FROM MIAMI WITH LOVE
MICHELLE BRILLOUET, DIRECTOR OF STUDIES
EC | MIAMI
I was born in Miami in the early 80s. My father, who was from Belgium, ended up in Haiti and was deeply touched by the poverty. He wanted to open up an orphanage and this is where he met my mum.
The story goes that since it was the time of Duvalier (a highly corrupted dictator), he was put in prison for trying to open an orphanage and was set a very high bail. He was later released and deported to Miami, USA and he decided to take my mum with him.
Not long after, my mum got pregnant and I was born. He then had to go back to Europe and took me with him, without my mum. I primarily grew up with my dad in the suburbs of northwest London being led to believe that my mother had passed away in childbirth.
My father did the best he could, instilling in me the ideals of freedom and independence. As much as this was a blessing, it was also a challenge. Not to mention growing up in a single parent household when single fathers were not really recognized and certainly didn’t receive any external support. So it was just my dad, me and the dog.
During my time in the UK, I was always involved in community groups and started my career in education as a volunteer for Tower Hamlets borough council when I was 18. Later I worked as a youth worker for Westminster city council before working as a key worker in Camden with at-risk young people until I left the UK in 2006.
It was at the age of 19 that my father passed away suddenly and I found out that my mother was alive and living in Miami. I was also surprised to learn that I had 4 half-siblings. I started to build a relationship with them after finding a contact for them on the internet and decided to visit Miami after finishing my undergrad in 2006.
In Miami, I realized that the fantasy of the mother figure was just that. My mother, God bless her, was from a third world country, she never really learnt how to speak English and was illiterate. This was a very stark realization as it was so different from what I imagined and from what I had known growing up. We had the barrier of language between us and shared very few words, but bit by bit we got to know each other as best we could.
That is when I understood why my dad was so adamant that I should learn English and ensure that I educate myself. He grew up in post-WWII Belgium and finished school at 14, he taught himself English and I guess he experienced first-hand, the struggle of not having this language in life.
So, I carried on with my education journey, from not really doing too well in secondary school as I was, unfortunately, a victim of discrimination, to gaining my Masters in Education in 2011. Things were beginning to take shape in terms of the move from the UK to the USA. And then, my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness and passed away in 2014.
I say all this to be able to inspire others. So that they can know that even though life can really put you through it, we should never give up on our dreams. To let others know that they are not alone in the struggle and to give them the fire for their aspirations. This is why volunteering in Cambodia touched me so much. My mum probably grew up in a village very similar to Ban Houy – no plumbing, no electricity and very little access to education. It took me many years to reach my potential, and that it took people seeing the spark in me and investing the time in supporting that, for me to finally be all that I can be.
So just to be able to give back like that and share all I have learnt, just so one of those bright sparks can really fulfill all of their potential, makes it all worth it.
I will forever to be grateful for my blessings and my struggles, for it is also in the struggle that the gifts were had. Diligence, determination, drive and, most importantly, compassion for all walks of life. We are all in this together and as they say, it takes a village.