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Haitian man offered opportunity to escape country's poverty

By Kimberly Davidow, Reporter
Published On: Feb 06 2013 03:22:26 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 06 2013 05:16:06 PM CST

A young Haitian man's dream to come to America has come true, but his journey here didn't come without peril.

READING, Pa. -

A young Haitian man's dream to come to America has come true, but his journey here didn't come without peril.

This is a story about a young Haitian man eager to find purpose in his life. Junior Bernard was raised in poverty in a small Haitian town named Jeremie.

"The worst was when you go to school and you would see all the children eating. You could smell the food, but you didn't have it," said Bernard, 24.

Growing up, Bernard said he saw boys drop out of school, girls become pregnant and young people choose drugs over education. The world he was living in did not match the world he envisioned for himself.

"That's what inspired me to learn English," said Bernard. 

Every day, Bernard said he would memorize words from an English dictionary.

"I needed someone to practice with, and I didn't have anybody," said Bernard.

That would soon change. Bernard's first encounter with Americans happened when volunteers with medical and poverty relief efforts arrived in his hometown.

"I would have my notebook with me, and I would try to speak with them," said Bernard, who practiced English vigorously and eventually became an interpreter for American visitors.

That is how Bernard met Bill Barr, of Bridgewater, N.J. Barr said he and his son, Brian, were in Jeremie, Haiti, volunteering with the Haitian Health Foundation.

"I was just amazed how well he presented himself when he was surrounded by poverty. I saw Junior with so much potential and so much ambition and yet there was absolutely no opportunities in Haiti," said Barr. 

Bernard's dream for a better life was about to come true. Barr said he offered Bernard the chance to move to America with his family. He also offered to give him financial stability to further his education.

"This was so great that I had a hard time believing it was true," said Bernard. 

In January 2010, Bernard said he left his home to travel to the country's capital of Port-au-Prince. There, he gathered the appropriate paperwork from the United States Embassy. Little did Bernard know his world was about to change, but not in the way he envisioned.

"We heard a big noise in the entire area...."said Bernard.

On 69 News at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, find out what happened to Junior Bernard during the devastating earthquake that leveled Haiti.