Women's eNews names Josette Perard
Leader for the 21st Century
— By Courtney Martin
(NEW YORK Jan. 1, 2006) Women's eNews announces today its 21 Leaders for the 21st Century 2006: women and one man who are dedicating their lives to improving the lives of all women at home, in the workplace, in school and on the playing field.
Out of a pool of hundreds of impressive candidates nominated during the past several months, these 21 determined and passionate trailblazers stand out for their extraordinary visions and commitment to working on behalf of women. Josette Perard, Haiti Director of the Lambi Fund of Haiti, was one of the award winners.
Perard PhotoJosette Perard, Haiti's Center Pole
Josette Perard's heart has never been anywhere but her home, Haiti. Her great laugh and greater works, though, have affected the lives of thousands elsewhere.
At 25 years old, faced with the daily threat of violence in Haiti, she went to the Congo (now Zaire) to help women adjust to their new lives, finally free of colonialism. She was given the opportunity to go because they needed French-speaking social workers.
Six years later, she left "those troubled, but strong African women," as she puts it, to take up residence in New York City.
She went to school and pursued accounting to support her two young boys, who adjusted quickly to the United States. But Perard never felt like she belonged despite 20 years of living in the city. "New York is a city where you have to be young and grow there," she says. "I was always waiting to go back to my Haiti."
After two decades as an accountant in New York, Perard finally got her homecoming.
In 1987, after president Jean-Claude Duvalier fled, she returned to still-turbulent Haiti and embarked on a lifelong dream of providing social work in her native land. After a chaotic U.S.-installed military regime, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president in 1990. Most of his term was usurped by a military coup d'etat (i.e. more violence), but he returned to office in 1994, the same year that Perard co-founded the Lambi Fund of Haiti in Port au Prince, a nonprofit created to help poor women create economically and environmentally sustainable communities throughout Haiti.
Today the Lambi Fund of Haiti has supported over 100 projects throughout Haiti's nine regional departments with foundational support and private donors.
These days, Perard spends most of her time organizing regional groups of women to create self-sustaining agricultural and community projects.
Most recently, for example, the Lambi Fund of Haiti helped a rural community build its own sugar cane mill, which provides jobs and income to local workers. Before that, community members — mostly single mothers — walked miles and paid exorbitant prices charged by a rich landowner who controlled the other local mill. "When the situation is bad where I live and I'm concerned, I go on location," Perard says, "and when I meet the women my spirit goes up."
Women, Perard believes, are the heart of Haiti, especially given that violence has left so many families fatherless. "In a voodoo temple," she says, "there is a pole in the middle and everything goes around that pole. The women are that pole in Haitian society."