Everyone asks this question at some point in their young life: “What do I want to do when I grow up?” For Susie Krabacher, her answer was simple: help children with learning and physical disabilities. She traveled to Haiti in 1994 to help the impoverished children there, and soon her organization HaitiChildren was born. She speaks with 4word about the life-altering events she’s experienced during her 20 years of working in Haiti and tells us how we can help save the lives of Haiti’s forgotten children.
4word: Tell us about your work in Haiti. How did you get started there and why?
Susie: From the age of 4 until I was 8, I was sexually abused by my grandfather. Eventually I was placed in the foster care system. This was a lonely time in which I felt worthless. In Alabama, I was considered “trash”. I was eventually able to move into a new home with my brother and start making a better life for myself, but I was left with a desire to help children who had struggled with the same lack of self-worth that I had.
In America, we have such a wealth of resources available to children with learning and physical disabilities. I wanted desperately to be able to participate in the efforts of these American organizations but couldn’t due to my lack of training and education. In 1994, I went to Haiti wanting to do something with the children there. I was under the assumption that there were not a lot of charities and organizations in Haiti that were focused on helping children. When I arrived in Haiti, however, I was surprised to see numerous orphanages. Upon further investigation, I began to notice an absence of special needs children in these orphanages.
Over the course of the year, I traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Haiti, selling a piece of furniture each time to afford the plane ticket! I was intent on finding where the special needs children were being sent, and I eventually found them. That pivotal trip was one of the most life-changing weeks I’ve ever experienced.
For a year, I had been working in a gang-infested slum called Cite Soleil where we now have the Community Institute of Teaching and Education (C.I.T.E.) School with about 100 children in attendance. Most are children of the gang members. One day, I was talking with a gang member and asked him about the absence of handicapped children. He told me that children born handicapped or with special needs were abandoned at the government hospital.
When I arrived at the hospital, I quickly saw an opportunity in the pediatric ward to minister to the impoverished people weeping outside the hospital doors, because they could not afford to fill their children’s prescriptions, and began paying for the medications. One day, a child of a woman that I had been speaking with passed away, and I wanted to give this precious little girl a proper burial. When I arrived at the city morgue to collect her body, I found a dark room off of the morgue that was being used to house 17 handicapped children, stricken with disabilities from clubbed feet to spina bifida. This was where the special needs children were being sent. The hospital placed them in this room, no longer able to afford to care for them, in the hopes that the children’s parents would return for them.
When I found these children, I knew my next ministry would be to care for them. I entered into a contract with the hospital, and for the next 14 years, I offered these children the best quality of life that I could, despite their short lifespans and my legal inability to give them any kind of medication. After the devastating earthquake, my husband and I built an orphanage and began housing these children and caring for them properly. Today, we have 126 children living with us at HaitiChildren Village.
4word: Tell us about your mission to provide quality education to the people of Haiti.
Susie: When we first started working in Haiti in 1994, we didn’t think we would ever need to build a facilities like the C.I.T.E. School, or John Branchizio School. We thought that there would be already established schools that we could place the children we were caring for into. It soon became very apparent that there was a massive need for schools that would help impoverished and disabled children learn and develop.
Using donor funds, we are able to make life plans for these children. We are able to rehabilitate them physically, take care of them medically, love them like our own, and educate them to their fullest potential. Our HaitiChildren Village facility has a full-time medical staff that determines what each child’s specific needs are and what we can do to help them become as functioning and self-sufficient as possible.
Keeping in line with our goal to educate the people of Haiti, we have a vocational school that adults can attend to get a degree in areas such as mechanics, accounting, sewing, and agriculture, and starting this year, we will offer a class in physical therapy that would allow us to hire graduates back into our facility to help care for our special needs children.
4word: Do you have any other goals for HaitiChildren?
Susie: Currently, we are developing a new goal to help keep impoverished Haitian women with their newborns. There are “middle men” working with certain orphanages that will go into villages and convince new mothers to give their children to an orphanage, with the false promise that their children will receive an education and return back to the village when they’re older to care for their mothers. In reality, these orphanages, which receive between $22,000 and $24,000 per child adopted, will turn these children over to adopting families, collect the money, and the child’s mother will never see their baby again.
We noticed that this “middle man” activity was happening in the cluster of villages that we work with, and we knew we needed to do something to end this corruption. Our vision is to make HaitiChildren an information network for charities and non-government organizations wanting to make an impact in Haiti and connect them with these impoverished women being forced to give up their children due to financial hardship. Through donations, we are able to offer these women the opportunity to come to our clinic for medical assistance, to attend physical therapy classes to learn how to care for their special needs child if they have one, and to receive medicine and food if they are in a dire situation.
4word: What keeps you motivated?
Susie: Definitely the kids! I want to leave this world knowing that I have made an impact in a country that desperately needs outside help. Without having an education and without access to endless funds, I have been able to use my God-given talents and gifts to found HaitiChildren and be an advocate for the children of Haiti.
4word: What is Haiti’s greatest need?
Susie: A functioning, stable government. The current government is not taking care of its children, and the medical and social services are so neglected in Haiti. Those services are mostly being supplemented by charities and organizations, but that help will not always be there. I know that Haiti would like to get to a point where they don’t need foreigners to come into their country and help raise their children, but they have a lot of progress to make before they can become self-sustaining again.
4word: What can 4word women do to help?
Susie: I know when people donate, they want to make sure they’re getting the most bang for their buck. HaitiChildren takes every dollar donated and pours everything into our programs. I don’t take a salary. None of that money goes into my pocket. When you donate to HaitiChildren, know that your money will 100% directly impact the lives of Haitian children.
No matter where you are in the world, you can literally save a life in Haiti through a small donation. I was so shocked when I first donated to a village in Haiti and was thanked repeatedly by its residents. They told me that because of my donation, they were able to get a new well in their village. They told me that this new well meant their village would no longer be crippled with the diseases that had spread from having to drink polluted river water. From my donation, an entire village had been affected. I was so humbled and enlightened.
If you would like to help HaitiChildren, we love having our children sponsored. If you would like to make a general donation, we have that option available as well. If you have a question that you would like to ask me about our work in Haiti, you can email me through the website, and I will always reply back to you.
Susie used a devastating time in her life to look deep within and discover a passion and calling for the children of Haiti. Through her perseverance and advocacy, orphaned and impoverished Haitian children now have a bright future to strive for. Consider how you can use a sorrowful or difficult situation from your past to become a beacon of hope for someone who so desperately needs a light to follow. How can you take a tragic or dark time in your past and turn it into something that will help impact the life of someone in a similar situation?