It was a chance meeting between Patsy Norton and the beautiful children of Haiti that opened her heart and forged a new passion in Helping Haitian Angels (HHA).
The Christian non-profit organization was founded by Bill & Debbie Harvey in 2008 following a biblical directive to rescue vulnerable children through family-style loving care and sustainable solutions that fight against Haiti’s child abandonment crisis.
It caught Patsy Norton’s attention at a fund-raising event the couple held in McLean, VA, and not long afterwards, she made her first visit to the island nation. “The first moment I walked in the door, a baby was having a seizure and we thought she was dead. We rushed her to the hospital. That’s the baby I’m holding in the picture.” The girl in the photograph survived and was adopted, along with her two sisters by U.S. couple.
It turned out the seizures were a result of trauma. Sadly, all the children at HHA have experienced trauma in one way or another. Some endure physical trauma like rape, restavek (child slavery), or corporal punishment inflicted by the parents. Others suffer psychological trauma as a result of extreme poverty, such as not knowing where their next meal is coming from.
Fast forward ten years and HHA has an entire complex named Kay Anj Village—Haitian Creole for “Angel House.” Safely ensconced on 40 acres, the compound features 8 homes along the main street, The Harvey School, community center, Hope Church, and a clinic, along with offices and a volunteer house where visitors stay. To maintain self-sufficiency, Kay Anj has an agricultural program, with a community garden, goats, cows and chickens.
“When I first started volunteering, a lot of the 40 children were orphaned. For others, the parents brought them because they think they’ll 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 reunification and family preservation are a priority whenever possible.
Currently, HHA sponsors children through the 6th grade. “Then they have nowhere to go,” Norton explained. “So we’re starting a capital campaign now to add a high school for 7th-9th grade. We’ll add grades 10-13 next.” The new construction will include classrooms, an auditorium, sanitary block, cafeteria, stage for performing arts, soccer field, and commercial kitchen. After the children age out of HHA at age 18, they go into one of two transition homes. “We’re proud that two of our former students are in medical school in Cuba, three are at University, and several are 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 on who can borrow from that money. The group started with 12 people at $10 each, with the fund now grown to more than $500. Students often use the money to start their own microbusinesses.
Sponsors & 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 a child per year. This covers their books, uniforms, twice-daily meals, teachers, housing and medical care. Sponsors get to learn about their sponsored child, with communications several times a year. In addition, you can sponsor on-campus initiatives like HHA’s science lab or culinary program.
Other ways to help fund HHA is to give generously at one of the organization’s fundraisers held here in Northern Virginia. More information on donating can be found on the HHA website at www.helpinghaitianangels.org.
Education is the Way Out of Poverty
Patsy Norton (an owner of Great American Restaurants) visits Haiti 4-5 times a year in the volunteer role of education. “I train teachers, work with the school and teachers, and help in any way I can to help.” Having Haitian natives on staff is important; the 60+ support members are hired out of the community.
It was discovered that these children speak Creole, while schools in Haiti are taught in French, since Haiti was a former French colony. When young children attended these schools, they couldn’t understand what the teachers were saying. Plus, there were no schoolbooks in Creole; HHA created them. HHA teachers teach in Creole, and French is introduced in the 3rd grade. By doing this, the kids learn the foundations and can switch over to French more easily.
“My husband and I have visited countries with extreme poverty, but I never saw anything like the poverty in Haiti. It took your breath away,” Norton explained. “There was no water or electricity, and garbage was everywhere. Interestingly, Haitians don’t beg. They’re proud people. They work hard and sell little things at markets along the side of the street, like fruit or vegetables they picked. Many families live on less than $2 a day.”
“I wish everyone could go to Haiti and meet these kids and the people there. My life is so much better because I went,” Norton exclaimed.
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 feel that you can educate people out of poverty. It also opened my eyes to how everyone is just like us—we all want the best for our kids. But they don’t have the opportunities we do. If we can give them those opportunities, and make psychosocial changes to communities plagued with trauma and disaster, I know they’ll make the world a better place.”