Endless possibilities abound when you follow your passion.
A prime example of this fact can be found in the life and work of 24-year-old Elmont native, Rachalie Barthelemy, whose passion led her to join forces with family and friends to create a nonprofit organization that offers health, education, and inspiration services to underdeveloped regions of Haiti.
Rachalie Barthelemy is a 24-year-old proud member of the Elmont community. Growing up, she attended St. Boniface Elementary School until its closing in 2004. Barthelemy then transferred to St. Catherine’s of Sienna Elementary School in Franklin Square, New York for 8th grade and then attended Holy Trinity Diocesan High School until she graduated in 2009.
As an undergraduate, Rachalie graduated with a Major in American Sign Language and a Minor in Social Psychology at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York. She, since then, has gone on to pursue her Master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences (MBS) at Rutgers University.
We caught up with Rachalie to discuss Keys of the Heart, Inc. — its mission, what inspires her, the importance of Millennials taking action, and her work to ensure a quality education for students of an all-girls school in Leogane, Haiti.
Words and interview questions by Karl Valere of The Elmont Excelsior. Answers by Rachalie Barthelemy, CEO & Founder of Keys of the Heart, Inc.
What is Keys of the Heart?
Keys of the Heart Inc., otherwise known as KOTHI, is a nonprofit organization that aims to provide support, accompaniment, and services to all people, but most specifically the underprivileged people of New York and Leogane, Haiti. In Leogane, our main purpose is to gradually enhance all aspects of development within this town and thus establish self-sufficiency and communal prosperity among the people who live there. As Kothiknights, it is our duty to serve those in need and inspire others — most especially the younger generations — to be the voice and the effective driving force that creates positive change in the lives of others locally, nationwide, or on a global scale, while pursuing their own personal passions. Furthermore, we Kothiknights take pride in cultural diversity and strongly emphasize the importance of embracing the many ethnicities which make up this world.
How does your work in Leogane trace back to your roots in the Elmont community?
Being born a Haitian-American has allowed me to appreciate and share a love for both Haiti and the United States. Every opportunity that I witness but most importantly experience, as a result of being born an American, pushes me to find ways to provide a similar source of opportunity to those living in Leogane — which happens to be the hometown my mother and her family grew up in Haiti.
This drive that I have to strive for such a feat in Leogane partly stems from my attachment and love towards my hometown of Elmont. The opportunities which Elmont has provided for me are opportunities people in Leogane would certainly thrive off of. And the great potential that I see for Elmont’s future is associated with the great potential that I see for the town and people of Leogane. I honestly want what’s best for them both and therefore, I will continue to work towards doing so for as long as I live.
Describe Elmont in one sentence.
Elmont — in my eyes — is a phenomenal, potential-filled town filled with a beautiful, diverse melting pot of strong, passionate and intellectual individuals.
Why is Education and Health in Haiti so important?
Obtaining high-quality Education and Healthcare in Haiti is of utter importance because these are human rights, deserving of the Haitian people. Also, proper education and high-quality health are imperative to the progress and prosperity of Haiti’s future.
At such a young age of 24, what is the source of your passion for this work?
The source of my passion in anything that I do in my life comes from my want for everyone in this world to enjoy this wonderful gift of life that God has willingly chosen to share with us. But to be more specific in regards to starting KOTHI, my passion here was birthed from my love of Haiti and my encounter with a family I hold dear in my heart.
In preparing Soup Joumou, which for those that don’t know is a dish made on New Year’s Day by Haitian’s all around the world meant to inspire new beginnings, good luck and great health, Adeline — whose family I have come to love as my own — had gotten her dress caught on a large pot filled with boiling hot water. Just barely a year old, Adeline suffered major burns, a severe infection (sepsis) and within two weeks and a few days’ time, passed away. Usually, hearing upon such tragedy would bring me to tears instantly. But on the night my mother told me about Adeline’s death, I was truly enraged because stories like Adeline’s are not only a preventable tragedy but a frequent occurrence in Haiti that is just not acceptable for our time. Unfortunately, poor access to high-quality healthcare is not the only developmental issue that in a true sense is “locked” for Haitians residing in Haiti in this day and age. Upon my visit to Haiti in August 2015, I was forcefully reminded that access to food, clean water, high-quality education, adequate housing, proper sanitation, electricity, job opportunities and much more are all locked.
And I had about enough of this.
Coming back home that summer, my desire to make an effective change in Haiti now as opposed to later, whether minimal or monumental, grew until it consumed every part of me. I had ruminated and prayed about what to do with God multiple times, daily, until it finally clicked what He wanted me to do.With God’s help, I became motivated, empowered and inspired to bring back hope, happiness for a country I respect and hold dear to my heart.
And as the Godmother of Jobee—who is Adeline’s younger brother was born a few months after her death—I want a future for my Godson that is filled with opportunity and happiness. Through KOTHI, I aspire to bring about positive change and hope to communities and individuals where none can be seen.
From your experience, what role do ‘Millennials’ play in Haiti’s future?
I believe that Millennials play an important role in providing a prosperous and opportunity-filled future for Haiti. It’s honestly up to us — especially those that have the means and have succeeded in their educational and career goals—to give back and invest our talents and time to those in need in Haiti. It actually is our duty and responsibility to walk alongside, listen and hear the pleas of the people of Haiti and provide opportunities that are non-existent for them in this present time.
If KOTHI could achieve just one major milestone in 2016, what would it be?
If KOTHI could achieve one major milestone in 2016, it would be that we are able to pay school tuition for 10-50 students who can’t afford to at Sainte Rose De Lima School in Leogane.
A special thanks to Rachalie Barthelemy and Keys of the Heart, Inc. for taking time out of their busy schedules in order to make this interview possible. Please visit KOTHI’s website and Facebook page for additional information on how you can support their nonprofit work in Leogane, Haiti.