Christina Julme should be dead.
Her friends and family believed she was dead.
Julme, now a Tech graduate student, was buried under a mountain of rubble in the 2010 Haiti earthquake. She was left for dead for two excruciating days in a classroom that had been demolished by the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake.
Her Facebook wall was full messages from friends and loved ones with flowers saying ‘RIP Christina’.
There were over 70 students in her classroom that day and only five survived. Of those five, Julme is the only one who isn’t missing any limbs. She somehow made it out with a few physical scars and an extremely heavy heart.
The earthquake was devastating for the impoverished country of Haiti. 3.5 million people were affected by the quake with over 300,000 injuries. 105,000 houses were destroyed and 4,000 schools were demolished.
The earthquake claimed the lives of 316,000 people according to the Haitian government. Julme said “it felt more like three million” as she recalled walking the streets and seeing miles and miles of dead bodies while looking for more trapped survivors.
She started searching only two days after being found herself and could barely walk.
While searching, she came across the United Nations base in Haiti with a large group outside hoping for jobs.
A man working there stated that they needed six journalists and Julme, with only two years of undergraduate schooling, somehow got in.
The security man there tried to deny her access since she didn’t have any identification because she lost it in the earthquake but another man argued to let her in.
After she was inside the UN base in Haiti, her initial job was to pass out numbers to people explaining where they could get food and water. An employee there mentioned that she had a good voice for radio. Her supervisor knew her situation and vowed to help her learn.
“She taught me everything I know about radio. I can’t even believe that,” Julme recalled speaking about the kindness of her supervisor.
Even though the work was hard at the UN in Haiti, radio helped her with her trauma. “It was therapy at the same time.” She eventually had her own radio show that helped people to discover African songs.
“Music saved my life. It helped me get all of the stuff out of my head.”
She started as an entry-level employee and was upgraded to public information assistant after two years and continued to work there another four until coming to study at Tech.
Julme arrived at Tech a month ago, thanks to a Fulbright scholarship that she competed for against 300 others over a year long process.
She is the first of her five siblings to have received a bachelor’s degree and incredibly lucky to be studying for her masters.
All of her siblings went to high school, but Julme’s aunt put her in a different non-profit school in Haiti started by Americans for academically talented students.
She learned to speak English there and that’s what paved the way for her to get the Fulbright scholarship and come here.
She is studying multimedia journalism and hopes to use it to help empower the young women of Haiti. “I think journalism will be the tool to help me tell stories that will impact young women’s lives, in Haiti especially, but in the rest of the world also.”
In the 6 years since the earthquake, Julme has been working on healing. But it hasn’t been easy.
Two years ago on the anniversary of the earthquake, Julme left her house in Haiti to get out and get some food.
She was walking along a street and heard “We are the World,” the song that was redone for Haiti shortly after the earthquake, playing.
Suddenly, everything went black and when she woke up she was in the hospital. She recalled how she felt just before she lost consciousness.
“The only thing I remember [was that] I was not able to breath. It was the same feeling I had when I was conscious under the rubble.”
The song took her back to when she was trapped and passing in and out of consciousness. She couldn’t see the other students who were alive, but she could hear them talking.
Then as the students died she could hear less and less talking until there was complete silence.
When she woke up, her mother told her two women found her thinking she had been beaten and they took her to the hospital.
Julme is still in the process of healing. “Sometimes it’s like I am another person. I love life, I love like doing fun stuff, but sometimes it feels so heavy that I am just down, completely down.”
Julme still thinks about the students who were down there with her that day. Many of them had messages they wanted her to deliver to their parents if she made it out. Her ex-boyfriend was also a survivor of the earthquake.
He was not able to begin the healing process like Julme. He lost his only brother and his best friend that day. Julme even went on to say she felt like “he lost his soul with the earthquake.”
Now Julme wants to focus all of her attention on empowering the young women of Haiti and all around the world.
Her lifelong goal is to empower women everywhere, specifically the young women of Haiti who are ridden with superficial beauty standards set by society there.
Julme explained that young women in Haiti believe they must rely on men to survive or to move forward in life.
To get a man, they must be beautiful by Haitian standards: curvy with long hair and the lightest skin possible.
Julme has already created a movement and a website, belneges.com, that focuses on teaching women how to make themselves feel beautiful by their own definitions.
Belneges means “beautiful women” in Creole. She started the movement in 2012 with the tagline “beautiful women but you define your own beauty.”
The website features articles on building self-esteem, natural hair care, wellness and beauty.
Julme has created several events and retreats for young women in Haiti and wants to help the project grow even more when she returns to Haiti after she completes her masters.
Julme tearfully added, “I always consider myself the luckiest girl in the world. You have no idea. I came from the poorest family. It will take time to heal but I am a blessed girl. Life can be so tough, but you know at the same time human beings have that power. If you fight enough, if you go deeper and deeper, you can find so much strength.”