Original article written by Angelyn Frankenberg
When Aspen humanitarian Susie Krabacher first visited Cite Soleil, the poorest and most dangerous section of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 20 years ago, she knew she had found her life’s work. With her husband, Joe Krabacher, she started a food program that was the first step in building HaitiChildren, a nonprofit that has grown to serve more than 5,000 Haitians.
Krabacher’s book, “Angels of a Lower Flight,” tells her story in detail. Her childhood was marred by sexual abuse, being passed among foster homes and her younger brother’s suicide. She had to quit school at age 15 to go to work full time because “no one was taking care of me at all,” but she always kept the fire to do something in a big way to improve life for a large group of children. She could not realize her dream of joining the Peace Corps without a high school diploma, but that made her more determined to start her own program.
Today, the Carbondale-based HaitiChildren provides housing, education and hope for Haitian children who would otherwise fall through the cracks. Its programs help the least of the least, children whom orphanages will not accept — HaitiChildren does not call its housing facilities “orphanages” — because they are too sick and disabled. The organization does not participate in adoptions because its broader mission is to help Haitian children grow into adults who will improve their country from within.
HaitiChildren’s mission is spiritually driven and is affiliated with Crossroads Church in Aspen and Fellowship Bible Church in Tennessee. It also partners with sister congregations that help support its Village Community Church. To further its mission of caring for and educating Haiti’s disabled, abused and abandoned children, though, HaitiChildren partners with diverse religious and secular organizations including the Vibrant Village Foundation and Catholic Relief Services.
ASPEN THERAPIST HELPS
The organization’s U.S. and in-country staffs also partner with professionals from multiple disciplines.
One such partnership is in its physical therapy center. Bill Fabrocini, with the Aspen Club, is a clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy who oversees the center. He worked with the organization in Haiti three years ago to develop structure and set protocols for the clinic and to help evaluate the children’s needs. He also improved the minimal education most of the local service providers had by recruiting qualified physical and occupational therapists to train them. Though the therapy center now has an on-site director, Fabrocini and volunteers he recruits travel to Haiti several times per year.
The HaitiChildren Village in Williamson, about 30 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince, features three residential centers and two schools. Besides traditional classroom education, children receive instruction and experience in building trades and agriculture.
The organization’s president, Robin Hamill, described how its education programs are changing expectations. He said students in HaitiChildren schools have a 99 percent pass rate at all grade levels compared with a national rate of 22 percent, and added that no amount of outside aid will solve Haiti’s vast problems — ultimately help has to grow within. He would “bet money that one of our kids will end up leading [Haiti] in our lifetime.”
Krabacher explained that helping the children can run head-on into entrenched voodoo beliefs that attribute the children’s disabilities to curses and evil spirits and often result in poor families paying everything they have to priests for potions and remedies that harm rather than help the children.
Working against those practices, however, does not mean dishonoring Haiti’s history and culture. In the schools and on field trips, Krabacher said, HaitiChildren staff teaches children to be proud and hopeful for their country.
Krabacher and Hamill, who criticize a lack of transparency in the “global aid-industrial complex,” pointed out that HaitiChildren practices the financial transparency that it promotes. The organization’s 501(c)(3) Determination Letter as well as annual reports, financial statements, and tax forms are available on its website. In addition, its five-member board of directors pays all of its administrative costs to ensure that all donations go directly to helping Haitian children.
Staying true to its mission of helping Haitian children grow and develop so that they in turn can help develop and lead their country to a brighter future, HaitiChildren is working to educate Haitian mothers about unscrupulous adoption agents. Krabacher said that many orphanages in the country cooperate with such brokers while other individuals approach mothers directly promising a better life for their children. She emphasized that non-Haitian parents who adopt children through these agents are not aware of the high-pressure tactics that many of them use.
Instead of trying to work with the Haitian government to stop the practice, though, HaitiChildren is making progress through education. The organization is beginning a series of public service announcements that encourage mothers to resist the adoption brokers’ high-pressure tactics and to “Just say NO!” to anyone who tries to persuade them to give up their children.
Like HaitiChildren’s first food program in 1994, this mission to teach Haiti to “hold on tightly to your kids!” is starting small. But it is another example of the organization’s focus on programs that grow organically and ultimately help Haiti’s children develop pride and skills to help themselves.