Paul Aladin remembers it snowing in October. When he arrived in the United States in 1994, “My first question was, what is this? Somebody tell me, this is called snow. I heard that word in my country many times but never figured out what it is.”
Paul was just 25 when he made the decision to leave his parents and seven younger siblings in Haiti and come to the Midwest, but it is clear that he approaches life with an inner balance not even harsh North Dakota winters can shake: “It does not mean that snow is a bad thing, it means that this is how the temperature is in this part of the world.”
Paul was joined by his brother Ricot for a conversation during StoryCorps’ visit to Fargo. Paul is the founder of United Hearts for Haiti, an organization working to build schools in and around his hometown. Improving education is, he says, “the number one priority,” the first step toward healing a traumatic history.
“Where I come from, there are kids that walk two hours to go to school. My mom would stay without a pair of sandals to give us a pair of shoes,” explains Ricot. “Being born in Haiti, if you go to school, you are lucky.”
Paul adds: “My dad always tried to teach us life will be different tomorrow. He always taught: if I have a horse today, you will have a car tomorrow. If I got a car tomorrow, you will have a plane tomorrow…He said, if you got a dollar, always give somebody 25 cents. Your life will be longer. You will live more peacefully if you always give.”
Since the earthquake in January, Paul’s visits to Haiti are frequent and his goals expanded. In the next 10 years, he hopes to get 18 schools started in communities across Haiti’s southern provinces. Ricot is finding his own ways of engaging people through music, the power of which he demonstrated in the booth. Listen to Ricot sing his original song “Give a Hand.”
Paul likes to say he “speaks with the voice of the people,” and it isn’t hard to imagine he’s right. “I know how you feel when you’re hungry. I know how you feel when you’re thirsty,” he says, and he isn’t just talking about hunger for food.
“Whatever you are, whoever you are, we can work together…We can still ask questions about how we can do things better,” he says. “Right here where we live, we got people with a need. The need is not only in Haiti. It is here, too.”