CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — When natural disasters strike, many refugees come to the United States for a better life.
More than a quarter of Haitian immigrants in America today came after a powerful earthquake in 2010.
Now, cities are preparing to take in even more after the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck in August.
The death toll is now above 2,000 people. Marie Louis-Jeune knows the devastating impact those earthquakes can have. She fled Haiti in 2010 and moved to Missouri after that devastating earthquake.
She is now hoping to help those in need in her home country, and she’s hoping to help using her best skill.
“Cooking. It's my dream. That's what I want to do,” said Louis-Jeune. “That's what I'm going to do for the rest of my life.”
It was cooking that brought her neighbors together where she grew up in Haiti.
“Like everybody knows, Haiti is a terrible, it's a poor country,” she said. “Some people never had a job, never had a job in their life. but the good thing about Haitian people, we live together. If you don't have food, I cook. My neighborhood can feed you,” said Louis-Jeune.
Louis-Jeune made that struggle into success. She and her husband opened a restaurant in Haiti in 2007.
“Every day when people try my food, they say that's the best thing I've never had, and I don't need money. I don't need to be rich. I just want people to appreciate my value,” said Louis-Jeune.
Less than three years later, her restaurant was nearly destroyed. The historic 2010 earthquake crumbled her world to dust.
“Everybody like tried to run,” recalled Louis-Jeune of the 2010 earthquake. “You can't even run, you try to run and you just fell right down, and that's the way it was. If you never experience it, don't wish it….it's not easy to feel it."
After the earthquake, her family left everything they’d ever known and moved to Missouri as refugees.
“It wasn't my plan to leave. Life just changed forever,” said Louis-Jeune.
Her son, Stein, was just 5-years-old.
“It was me, my mom, and we were just sleeping in the airport,” he remembered of the move to America.
They were thankful for a second chance, but rebuilding a life in America wasn’t easy.
“When you say you move to America, you know America, it's like everybody thinks it's paradise. But when you move to it, it was hard when you left family behind,” said Louis-Jeune.
Louis-Jeune has worked in the United States for almost a decade to get back what she had in Haiti. She opened her own restaurant, My Marie, right before the pandemic hit. After her grand opening, they were forced to close for months because of COVID-19.
“It’s hard. It's really hard,” said Louis-Jeune. “Sometimes when we open here, we don't have a lot of customers. Sometimes, I try to give up, I try to close my door, but I pray. I say, ‘God, I have family. I have friends to take care of. Please give me strength to wake up every day to open.’ It's not easy."
But, she has a new reason to keep opening her doors. On August 14, another earthquake hit Haiti affecting the family and friends she left behind.
So, she and her family are keeping her restaurant open seven days a week now, donating a part of each meal to non-profit sending supplies to Haiti.
“Anything I have, I’m going to give it to them,” said Louis-Jeune.
“If it was you, you'd want somebody to help you,” said her son, Stein.
This family wants to support the thousands who lost everything and give hope to those trying to find refuge in America.
“I feel lucky. I feel blessed, and I can't imagine what they're going through right now. I know it's not going to be easy to come here. It's not going to be easy,” said Louis-Jeune.
Louis-Jeune is grateful the struggle she endured 11 years ago is now giving her a chance to help.
If you’d like to help Marie’s fundraiser, click HERE.