Profile of Yasmine Cajuste, Education Coordinator Vincentian Family Haitian Initiative (VFHI)
“Education is very important to Haitian families,” says Yasmine Cajuste, education coordinator for the Vincentian Family Haiti Initiative (VFHI). “They consider education as a way out of poverty.”
Haiti, of course, is a country where millions of families seek an escape from poverty, even more so after the devastating 2010 earthquake. According to UNICEF statistics, only about three- quarters of Haitian children (76.7% of boys and 77.7% of girls) attend primary school between 2008 and 2012.
Cajuste is focused on providing opportunities to children who lack some of the opportunities she has had. She grew up in Haiti and has devoted her career to teaching and education administration. Born in the Congo to Haitian parents, she returned to Haiti in 1982, when she was four years old. After attending Catholic school and university in Haiti, Cajuste worked and studied in Europe and the United States, eventually earning a masters’ degree in educational leadership at De Paul University in Chicago.
Cajuste had her first experience with the Vincentian organization as an undergraduate. After a stint as National Secretary of the Vincentian Marian Youth, she left Haiti in 2003 to live and work in Spain as international president of the Vincentian Marian Youth. The organization, which has a presence in 65 countries, works with children and youth. In 2010, she was reelected for a second five-year term. While working part-time, Cajuste pursued degrees in religious studies in Madrid, and in French at the University of Rouen in France.
She had planned to return to Haiti in 2010, but when the devastating earthquake hit in January that year, she changed course. “Given the situation after the earthquake, it would have been difficult to go back,” says Cajuste. Instead, she moved to Chicago to pursue her masters’ and continue her work with the Vincentian organization.
Since returning to Haiti with the VFHI, she has focused on a school feeding program (currently being offered in 16 schools in Port-au-Prince and the Central Plateau area) that reaches almost 1,700 children. She is planning the launch of a school improvement plan in September.
From the Vincentian Family Haiti Initiative Newsletter