Every night, Tertulien Beliard checks the doors of the modest two-bedroom home his mother rents in North Miami to make sure they are locked. He inspects the windows and turns on the porch light before going to bed.
At 13 years old, Tertulien said it’s part of his routine to ensure the safety of his two older sisters while his mother works the night shift at a commercial laundry.
“I just have to make sure everything is safe before we go to sleep,” he said.
Tertulien feels it is his job to protect not only his family, but his neighborhood because “there are people out there who want to do harm to others and I don’t want to let that happen.”
He dreams of becoming a police officer someday.
His fierce sense of duty comes from a part of his life when he felt helpless. He’s hesitant to talk about those days.
In 2004, his father sent for Tertulien, his two sisters and their mother to come from Haiti. But the life they expected to have in South Florida was shattered by four years of violence.
“He beat me,” said Lambert. “Sometime he did it in front of the kids.”
Tertulien nods his head while holding his mother’s hand in their living room where a picture of the Virgin Mary looks out over the family.
“One day, I saw him push her against the door,” said Tertulien. “I didn’t do anything, but every day I checked by that door when I got home from school to see if I saw her blood. I was worried.
Tertulien’s dad walked out on the family in 2008, leaving Lambert, who speaks very little English, as the sole provider for her children. The family faced financial hardships. Doctors diagnosed Lambert’s middle child Aschlie Beliard with scoliosis in 2009. Medicaid pays for her doctor visits, but Lambert can’t afford extra therapy sessions to help alleviate the pain in her daughter’s back.
“Scoliosis is very painful. One day I’ll be fine and the next day my chest and back hurt really bad,” said Aschlie, 16, a student at William H. Turner Technical Arts High School. “I cry sometimes because it’s really really painful.”
Lambert has also had a health scare. Earlier this year, doctors told her she had two lumps in her breasts. Fearing it was breast cancer, Lambert said she pawned all her jewelry to provide a down payment for the surgery to remove the lumps. The lumps were not cancerous.
“I thank God,” she said in Creole, “It could have been much worse.”
The family is constantly moving out of rented apartments and homes. Lambert’s $8.50 an hour part-time job does not always provide her the means to pay for basic necessities.
“I move out before they kick me out. I don’t want the kids to come home one day to find that the sheriff put all of our stuff outside,” she said.
The week before Christmas, Lambert’s car was repossessed; she could not afford to make payments on the car and buy groceries. For now, the family relies on public transportation
Aschlie said her mother cries often.
“She’s very worried about us and she feels sad that she can’t give us what we want. We tell her not to worry, we’re OK,” she said.
After school, Aschlie catches the bus to the North Miami Beach library to use the computers to complete her homework assignments. Aschlie gets out of school at 2:30 p.m., but she doesn’t get home until after 5 p.m.
The family does not have a working computer or the Internet. “If I had a laptop that would make it easier,” Aschlie said.
Lambert’s oldest daughter, 21-year-old Rose Alcime, works a part-time job at Five Guys Burgers and Fries in North Miami to help with the bills. Alcime plans to attend Miami Dade College in the spring.
A parishioner at St. James Catholic Church, Lambert says through all her hardships she remains strong in her faith and urges her children to do the same.
“I ask my kids to keep God in their lives and to pray,” Lambert said.
Lambert admittedly is overprotective of her children. She stresses the importance of education to them, noting that in Haiti, quality education is not free or easy to come by.
She would like to attend English classes and pursue a trade to get a better job. She said she could use grocery gift cards to buy food, toilet paper and basic items for the family.
For Christmas, Tertulien wanted an iPad Mini — a gift the family simply could not afford. A serious child, he is giddy when he reveals his wish to spend a day in the life of a police officer.
“That would be really cool,” he said.
But then, he is serious again. His mother’s daily struggles pushes him to work hard at John F. Kennedy Middle, where he gets mostly A’s and B’s.
“I tried to find a place where they would hire a 13-year old,” Tertulien said. “I tried Publix, the 99 cents stores, they all said I had to be 16 or older. What I really want is to help my mom pay the water bill and electrical bill. She said school is my job.”