It was a chance encounter between Patsy Norton and the beautiful children of Haiti that opened her heart and forged a new passion for Helping Haitian Angels (HHA).
The Christian non-profit organization was founded by Bill & Debbie Harvey in 2008 following a biblical directive to save vulnerable children through loving, family-like care and lasting solutions that combat crisis child abandonment in Haiti.
This caught Patsy Norton’s attention at a fundraising event the couple hosted in McLean, Virginia, and soon after she made her first visit to the island nation. “The first moment I walked through the door, a baby was having a seizure and we thought she was dead. We rushed her to the hospital. This is the baby I’m holding in the photo. The girl in the photo survived and was adopted, along with her two sisters, by an American couple.
It turned out that the seizures were the result of trauma. Unfortunately, all HHA children have experienced trauma in one way or another. Some endure physical trauma such as rape, restavek (child slavery) or corporal punishment by parents. Others suffer from psychological trauma due to extreme poverty, such as not knowing where their next meal will come from.
Fast forward ten years and HHA has an entire resort named Kay Anj Village – Haitian Creole for “Angel House”. Set safely on 40 acres, the complex includes 8 houses along Main Street, Harvey School, a community center, Hope Church and clinic, as well as offices and a volunteer house where visitors stay. . To maintain her self-sufficiency, Kay Anj has an agricultural program, with a community garden, goats, cows and chickens.
“When I started volunteering, many of the 40 children were orphans. For others, parents brought them because they think they will have a better life there,” Norton said. Children are now placed with HHA by the Haitian government (IBESR) as the “best” last resort for orphaned/abandoned children in crisis, and family reunification and preservation is a priority whenever possible.
Currently, HHA sponsors children through 6th grade. “So they have nowhere to go,” Norton explained. “So we are launching a fundraising campaign now to add a high school for grades 7-9. We will then add grades 10 to 13. The new construction will include classrooms, an auditorium, a washroom, a cafeteria, a stage for the performing arts, a soccer field and a commercial kitchen. Once children leave HHA at age 18, they enter one of two halfway houses. “We are proud that two of our former students are in medical school in Cuba, three in university and several in trade schools.”
Financial literacy is also important, and through a microfinance program called SALT, students can save money as a group and make group decisions about who can borrow that money. The group started with 12 people at $10 each, and the fund has now grown to over $500. Students often use the money to start their own micro-enterprise.
Sponsors and donations needed
Helping Haitian Angels is 100% funded by donations, and you can get involved by being a child sponsor. It costs about $400 to educate one child per year. This covers their books, uniforms, twice-daily meals, teachers, housing and medical care. The sponsors discover their sponsored child, with communications several times a year. Additionally, you can sponsor on-campus initiatives like HHA’s science lab or culinary program.
Other ways to help fund HHA is to donate generously to one of the organization’s fundraisers held here in Northern Virginia. More information on donations can be found on the HHA website at www.helpinghaitiangels.org.
Education is the way out of poverty
Patsy Norton (owner of Great American Restaurants) visits Haiti 4-5 times a year in the volunteer education role. “I train teachers, I work with the school and the teachers, and I help in any way I can to help.” It is important to have native Haitians on staff; the 60+ supporting members are hired from outside the community.
It was discovered that these children speak Creole, while schools in Haiti are taught in French, because Haiti was a former French colony. When young children attended these schools, they could not understand what the teachers were saying. Moreover, there were no school books in Creole; HHA created them. HHA teachers teach in Creole and French is introduced in the 3rd year. In doing so, children learn the basics and can switch to French more easily.
“My husband and I have visited countries of extreme poverty, but I have never seen anything like poverty in Haiti. It took your breath away,” Norton explained. “There was no water or electricity, and garbage was everywhere. Interestingly, Haitians do not beg. They are proud people. They work hard and sell small things in the markets along the street, such as fruits or vegetables that they have picked. Many families live on less than $2 a day.
“I wish everyone could go to Haiti and meet these children and the people there. My life is so much better because I went there,” exclaimed Norton.
When asked how it changed her, Norton replied, “It taught me how you can help people; not by giving money, but by educating them. I sincerely believe that you can lift people out of poverty. It also opened my eyes to the fact that everyone is like us – we all want the best for our children. But they don’t have the opportunities we have. If we can give them these opportunities and bring psychosocial change to communities struggling with trauma and disaster, I know they will make the world a better place.
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