Who is Michaud?
Chico >> Better English and education — the keys to Jean Chrislot Michaud’s future were clear.
Raised in a tin shack in Cité Soleil, a shantytown in Port-au-Prince, his life began in one of the poorest and most dangerous slums in the Western Hemisphere. His parents did odd jobs to make ends meet and support their family, but his mother would not let their poverty or Michaud’s stature as a dwarf stand in the way of his schooling, which requires tuition at even the elementary level.
“If you speak English, you can have a better life,” he said. “My goal is to learn better English to share my blessings with the people in Haiti.”
In 2010, devastation struck. The earthquake that killed 220,000 people wreaked havoc across the country and took the lives of some of Michaud’s friends and neighbors, yet he remained upbeat and committed to his future.
While working with as an interpreter for Samaritan’s Purse, he met Chico resident Debi Moore, an emergency medical technician on a mission trip assisting in the post-earthquake cholera outbreak. The two formed an instant bond, working together sometimes for up to 12 hours a day during the 10 days she was there.
“He was the light at the end of my dark day,” she said.
Enamored with Michaud’s personality, drive and sense of humor, Moore kept thinking about him when she came home. They remained in close contact, texting, Facebooking and occasionally Skyping or doing Google hangouts.
“We focused on friends and afterward we would communicate about school,” Michaud said.
Moore and her husband, Jeff Moore, were so impressed with Michaud’s dedication to improving his family’s lives that they wanted to support his education and began paying his tuition. They soon decided he could secure a better education in the United States and discovered a great international program was right near their home, at Butte College.
But it wouldn’t be easy to bring him to Chico. First, his English proficiency had to be evaluated and he had to be interviewed at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti to determine the his intentions in coming to the United States.
Michaud passed with flying colors. Yet it still took two years to finalize the process, because all documentation had to be hand-delivered. Due to the instability of Haiti’s mail system, the Moores would send paperwork overseas with missionaries, who would deliver it to Michaud and bring the necessary documents back to the United States.
Finally, on Dec. 16, he took his first plane flight and was greeted at the airport by the Moores and their dog, Sophie. Traveling airborne would be the first of many new experiences to come.
In the months that followed, Michaud cut his first Christmas tree, learned to swim, and rode a roller coaster. He loves to ride bikes around Chico with the Moores, go to the farmers market and indulge in the occasional Sierra Nevada beer — Summerfest and Nooner being his favorites.
“I’m curious about everything,” the 23-year-old said.
But mostly, he’s focused on school.
With just an eighth grade education, Michaud spent his months here in the American Language and Culture Institute program at Chico State University to improve his English proficiency. With Creole and French as his first languages, he worked Monday through Friday with other international students on reading, writing and speaking, completing the program with a 3.77 grade point average.
He’s the only Haitian in the history of the program, the Moores said. Yet, despite being out of his element, and different from the community in both his race and stature, somehow he seems to fit right in and makes friends wherever he goes.
“They are always asking me questions. Sharing your story with people is always good and you can learn about them too,” Michaud said.
He starts at Butte College on Aug. 24. He plans to take four courses: English, math, psychology and an introduction to college living.
“I am so excited. I can say I am the only one (in my family) who is going to university,” he said. “It makes my family very happy.”
His Visa allows him to stay in the United States through 2019, and he plants to soak up as much schooling as he can until then. He’s not sure if that means pursuing a bachelor’s degree, or simply increasing his knowledge and English skills.
To date, Jeff and Debi Moore have borne almost all of Michaud’s expenses themselves, from his education costs, to his medical and extensive dental needs, plus his transportation and the fees to get him to the United States. His Butte classes cost $265 a unit because he’s an “out of state” student, and having already paid for their own two children’s general education, the Moores said they have begun to struggle with the unexpected expenses.
“We are going to get him involved in fundraising,” Debi Moore said. “We are all going to learn it together.”
Still, they have no regrets.
“Our faith in God led us to believe what we were supposed to do,” Debi Moore said. “You go around once in life, and if you can make a difference, that is what you should do.”
Michaud has also given them an amazing perspective on life.
“We get to see life through his eyes,” she said.
Before he left Haiti, his mother told him to treat the Moores as he would his own parents, and they have become his second family. He knows it will be difficult to return to Haiti, but believes it’s his responsibility to help improve his country.
“I have love here ... I have my heart here and I have my heart in Haiti,” he said. “I have to bring them together.”