Meet Claudia Cilien Pierre. Claudia is 35 years old, and she is originally from Haiti. She lives in Lawrence Township with her husband John Ptensly, and two kids ages 3 and 2 years old. She studied in Haiti and received a science degree. “I sometimes used to go to university hungry. It wasn’t easy.” Now, Claudia is in Indianapolis and she dreams of getting her PhD so she can continue to help people and become an educator. “I have made many efforts in my life, and I work hard so my kids can follow. They can know that if their mom works this hard in her age, then they will know that they can do it too.”
Claudia and John Ptensly came to Florida in November 2016 through a traveler’s visa, and they did not speak a lot of English. At that time, Claudia gave birth to her daughter Ducalia in Florida. They had gone back and forth three different times from Haiti to Florida before they realized that Haiti was no longer safe for them to live and raise their child. John Ptensly was involved with the political democracy movements in Haiti. He was an advocate for justice and democracy. They left family and friends behind in Haiti and in November 2017, Claudia and her husband made the decision to remain in the United States. “We had never planned to stay in the United States. We were just visiting,” Claudia said.
“I have always seen myself as hero because I have had to survive in a new country and go back to school.”
Claudia and John Ptensly stayed in Florida before they decided to move to Indianapolis in December 2017 because they had a friend here. In May 2018, they paid an attorney to help them with the process to seek asylum and become asylees. An asylee is like a refugee in that they have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group. The difference is that refugee status is granted overseas and asylum seekers are granted status in the United States. Although the process to be granted asylum can take 6 months to two years, if not more, Claudia and John Ptensly’s asylum status was approved in five months. They both were relieved once their status was approved. “We felt free. We knew that we could do whatever we wanted to do.”
A few months later, Claudia was referred to Exodus through Goodwill because she was in their Nurse-Family Partnership program. She was receiving assistance from a nurse through the program because she was pregnant with her son Wobin Coleman. She met with her Exodus case manager Katey, and enrolled in services. Claudia told Katey that one of her goals was to learn English. Exodus then connected Claudia to English classes in Washington Township. “I kept studying. I kept trying. It was difficult, but I never gave up.” Claudia also found a job through a staffing agency, and she worked numerous jobs before she received her GED in December 2019. “I felt very confident when I received my GED.” Claudia then enrolled in a Certified Nursing Assistant Program in a career center for adults in Warren Township. She finished the program and now works at a nursing home in Lawrence Township, and she recently received a promotion at work.
Claudia’s advice for others is, “Sometimes you don’t always have everything you want in life, but you have to be patient and work towards a better life. I never gave up.”
Claudia has always been passionate about helping others. “I always like to help people. When people feel better, I feel better too.” This pandemic has elevated the important role of healthcare workers and they have been referred to as heroes. Claudia considers herself one, but not because of for her job. “I have always seen myself as hero because I have had to survive in a new country and go back to school.” Claudia is grateful for all of the people in her life that have helped her get to where she is today. “My parents, husband, Exodus staff Katey and Marian, and my kids have all supported me in my life. They have always told me to not worry.”
Earlier this year, Claudia enrolled in WGU Indiana to become a registered nurse. She hopes she can one day earn her PhD too. “If you really want something, you have to work very hard for it. If you have a goal, you have to go get it.” Katey says that Claudia has moved mountains and has overcome so much. Claudia’s advice for others is, “Sometimes you don’t always have everything you want in life, but you have to be patient and work towards a better life. I never gave up.”