With Angelina Jolie’s help, UF Law graduate Nozile returns to Haitian homeland as children’s advocate
Nathalie Nozile (JD 10) was often called “the Devil’s advocate” while growing up in a children’s home in Santo, Haiti.
Hollywood superstar and philanthropist Angelina Jolie saw her as a children’s rights advocate instead.
Ten years since coming to the United States, Nozile returned Jan. 30 to her home country as the first Jolie Legal Fellow.
Sponsored by the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, this year-long fellowship places Nozile as a special assistant to the Haitian government. Her job is to ensure the rights of vulnerable Haitian children. She may also have the option to continue in the position after she completes the first year.
Nozile said “there was no time to be star-struck” when she met Jolie.
There was work to be done.
“A lot of kids are lost in the system in Haiti. Children who are in conflict with the law need representation,” Nozile said. “They need an advocate, they need a lawyer pushing through to make sure their voices are heard.”
And Nozile knows first-hand what it is like to be a vulnerable Haitian child.
When Nozile was 3, her mother died giving birth to her younger brother, leaving her father as the sole provider of five young children. However, her father was not in a position to provide for such a large family. He had no training, no education and no employment. Nozile and her siblings often went without food because her father could not afford to feed them.
“I think my situation, or, my dad’s situation, unfortunately, is very much common in Haiti,” Nozile said, “and that’s why you have children being put in precarious situations; just because of poverty, because their parents aren’t really able to take care of them.”
Jolie, who selected Nozile for the position, pointed to UF Law graduate’s life experience as a key to her work in Haiti.
“As a promising attorney, she will draw on her personal experience as she returns to help strengthen the Haitian judicial system,” Jolie said in a news release. “Nathalie will be working to help ensure equal access to justice and the protection of children’s rights in Haiti.”
Vulnerable Haitian children may be kidnapped or sold into servitude, prostitution or slavery due to “increased insecurity” in the country because of the earthquake, according to a Feb. 2 report from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Struggling over the decision, Nozile’s father decided to send Nozile and two of her siblings to the Santo SOS Children’s Village, part of a nonprofit organization in 132 countries and territories dedicated to providing long-term care for children unable to grow up with their biological families.
According to Nozile, SOS provided her with a family, a home, a free education and “just a wonderful environment for children to be raised in, protected from anything that potentially goes wrong in countries such as Haiti.”
And so it was in this environment that Nozile grew up from the age of 3 until she was 16 years old, when she was granted permission to live in the United States and moved to Philadelphia. Her father had received refugee status from U.S. immigration six years earlier and Nozile was reunited with him.
Nozile attended Penn State University for her undergraduate degree and completed her law degree last year.
The plan was always for her to go back to Haiti and practice law, but after the earthquake that shook her island nation to its core, Nozile questioned whether going to law school was the right thing for her to have done with her life.
“There was all this devastation, and truly at that point lawyers weren’t giving very much help,” she said. “So I had that moment of doubt thinking that maybe I made the wrong career choice in wanting to become a lawyer and not a doctor.”
Nozile remembered the days when her SOS mother called her the “Devil’s advocate” because she used to always take someone’s side in a discussion, even if the discussion didn’t directly pertain to her. She said that her SOS brothers and sisters knew she wanted to be a lawyer since before she can remember.
“I realized that being a lawyer is actually one of the most important things that you could be in Haiti,” she said.
“(For example) … If there had been better (housing) codes or better enforcement of those codes if they existed … a lot less people would have perished. And the people who would have made those (housing codes) happen are lawyers,” Nozile said.
Similar to when she was a young girl growing up in Santo, Haiti, Nozile continues to say things to spark discussion.
Jonathan Blocker (JD 09), met Nozile in 2009 through the Black Law Student Association after she transferred to UF Law. Blocker stays in contact with her through social media outlets, such as Facebook.
“She pops up in news feeds with a news article about a new topic (about Haiti) fostering discussion and awareness,” Blocker said.
“She goes outside of the mainstream news sources,” he said. “I learned a lot more about the island just from her Facebook.”
And according to one of Nozile’s former professors, Elizabeth Rowe, associate professor of law and director of the Program in Intellectual Property Law, other students can learn a lot from Nozile as well.
“They should be inspired by her story, be motivated to follow their dreams, and work to make it happen,” Rowe said. “Nathalie was able to secure a nontraditional legal job right after law school and those positions don’t come easily. It was her persistence and her willingness to discover options for her career that may not be part of the mainstream that led her to this amazing opportunity.”
Nozile said simply: “I am ready to go to work.”