Ten years ago Patrick Lafontant was living on the streets. To make matters worse those streets were in the slum district of Carrefour Feuilles, just south-east of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
Patrick's family were so poor they couldn't support him anymore, so for two years in his late teens he survived by exchanging odd jobs for shelter at the homes of various aunts and uncles. When that didn't work, Plan B was sleeping rough.
In a slum.
It's fair to say things were not going well for him.
All that changed in 2008 when Patrick entered a drawing contest organised by our partner APROSIFA. The theme was climate change and violence. Patrick could relate. All those years struggling to survive had given him something to say. Fortunately he also had a not inconsiderable artistic talent to back up that hard-earned experience. Soon Patrick found himself invited to join APROSIFA’s youth club as a student painter, under the tuition of professional Haitian painters no less.
He thrived in a creative environment, producing more art as part of a project to give young people alternatives to gang-related activities, violence and prostitution, and to promote peace, learning and innovation.
After the contest, Patrick’s uncle (presumably an art lover) spotted his potential and invited him to live with him. As a student painter, he was passionate, diligent and dreamt of becoming a well-known artist.
A fairy tale ending for a deserving young talent.
Except we're not done yet, you're no fool, you can see this article's only half done. Unfortunately, that's not the end of Patrick's story.
Two years later, on 12 January, Patrick’s life was picked up, thrown around and shaken to its very core. Measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, the 2010 Haiti earthquake was the worst in living memory. It destroyed or badly damaged nearly 300,000 buildings, killed an estimated 220,000 people and injured 300,000 more.
The house where Patrick lived was totally destroyed. Like 1.5 million fellow Haitians, his family were made homeless in less than a minute.
And Patrick was no where to be found.
For weeks our partners searched for him but to no avail. A month after the quake, they finally found him in a humanitarian camp, miles away in Port-au-Prince. With APROSIFA’s support, Patrick and his family eventually started rebuilding their lives.
And slowly, wonderfully - he began to paint again.
Patrick’s artwork has since gained recognition, both inside and outside his community. He has appeared on national TV and has become respected as a talented artist whose work expresses hope, and gives a voice to the voiceless.
Recently, the Haitian First Lady bought one of his paintings. That's a pretty incredible patron right there.
Patrick, now 30, works as a monitor for students at the APROSIFA centre, teaching painting to new recruits. With the wages from this part-time job and his art, he is now able to support his family.
Reflecting on how far he has come, Patrick says: "I have travelled a lot; my community and other people know me because of my art and the many exhibitions. I managed to save some money and my life is much better now."
"My message to other young people, especially the ones who are living in vulnerable neighbourhoods is this: take courage, you can change the course of your life with some support.
We all have some kind of talent; find yours."