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Marie Veronila Antoine and family

Marie Veronila Antoine has been an active, vocal participant in the transformation of Santo from a tent city to a real community. As a leader in the Santo Association of Women’s Solidarity, Marie continues to advocate for change and opportunities.

At the 2011 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, she had the distinction of having the former U.S. president and first lady, along with country music superstars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, help build her house.

“Working side by side with a president made me so proud,” Marie says, sitting in the cool shade of her bright pink house. “To see him and his wife take their hammers and help build my house … it was the best thing that ever happened in my life.”

Marie has planted flowers and a few cornstalks around her small yard. Her 5-year-old son Nicolas takes great pride in watering them, hoisting a plastic bucket nearly as tall as he is and sprinkling each plant carefully.

“Nicolas loves this house,” Marie says, beaming. “He tells people, ‘My mom has a nice house!’ ”

Marie takes pride in the community as a whole, looking around at strangers who have become neighbors over the past year.

“We did not know each other in the beginning,” she says. “But now we are becoming a community. We are learning from each other. We are good neighbors now.”

Marie makes a living for her family — which also includes a 20-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter — by buying clothes from a wholesaler and reselling them in a nearby market.

“When we lived in the tent, I was afraid to leave my children or my belongings,” she says. “In the new house, we have a new way of life.”

The whole family’s health has improved since moving.

“My children are much better,” Marie says. “They do not have fever the way they used to. And none of us have headaches from the heat.

“In the new house, we have a new life.”