Angels for Education — Alumna supports children in Haiti

By Rebecca Maxon

October 8, 2020 — Marie Renee Thadal, MS ’05 (Metro), hadn’t been back to Haiti in 30 years. Over that time, her family had spread out across the globe to the United States, France, and Canada. But she still found a piece of herself in the country she’d left as a teenager. And a new mission — to support École Mère Louise, the school she attended as a child, and to make education as accessible to this generation of Haitian children as it had been for her.

"Education is the best weapon to combat poverty around the world. Younger me took it for granted that I was able to go to school every day."
— Marie Renee Thadal, MS'05 (Metro)
Portrait photo of a woman

Marie Thadal

That foundation served her well as she built a life and continued her education in America.

She studied in the cosmetic science graduate program at FDU. Her work in the industry led her back to Haiti, and she found her niche by combining nonprofit service and cosmetics. After being introduced to the Society of Cosmetic Chemists by a professor, she later served in executive board positions including chair of the New York Society of Cosmetic Chemists (NYSCC) and Area 1 director for the National SCC. Her work as a volunteer in the cosmetic association empowered her educational advocacy.

In 2018, Thadal traveled to Montrouis, a coastal town in Haiti, with three other women, including her daughter, to teach women how to make basic skin-care products, such as scented moisturizers, using essential oils. The goal was to encourage sustainable self-sufficiency through entrepreneurship. Ultimately, the trip gave birth to the Beauty Project Initiative. “The project exposed the women to ideas that can generate greater opportunities in their communities. Another goal of the initiative has been to help the community feel good through personal care and self-expression.”

Then, alongside a group of like-minded individuals, Thadal founded a nonprofit, ITIAH Angels For Learning (IAFL), to support students in need. The mission of the organization is to transform lives by providing educational tools to communities to foster readiness to learn. Itiah is “Haiti ” spelled backward.

Part of what inspired the nonprofit is Thadal’s own educational experience in Haiti. “I remember my mother shared with me that there were times that she could not pay tuition. The sisters of my grammar school, École Mère Louise in Port-au-Prince, made it clear to my mother that she should not keep me at home when money was scarce. I was able to stay in school and was well prepared to pass an important standardized national exam,” Thadal recalls. “I am thankful for the angels behind-the-scenes who may have supported my education in times of need.”

One of the goals of IAFL is to ensure students do not miss a day of school. “Our goal is to sponsor 10 children every quarter. We also send school supplies, and now, COVID-19 personal protective equipment to keep the students safe during the pandemic,” she says.

IAFL, in partnership with FRC2590, a high school robotic team, has also hosted science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workshops for children to learn new, innovative skills in a fun and collaborative environment. Thadal’s daughter, Jolia, a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, spearheaded that idea to engage the children in the community while their mothers were attending the beauty and cosmetic workshops.

“Having access to higher education helped me and my family, and made me feel it’s necessary to advocate for education. My FDU degree in cosmetic science gave me the foundation to create opportunities like ITIAH Angels For Learning and live a life of impact and purpose,” says Thadal. “It is my sincere hope that, through the work of the dedicated volunteers of the organization, the lives of children and their families will be changed for the better and that they will, in turn, look back to help others have a chance at social progress.”

For more information, visit ITIAH Angels For Learning.

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