. And we believe that he’s just one of many who have the potential to take charge of their own destiny and build a self-sustaining future — if they have access to the opportunity to do so.

And we — and Joseph — are grateful for those supporting our efforts to provide those opportunities that can transform lives. And the future for an entire country.

Will you join us in continuing our work for lasting change in Haiti?